Healthier Mac and Cheese is everything you want from the classic comfort food dish. It's creamy, cheesy, full of flavor, plus half the calories as a restaurant version. Go ahead & indulge in your favorite classic!
When I think of cravings, I think of intensely cheesy and carb-loaded foods. Seeing that Macaroni and Cheese is so high on that list, I figured it was about time I shared a recipe for it on here!
Mac and cheese from the box feels like it has its place until you try some real honest homemade mac and cheese. And then you realize you’ve been cheated. A good mac and cheese should leave someone saying “Oh my!” and also “but how??”. These questions are even more perplexing once you’ve actually tried making homemade mac and cheese and realize achieving that saucy, cheesy flavor is not easy. It’s not as straightforward as you’d think! I’m talking about replicating that amazing version you always think of as the gold standard.
HOMEMADE MAC & CHEESE
Usually, mac and cheese is made by making a roux which is a technical term for a sauce base that consists of flour and butter. This can be turned into many different sauces too – but in this case, different cheeses get added to the base to make a cheese sauce. My issue with making a roux is that you really need to perfect it for it to come out great. You have to pay attention to your temperature very closely so that the sauce doesn’t burn and that the cheese doesn’t curdle. Otherwise, you’re looking at one messy grainy sauce that doesn’t taste at all like Velveeta.
The roux is not the hard part so much as it is to get the cheese to behave well. Shredded cheese doesn’t melt as well because it has anti-caking agents added to it, so for a roux it's better to shred the cheese yourself. But for this recipe – it does not matter which route you take!
TRIAL AND ERROR
I have done countless trials with a Healthier Mac & Cheese version overtime to make it easy, stay saucy, smooth, creamy, cheesy, and salty, plus to not be a calorie bomb so that I can eat it regularly. This wasn’t a small feat and I would declare myself a tough critic! I’m still perfecting my roux, but over the years I wanted a simpler sauce that came out great every time, without needing so much tender attention. Sometimes you just need some room for imperfection!
The difference in this recipe is that the cheese sauce is made right in the pot with the pasta. Everything just melts and stirs right together. The cheeses I’m using are American cheese and Sharp cheddar. You usually want a combination of one mild cheese and one sharper cheese for the flavors to be more balanced. And yes, that’s right – I’m using American cheese! I know it’s not what comes to mind when you think of “healthy”, but it melts great and forms a really nice base, so you don’t need much of it.
When I first started dieting, I was torn between giving dishes like these up or having them, but only in really tiny portions. And if you’re in that boat, you know it gets old fast. I wanted a happy medium. The food I wanted to eat, pared down to fit my goals.
AS ALWAYS, IF YOU MAKE THIS – PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW!
Healthier Mac & Cheese
- 1 lb medium pasta shells
- Drizzle olive oil
- Pinch of sea salt (for pasta)
- ¾ cup skim milk
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter
- 5 slices American cheese
- 2 cup shredded sharp reduced-fat cheddar some reserved for topping
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add in a drizzle of olive oil & pinch of sea salt to water. Cook pasta for 8-10 minutes. Reserve ¼ cup pasta water and drain the rest.
Mix in the milk & season with salt and pepper. Add in the butter (in cut up chunks), stir around. Rip apart your slices of American cheese into smaller pieces and mix them in. Add in the shredded cheddar and combine that into the pasta.
A sauce will have been created right into the pasta, if it seems a little dry, add in some of the reserved pasta water 1 tbsp at a time. You can top with anything from seasoned breadcrumbs, extra shredded cheese, bacon, scallion, etc!
This will keep and reheat, but stir in some milk after its hot to revive the sauce.