Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean abandoning all the foods you love. Often, the easiest way to improve your eating habits is by making healthy substitutions to the foods you love. And what better place to start than with the kid (and adult) favorite: macaroni and cheese.
Traditional macaroni and cheese is not healthy for you. It’s a dish high in fat, calories, sodium, and it’s not nutritionally balanced. But by making a few healthy — and mostly unnoticeable — substitutions to the recipe, you can improve the nutritional quality of macaroni and cheese and still enjoy that cheesy goodness.
“Making healthy diet changes can be simple and delicious,” says Mindy (Probst) Crockett, a registered dietitian at Utah Valley Hospital. “Choose a few of your favorite, go-to recipes and make some healthy substitutions. For example, replace cream with low fat milk, use whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta, or use ½ of the butter or sugar the recipe calls for. These simple changes will help you achieve and maintain your healthy eating goals while still enjoying the foods you love.”
Healthier Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 cup whole grain, white fiber pasta
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp whole wheat flour
- 1 cup low fat milk
- 1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or your favorite variety)
- 1 pkg frozen vegetables (broccoli)
- Cook pasta according to package instructions.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until the roux begins to brown.
- Turn heat to low and add 1 cup low fat milk very quickly. Whisk until clumps of flour are mixed in.
- Turn heat back to medium and whisk until the liquid begins to thicken.
- Add in the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese melts.
- Pour in the cooked pasta and stir until the pasta is well coated with the cheese sauce. Remove from heat.
- Microwave a microwave-steamable package of your favorite frozen vegetable and stir in with the macaroni and cheese.
The Healthy Substitutions that Matter
The key to this recipe comes down to three substitutions and one addition:
- Whole wheat flour (instead of white flour)
- Whole grain, white fiber pasta (instead of traditional pasta)
- Low fat milk (instead of whole or 2% milk)
- Frozen vegetables (adding a veggie adds some balance)
When it comes to taste, the three ingredient substitutions are hardly noticeable, even to kids, but the dish is nutritionally better for you. The addition of the frozen vegetables incorporates a side right into the dish, maintaining the simplicity of mac and cheese.
Give the recipe a try. It doesn’t take much longer to prepare than traditional boxed macaroni and cheese, and you can feel better about serving it to your kids — or sneaking a bowl for yourself.