Healthier macaroni and cheese: Classic comfort food made better

Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food. But, healthier macaroni and cheese can be made with just a few modifications.

Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food. Whether mom made hers from scratch or had some help, the simple bite of noodles and cheese sauce could make the worst day seem less horrible. But, that classic dish has gotten a bad rap. Healthier macaroni and cheese is possible and easy.

I Heart Mac N Cheese, photo provided by I Heart Mac & Cheese

Before anyone gets angry, the classic macaroni and cheese isn’t going to be altered in some tremendous way. A few simple swaps can make a huge difference in the healthier column. With a few of these changes, I’m willing to bet that even the pickiest eater wouldn’t turn her nose up on the swaps.

I Heart Mac & Cheese, located in Southern Florida, knows about mac n’ cheese. The fast casual restaurant serves personalized pasta dishes. From picking your favorite noodle to all the accompanying garnish, noodle fans can eat their favorite combination or create a new dish at each visit.

National Macaroni and Cheese Day, I Love Mac &  Cheese, photo provided by I Heart Mac & Cheese

Here are a few ideas from I Heart Mac & Cheese to make some healthier macaroni and cheese just in time for National Noodle Day.

Wheat over white

Just like bread for sandwiches, swapping wheat noodles for white noodles provides a health boost. Wheat noodles offer more whole grains. Whole grains offer more fiber, vitamins and even protein. Fiber can be the biggest boost. Whole grain pasta can have double the amount of fiber than traditional white pasta.

Truthfully, there is minimal taste difference between the two types of pasta. Cooking times may vary, but the two types of pasta are reality the same. Plus, with a delicious cheese sauce, no one would even know the difference.

Load up on the vegetables

Who said that macaroni and cheese can’t have vegetables mixed in? Of course, the kids may not be jumping for a bowl filled with broccoli. Still, sneaking in some extra vegetables can be an added health boost. Even a scoop of green peppers, mushrooms, or even some cauliflower can help get another servings of daily vegetables.

Not just noodles, pack on the protein

While a big bowl of noodles is comforting, protein can be added too. Pasta and protein is a best of both worlds combination. From some chicken to ham, there are many combinations that work well. Even a non-traditional combination can add some zest to the traditional bowl of pasta. For example, I Heart Mac &  Cheese creates a sandwich combo. Manager Hector Gonzalez recommends “macaroni and cheese in between two toasted pieces of bread and add short rib to it.” That option is definitely a protein boost.

Mac and Cheese with pulled pork, photo by Cristine Struble

Be sauce conscious

While cheesy sauces are creamily delicious, those cheese sauces can have higher calories. Switching to a red sauce on occasion can be a more calorie conscious choice. Tomato marinara sauce has fewer calories than a heavier Alfredo sauce. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have that cheesy goodness. But occasionally, switch up the sauces, too.

The oven is your friend

Of course, a buttery crumb topping is a tasty condiment to macaroni and cheese. But, extra butter and oil can pack on the calories. Baking the pasta dish can create the flavor and texture without the extra fat. Like those tasty mac n’ cheese balls, which are totally addicting, skip the fryer. Baked those tempting treats in the oven instead. They will still have the perfect crunch, but without the extra fat. It just means that you can extra an extra one with the calories saved.

These ideas are just a few choices to modify the classic macaroni and cheese. While no one has to incorporate all the ideas, the occasional modification can be beneficial.

Life is about moderation, not deprivation. No one could completely give up macaroni and cheese. That’s just too hard of a sacrifice. Healthier macaroni and cheese is easily attainable.