The One Ingredient Swap For A Healthier Mac And Cheese

If the creamy pasta dish is part of your regular recipe roster, try this simple ingredient swap to boost nutrition without sacrificing on taste.

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healthy mac and cheese

Food is more than just a combination of calories, fat, protein and carbs—it can bring comfort and feed the soul. As a registered dietitian and food-lover, I’d never suggest you give up your favourite foods, but tweaking them slightly to make them healthier might be something you can get on board with.

The swap

The cheese in mac and cheese adds a silky richness and ooey-gooey texture, but it does make this quintessential comfort food a bit of a calorie, fat and sodium bomb. If mac and cheese is a regular on your recipe roster, try a lightened-up version that’s just as creamy and delicious, more nutritious, and even easier to make (only eight ingredients!). The trick: Swap half the cheese for pureed root vegetables. Any root vegetables will do, but celery root, squash and turnip all taste great. Use a good-quality aged sharp cheddar or gruyere (I love the combination of celery root and gruyere).

Why use root vegetables in mac and cheese?

When compared to our classic mac and cheese, this version slashes 200 calories, 15 grams of fat and one third of the sodium per serving. Plus, adding veggies boosts fibre and vitamins, and is one way to help squeeze in the recommended 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. No deprivation here—just satisfying comfort food!

Try my healthier mac and cheese recipe:

Creamy Root Vegetable Mac and Cheese Recipe

Serves 6 to 8
Prep 10 min; total 35 min

Ingredients
3 cups peeled, chopped root vegetables, cut into 3/4-in. dice

2 cups dry elbow macaroni (or other short pasta)

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

1 1/2 cups 2% milk

3/4 tsp salt

1 cup shredded gruyere or aged sharp cheddar

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add root vegetables and cook until tender, 8 to 10 min. Remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Return water to a boil, then add pasta and cook following package directions, less 2 minutes, until just tender.
  2. Preheat oven to 425F.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low. Whisk in flour and continue whisking constantly until mixture turns into a paste and foams slightly, about 2 min. Do not let it brown. Gradually add milk, whisking constantly, then add salt. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, 4 to 5 more min. Stir in cheese until melted, then add vegetables.
  4. Puree mixture until smooth using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender to puree then return to pot. Stir in pasta. Transfer to an 8-inch. square baking dish and top with panko.
  5. Bake until top is golden, about 12 min. Let stand 5 min before serving.

How to make vegan mac and cheese

Originally published, January 2018; Updated, January 2020.