by Olena

Healthy Mac and Cheese

Olena Osipov
5 from 46 votes

Healthy Mac and Cheese in one pot in 15 minutes. Creamy, cheesy and flavorful and as healthy as it gets. No weird ingredients because life is short, friends.

Got Instant Pot? Try Instant Pot mac and cheese that requires no stirring.

Healthy Mac and Cheese

Is Mac and Cheese Healthy?

The reason I didn’t post healthy mac and cheese recipe until now is because I didn’t like any. I am sorry but I am willing to take the healthy route only that far.

Over the years, I tried all healthy alternatives of homemade macaroni and cheese. With: butternut squash, cauliflower, no cheese, barely any cheese, yogurt. My kids cringed, I cringed and we opened a box of Annie’s mac and cheese and hummed.

Who doesn’t love good old mac and cheese, right?!

Healthy Mac and Cheese in a blue bowl with golden spoon

So, I think I finally found a perfect healthy formula for mac and cheese. It = whole wheat macaroni + moderate amount of cheese + don’t eat it every day. Plus we boil pasta in flavorful broth and creamy milk thus reducing amount of cheese and calories. Agree?

This is an ultimate comfort food in a bowl. Even my husband who vouches not to eat any cheese because “live until 100”, gave in. It was truly warming to the bones on a stormy ocean day and completely happy food coma on a couch by the fire kind of food.

Country life is the best. And so is this super easy healthy homemade mac and cheese. One pot!

pasta, cheese, milk, broth, butter, mustard

Ingredients for Healthy Mac and Cheese

  • Pasta: Our family likes traditional elbow macaroni shape pasta. We also love the heartiness and firmness whole wheat pasta adds to mac and cheese. Small bites coated in creamy cheesy sauce are just the best. White pasta works. Also gluten free pasta is great, just cook it for shorter amount of time.
  • Marble cheddar and Parmesan cheese: I am using 2 kinds of cheese. Marble cheddar is a blend of white and yellow cheddar. You can use only white or only yellow cheddar. It is harder to find organic yellow cheddar because it is artificially coloured. It is best to buy a block of cheese and grate yourself because it will melt better.
  • Milk and butter: I recommend to use whole milk 3.25% for maximum creaminess. 2% will work as well but less creamy.
  • Broth: Chicken or veggie broth will add more flavor than water and barely any calories.
  • Seasonings: Prepared mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese

  • Grate cheese: Pre-shredded cheese is mixed with anti-caking agent to prevent it from sticking. Same goes for Parmesan cheese. Make sure you buy a block of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano and grate yourself. 1/4 cup goes a long way and adds a lot of flavor without many calories.
  • Combine liquids with spices: In a medium pot, add broth, milk, butter, garlic powder, mustard, salt, ground black pepper and bring to a boil. Do not walk away. Keep an eye on the pot because milk runs right after boiling. pasta and cheese in red pot with spoon
  • Cook pasta: Add macaroni and cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Mixture with pasta should be at medium simmer, not boiling hard. Stir pasta while cooking often. It really sticks to the bottom if you don’t stir, especially towards the end as liquid evaporates.
  • Add cheese in portions: Turn off heat so cheese doesn’t burn. Add cheese in portions and stir between each until melted. pasta and cheese in red pot with spoon

More Tips and Storing

  • Prep before beginning to cook: This easy recipe comes together quick in one pot for . So I recommend to have all ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting.
  • Too much or little broth: If you notice your pasta is almost ready and there is still a lot of liquid, turn up the heat. Likewise, if you see pasta is not done and you are running out of liquid, add 1/4 cup at a time.
  • Can I bake it? I don’t recommend it because sauce will dry out. Baked versions need more cheese and sauce and seasonings respectively.
  • Storing: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 1 day. Do not freeze as pasta and dairy do not freeze well.

healthy mac and cheese on a spoon

Serving and Reheating

Serving: Mac and cheese is best to be served immediately. That’s when sauce is the most creamy and macaroni still firm. Pasta absorbs liquid really fast and makes mac and cheese dry. I am not a fan of dry baked mac and cheese.

