This Baked Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower combines the creamy, cheesy flavor of mac and cheese with the extra nutrients in cauliflower. A delicious and healthy twist on everyone’s favorite comfort meal!
We love making mac and cheese healthier! Check our healthy mac and cheese and Instant Pot mac and cheese recipes.
Table of contents
Is there anything more comforting than a baked pasta dish?!
How about knowing it’s not only cheesy, golden, and bubbly, but also packed with incredible nutrients. Now, that’s comforting!
I mean what can’t cauliflower do at this point?!
We use half a head of cauliflower in this recipe that never takes away from the cheesy goodness we all want in a cozy baked casserole, but it adds to the heartiness of this meatless dish.
If you’re a parent looking for ways to add more veggies into your meals that your kids won’t notice, this one is it! It works as a main dish or healthy side and can be customized to your liking.
Use your favorite cheese, add some spice, or even switch the cauliflower to broccoli or toss in some peas from time to time.
Ingredients and Notes
There’s nothing fussy in this recipe, I’m sure you’ve already got most of what you need!
- Pasta: Elbow macaroni whether white pasta, whole wheat or gluten free will work.
- Cauliflower: Rice the cauliflower ahead to save some time. Use a food processor or sharp knife to mince it. A package of frozen cauliflower rice can also be used.
- Flour: Whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour or spelt flour is used to make a roux which is the base of the cheese sauce.
- Milk: I have used both 1% cow’s milk as well as unsweetened soy milk. They both tasted delicious, so you can use what you have. Just be sure that it’s unsweetened and unflavored.
- Cheese: I love freshly shredded marble cheese for this recipe. However, as with any cheesy macaroni dish, it’s always a personal preference. Use shredded sharp cheddar, gruyere, or even some mozzarella cheese.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower
Cook pasta as per package instructions and rice your cauliflower. Then follow along with the steps below for an easy cheesy baked macaroni and cheese.
Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl along with riced or chopped cauliflower. Set aside.
Sauté onion and garlic with olive oil in a preheated large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring occasionally.
Add the flour and cook for another minute until the flour acts like a paste that surrounds the onions. This roux is what helps the cheese sauce thicken.
Whisk in the milk, bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of cheese, salt, and pepper and stir until the sauce is smooth. This last step happens with heat off.
Pour into the bowl with pasta and cauliflower, and mix well. The mixture should be thick and not saucy.
Transfer this mixture to a prepared baking dish and level with a spatula. Top with remaining cheese then bake uncovered in a 400 degrees F preheated oven for 25 minutes.
The cheese should be bubbly and a golden crust should appear around the edges when it’s done!
Remove from the oven, cut into 9 slices and serve hot. Sometimes I do like to wait until it cools a bit, so it’s set enough to slice into squares.
There are so many ways to add extra ingredients to jazz up flavors and textures in this dish!
- Veggies: Ramp up the nutrient load with even more veggies or swap out the cauliflower. Use broccoli, bell pepper, peas, mushrooms, or zucchini instead.
- Protein: Shredded chicken, Italian sausage, bacon bits, or diced ham can be added for extra protein and flavor to complete the dish.
- Gluten free: Use your favorite gluten free pasta, and gluten free all purpose flour.
- Breadcrumbs: Sprinkle some breadcrumbs, whether Panko, whole wheat, or regular crumbs on top before baking. It adds extra crunch and texture to every bite.
Tips for Best Results
- Always use freshly grated cheese. Never from a package if possible! It tastes better, melts better, and is fresh.
- Undercook pasta. Cook it to al dente or even slightly less if you prefer. It will continue cooking as it bakes.
- Prevent grainy cheese sauce. Don’t skip making the roux with flour and olive oil. Use low heat and slowly add in the milk. Make sure you’re not adding the cheese to direct heat.
How to Store, Make Ahead and Freeze
Make this dish up to 48 hours in advance. Assemble it completely, cover and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to bake!
Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days. It’s great for a quick lunch the next day or even a simple side for tomorrow’s dinner.
Leftovers of this baked mac and cheese with cauliflower don’t freeze well. You can freeze it before you bake it though!
Assemble it completely, wrap tightly in plastic and then foil to avoid freezer burn. This can stay frozen for up to 3 months.