Bulk up with veggies and other variations:

  • Frozen peas or edamame beans: Rinse under hot water and drain.
  • Finely chopped broccoli or cauliflower: That has been blanched or steamed, some like raw.
  • Spinach: Add a handful into hot mac and cheese and stir until wilted.
  • More heat: Drizzle bowl with Frank’s red hot sauce, Cholula or Tabasco.
  • Spices and seasonings: Everything bagel, Montreal steak spice, paprika, nutmeg, soy sauce and even honey.
  • Bacon: Leftover chopped bacon. I like to bake mine at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes. Way less mess.

Reheating: Simmer on low heat with a splash of milk, and stirring often.

More One Pot Pasta Recipes

healthy mac and cheese recipe

healthy mac and cheese

Healthy Mac and Cheese {One Pot - 15 Minutes}

Healthy Mac and Cheese in one pot in 15 minutes. Creamy, cheesy and flavorful and as healthy as it gets. No weird ingredients because life is short, friends.
4.98 from 46 votes
Print Save Rate
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: North American
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 14 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 405kcal
Author: Olena Osipov

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole wheat elbow macaroni uncooked
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth low sodium
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp butter salted
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp mustard condiment
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup marble or cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese shredded

Instructions

  • In a medium pot, add broth, milk, butter, garlic powder, mustard, salt, ground black pepper and bring to a boil.
  • Add elbow macaroni and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente or desired firmness and adding more milk or broth if you wish.
  • Turn off heat. Add marble cheese and Parmesan cheese in portions and stir between each until melted. That's it.
  • Serve immediately as mac and cheese tastes best fresh. Saucy, creamy and so comforting!
  • Top with your favorite hot sauce, everything bagel, Montreal steak spice, paprika, nutmeg, soy sauce and even honey. Or with leftover chopped bacon. I like to bake mine at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes. Way less mess.

Store: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 1 day. Do not freeze as pasta and dairy do not freeze well.

    Reheat: By simmering on low with a splash of milk and stirring.

      Video

      Notes

      • Pasta: Any short pasta, white or gluten free works. Cook gluten free pasta for shorter amount of time.
      • Cheese: You can use marble cheese, white or yellow cheddar cheese. It is best to buy a block of cheese and grate yourself because it will melt better.
      • Milk and butter: I recommend to use whole milk 3.25% for maximum creaminess. 2% will work as well but less creamy.
      • Prep before beginning to cook: This easy recipe comes together quick in one pot for. So, I recommend to have all ingredients prepped and ready to go before starting.
      • Too much or little broth: If you notice your pasta is almost ready and there is still a lot of liquid, turn up the heat. Likewise, if you see pasta is not done and you are running out of liquid, add 1/4 cup at a time.
      • Can I bake it? I don't recommend it because sauce will dry out. Baked versions need more cheese and sauce and seasonings respectively.

      Nutrition

      Serving: 1cup | Calories: 405kcal | Carbohydrates: 55g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 38mg | Sodium: 549mg | Potassium: 230mg | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 433IU | Calcium: 273mg | Iron: 3mg
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      olena osipov in the studio

      Hello and welcome to iFOODreal.

      My name is Olena Osipov. I'm a mom to 2 boys, a wife to Alex and we reside on magical Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. This is our healthy family recipes blog. Originally from Ukraine, I grew up on real food. As an adult, I struggled with diets for years because none worked long-term. Now for over 10 years, I cook easy healthy meals for my family. I can help you with “What’s for dinner?” too.

      98 comments on “Healthy Mac and Cheese

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      1. 5 stars
        Forgot to add the star rating to my previous review – a definite five for this one!

        Hello from Australia! I’d tried other traditional Mac and cheese recipes before that turned out stodgy and not so flavoursome, so it had been a while since I ventured into making another. This one is AMAZING!! It really does only take 15 mins, and it’s so versatile – I added some chopped spinach at the end for some colour. I used less salt as I used regular chicken stock, and towards the end when the pasta is almost done, I also had to add extra water little by little to finish it off and make sure the sauce wasn’t dry. Overall, this recipe is a keeper.

      2. 5 stars
        I am 12 years old and LOVE baking, cooking, grilling, anything like that. I tried this recipe, it’s amazing! It tastes better than unhealthy recipes and it’s an awesome side for bbq, like we served it, or just by itself! I highly recommend this.

        1. Thank you for taking the time to write this review Cora! I am so happy you like my recipe and more importantly that you love cooking, baking and grilling healthy foods!

      3. 5 stars
        This is hands down the best homemade Mac and cheese I have ever made, and it’s so easy! I took your advice on adding bagel seasoning and it’s AMAZING. Thank you!

      4. Question regarding the refrigerating leftovers for up to 1 day. Why does it only good for 1 day? I make my work lunches typically on Sunday for my 4 day work week. Do you think it should be fine for a few days like most meals?

        1. Hey Bethany! I find the pasta absorbs the sauce. The longer it is in the fridge, the drier the pasta becomes. It doesn’t go “bad” if you keep leftovers for longer, just not as good!

      5. 5 stars
        I made this for the first time and I’m only 14, and it was a big hit at our house my family just can’t stop talking about how delicious it is.
        Thank you so much!!!!!

      6. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Is the liquid supposed to be all soaked up from the noodles? It still seems like it’s still too liquidy for mac and cheese.

      7. 5 stars
        Though I’m not a huge fan of mac and cheese myself, my family is absolutely nutty for it. The sodium content of regular mac and cheese makes my eyes bug out (I’ve seen labels reading over a 1,000mg per serving, your recipe has half of that) so when my daughter in law found your recipe we knew we needed to try it. As everyone on here notes, it is delicious and I’m now a huge mac and cheese fan. Thank you Olena ?

      8. How does this rate on sodium levels??? We are looking to find good tasting pasta dishes to use as sides that aren’t loaded with sodium!!

      9. 5 stars
        Delicious! I have tried making other mac n cheese recipes in the past and they just didn’t cut it. This one was tasty, creamy, and flavourful, not to mention super easy to make! I will definitely make this one again!!

      10. 5 stars
        This was excellent! So easy. I did not change a thing. So much less fattening than classic recipes without compromising flavor. The way the broth boiling the noodles becomes part of the sauce – brilliant! I found a quinoa mac noodle at Costco which was delicious, and made this recipe gluten-free. I think – LOL

      11. 5 stars
        A huge hit with the whole family. SO delicious and creamy! Love that it’s all real ingredients. Thanks for the great recipe ?

      12. 5 stars
        Soooooo delicious!
        I made a little over 3 cups (my mini whole wheat elbows from Sprouts contained just about 3 1/4 cups). I absolutely added more whole milk AND used some Gouda cheese to add more cheese flavor. Along with Colby jack cheese + Parmesan. Love love love this creamy savory pot! Reminded me of the Panera white Mac & cheese minus all of the extra empty calories. Pictures on my insta!

      13. 5 stars
        Delicious!
        I could not find whole wheat mac so used standard mac pasta.
        First time I have made macaroni and cheese and I will not bother with any other recipes after this one because this was just right. It gave everything we all know we want from mac and cheese.

      14. 5 stars
        I needed something quick and delicious for dinner tonight. I was a bit sceptical with the amount of liquid and honestly thought we may have had to order pizza, but OMG was I wrong. This recipe is amazing and delicious. This will be our new go to Mac recipe. ?

      15. 5 stars
        Scrump-dilly-icious?Win-Win-Win recipe—easy, healthy, delicious. This is the only mac ‘n cheese recipe to use ever!

        1. Hi! Just wanted to clarify how many servings? It says 4 initially but then the nutrition facts show 6. Thank you!!

      16. 5 stars
        Yummy! I loved this recipe. My husband loves comfort foods and we’re trying to eat healthier, so this was a great option. 🙂

      17. 5 stars
        Hey!! I’ve been using your recipes to help with my weight loss journey and your meals have been working WONDERS!! For this recipe, I wanted to know what the best alternative to whole milk would be

      18. 5 stars
        Little baby cheese, I love this recipe, so easy, and quick, the kids love it. I add I little bacon to it to make it MORE healthy.