Thaw in the fridge the night before you’re ready to serve and then add 15 extra minutes to the bake time.
The best cheese to use for any kind of mac and cheese is usually a really good sharp cheddar cheese, marble cheese, gruyere, or even parmesan or mozzarella cheese works too!
I like to use fresh but frozen can also be used. If you have a big bag use some of it, just be sure to thaw and drain it first.
It is! While it doesn’t cater to any specific dietary restrictions, it can be tweaked to suit your needs. Whether they are dairy free, gluten free, keto or vegan.
This recipe contains a ton of nutrients from cauliflower like vitamins, fiber, and iron. You get whole grains from the pasta and protein from the cheese.
A quick zap in the microwave is all that is needed to reheat any leftovers. If you find the sauce has thickened too much, add a splash of milk and stir.
More Healthy Comfort Food Dishes
- Cauliflower risotto
- Ground turkey pasta bake
- One pot chili mac
- Chicken lasagna roll ups
- Healthy mushroom stroganoff
Baked Mac and Cheese with Cauliflower
- 8 oz elbow macaroni I like brown rice or whole wheat pasta
- 1.5 lbs cauliflower (1/2 large head) riced or minced
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour or spelt flour
- 2 cups any milk unsweetened
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 cups marble cheese (8 oz) shredded & divided
- Cooking spray I use Misto
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 9″ x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
- Cook pasta as per package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl along with riced cauliflower. Set aside.
- Preheat large skillet on low heat and add olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour and cook for another minute or until flour is well combined. Whisk in milk, raising heat to medium – high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low – medium and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add 1 cup of cheese, salt and pepper; stir until sauce is smooth. Pour into the bowl with pasta and cauliflower, mix well. The mixture should be thick and not saucy.
- Transfer mixture to previously prepared baking dish, level with spatula and top with remaining cheese. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and golden crust and edges appear.
- Remove from the oven, cut into 9 slices and serve hot.
- Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze leftovers for up to 3 months.
- Freeze: Assemble, tightly wrap with plastic and then foil, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and bake as per instructions + 15 minutes.
- Make ahead: Assemble, cover and refrigerate for up to 48 hours. Bake as per instructions.
OMGosh, this recipe is the bomb for making Mac and Cheese a little healthier. You can’t even taste the texture of the “riced cauliflower”. Also, I did buy frozen riced cauliflower and it saves so much time because the author is correct the hand shredded cheese really does make a difference.
I’m so happy to hear your loved this mac and cheese with cauliflower!
I was really impressed with this recipe. FYI I made a few substitutions to make this dairy free and gluten free. I used GF oat flour instead of wheat and it thickened up just fine. Elbow pasta instead of penne just to make it more kraft-dinner like. I also used coconut oil instead of EVOO for frying. I tried a can of coconut milk. Instead of regular cheese I used Daiya cheese substitute. Delicious and creamy. The cauliflower rice adds a beautiful texture. The instructions were very good and for once my dish turned out exactly as the recipe described. Even the kid liked it. Yay!
Could you make it without flour or cornstarch at all, do you think? Looks great and really not that unhealthy. I think I’d add broccoli to it.
You could but sauce won’t be thickened. Will be watery if you don’t mind. Still tasty.
I made this for dinner tonight…pretty tasty! One change that I found to be helpful – before adding the shredded cheese to the white sauce, I gave it a whirl in the vitamix to puree the onions & garlic so that there wouldn’t be detectable little pieces in the sauce. I figured sneaking cauliflower into the mac & cheese was taking things far enough! I’m glad I did this step. 3 out of the 4 picky eaters in my house gobbled this up. Picky eater #4 just knew there was something different about the recipe. Good flavor, good texture, definitely a make again recipe, but will probably use a sharper flavored cheese next time. Thanks for the great cauliflower idea!
why do you use flour? what is the purpose?
To thicken the sauce and make casserole hold together. You can use twice less amount of cornstarch of sensitive to gluten.
Craving a bowl of this delicious mac and cheese right now.. it definitely is the perfect cheesey comfort food!
Yum! Your cheesy dishes always look so tempting!
I love that you used cauliflower to bulk up this dish. What a great way to put veggies in to a classic. Pinning!