      19. 5 stars
        This is my favorite Mac n cheese recipe, but now I’m starting to notice I can’t find marble cheese anywhere :/ is there something I can use instead of marble? Thanks! And thank you so much for this recipe! It’s so easy and delicious!

      20. Hi Olena, I’m looking forward to making this recipe! I’m in Australia and we don’t seem to have marble cheese! Any other suggestions/?

      21. 5 stars
        Found your site yesterday when searching for easy healthy family dinners. There are so many great recipes to try but I chose the healthier mac and cheese as a side to the main chicken entree. So easy to follow, super quick which i love, and so tasty! My son said 20 out of 10! ??

      22. 5 stars
        Really delicious. I have made it twice so far. First time used parmigiana Reggiano because that’s what I had. Used skim milk and homemade chicken broth. It was amazing.

        Made it this time according to the recipe with marbled cheese, whole milk etc. Taste not as intense but just as good!

      23. 5 stars
        This was a simple and quick recipe. It was a big hit. I made sure to write this one down. You won’t be disappointed!

      24. 5 stars
        This became my go to Mac and Cheese Recipe of all time! My kids and even husband love it! Thank you Olena!

      25. 4 stars
        Awesome mac and cheese my whole family loved the pasta.
        Great recipe, maybe just a bit more sauce, but other than that a stunning meal.

      26. 5 stars
        The only adjustment I made was using 1/2 cup skim and 1/2 cup 1/2&1/2 because that’s what I had. Okay… I do have to admit I also used 3 slices of spliced/chopped bacon! Excellent recipe! Thanks.

          1. 5 stars
            Man, that was the most excellent macaroni and cheese recipe. Since there are only 2 of us at home, we had leftovers. They lasted 12 hours and are almost better than fresh!

        1. 5 stars
          I was a bit skeptical at first but this is the best macaroni cheese I’ve made! I served it with broccoli and peas. Also drizzled some hot sauce over the top

      27. 5 stars
        Just made this using whole wheat macaroni and skim milk. Added one slice of swiss cheese and pinch of cayenne. It was delicious!

      28. 5 stars
        Thank you Olena! This is so good! Rich and creamy and so easy. It really satisfied my craving for some scrumptious comfort food! My husband and I enjoy many of your recipes. ❤️

      29. 5 stars
        My family loved this mac and cheese! This is the second recipe I have made from your website and I am wanting to try a lot more. I had to swap milk for canned goat milk, and I used ancient grains quinoa elbow pasta. I love that there is not a ton of cheese, but it still tastes cheesy and creamy. It was super easy to make; just wish I could find marbled cheese where we are but I used white and yellow cheddar. Thank you again!!

        1. Awe, you are so welcome! So happy to hear you are enjoying my recipes! Please don’t be shy to leave me a comment with a star review once you make any recipe. Have a great week!

      30. 5 stars
        I was very hesitant to try this recipe. I have been making very unhealthy mac and cheese for years -everyone loves it but as out diet has changed and we have switched over to organic and healthier choices, our family recipe had to change. I decided to give this recipe a try and I am so thankful. It was so flavorful and creamy. It took a lot less time which is great for me!
        Thanks so much for a great healthier recipe on this comfort food.

      31. 5 stars
        By far the easiest mac & cheese recipe I have ever made AND it was delicious too!
        We’ve searched around for the best homemade mac & cheese recipes and they usually come out really rich and too thick, this was seriously perfect!
        Thank you so much! We will definitely be making this again (and again!)

      32. 5 stars
        We love this Healthy Mac & Cheese recipe! We only had sharp white cheddar cheese to use, which we really enjoyed as well.
        Thank you so much Olena for all your delicious recipes!!!

      33. 5 stars
        Hi Olena,
        Macaroni is a super star ar of cooking fast and tasty, but sometimes I feel guilty that they are not that healthy for me. But with new recipe from you I will enjoy them very much,.
        Thanks,
        Olga

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