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Lighter Baked Macaroni and Cheese

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This creamy baked macaroni and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It’s comfort food at its finest!

This creamy baked macaroni and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I love homemade macaroni and cheese. It’s so much better than the boxed versions, but mac and cheese can be so heavy that it’s hard to enjoy it very often. This healthier mac and cheese recipe is not only lighter, but it will also be a hit with your kids. My skeptical daughter gave it her approval. For low-carb macaroni and cheese options, try Baked Spaghetti Squash and Cheese or Baked Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese.

This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!

If you want to make this recipe a quick stovetop mac and cheese, you can skip the last step. Just serve it without the breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

I lightened up this casserole in four ways:

  1. Reduced the butter
  2. Used reduced fat cheddar cheese
  3. Replaced cream with skim milk and chicken broth
  4. Added fresh baby spinach

For creamy macaroni and cheese, it’s essential to choose a good cheese. Grating the cheese yourself will give the the smoothest cheese sauce.

Tips for Perfect Cheese Sauce (not grainy or gritty)

Have you ever made a mac and cheese that wasn’t creamy or smooth? Instead if was grainy or gritty? The worst! Here’s a few steps you should take for perfectly creamy cheese sauce.

  1. Shred your own cheese. For this recipe, grating your own cheese will give you the smoothest results.
  2. Start with a white sauce. A white sauce is made with butter or olive oil stirred with flour and milk. It thickens once it cools, then you stir the cheese into it to make your cheese sauce.
  3. Do NOT add the cheese to boiling sauce. When adding the cheese, remove the white sauce from the heat completely before adding the cheese. I usually move this to a different burner so it stops boiling. You don’t want to add the cheese to the mixture if it’s boiling/bubbling. Doing so will cause the cheese to break down causing a gritty texture.
  4. Add the cheese a little at a time. I usually do this 1/4 cup at a time, whisking in between until it’s all melted.

Is mac and cheese unhealthy?

Mac and cheese isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it depends on the recipe – some recipes are worse than others. Macaroni and cheese does have a good amount of protein from all the milk and cheese. However, the calories can add up quickly, so it’s important to keep your portion size in check.

I also added spinach, which is another good source of fiber. Not to mention, spinach is packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals. The reduced fat cheese and skim milk help keep the calorie count down. A one-cup serving of this healthy mac and cheese comes in at just under 300 calories.

What do you serve with mac and cheese?

This easy baked mac and cheese would make a delicious main dish for dinner for a busy weeknight. If you want to add a side, you could serve it with a side salad like this chopped wedge or Caesar salad. Or serve it as a side dish with an entrée like turkey meatloaf or baked chicken tenders.

Can I refrigerate before baking?

Yes, you can refrigerate macaroni and cheese before you bake it. This make-ahead mac and cheese is a great option for meal prep. Do all the cooking whenever you have the time and bake it right before you’re ready to eat.

To refrigerate before baking, you will complete all the steps up to putting the mixture in the pan. Cover the dish with foil and refrigerate for up to two days. When you’re ready to bake it, pull the mac out of the fridge while the oven is preheating and top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan.

You will need to bake the macaroni and cheese casserole a little longer since it’ll be cold. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until heated through.

Variations

  • Switch out the spinach for other vegetables like mushrooms or broccoli.
  • Sub the 2% cheddar for reduced fat Gruyere.
  • Use whole wheat, gluten-free, or chickpea pasta instead of fiber-enriched pasta.
  • Try a different shaped pasta like farfalle, rotini, or penne.
  • Swap the breadcrumbs for panko.

white sauce for mac and cheeseThis creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!

More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love:

Lighter Baked Macaroni and Cheese

4.92 from 25 votes
10
Cals:261
Protein:13
Carbs:36.5
Fat:7.5
This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with added fiber from spinach. It's comfort food at it's finest!
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 35 mins
Total: 50 mins
Yield: 8 servings
Serving Size: 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 12 oz elbow macaroni wheat or whole wheat
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 8 oz reduced fat cheddar for best results shred yourself
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
  • olive oil spray

Instructions

  • Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Spray a baking dish with buttered flavor Pam.
  • Preheat oven to 375F°.
  • In a large, heavy skillet, melt butter. Add flour and cook over low heat stirring with a whisk.
  • Add onion and cook another 2 minutes. Add milk and chicken broth and continue whisking, raising heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil and becomes smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Once it becomes thick, remove from heat, add cheese 1/4 cup at a time and mix well until cheese is melted. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, add cooked macaroni and baby spinach.
  • Pour into baking dish. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Spray a little more oil on top.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, then broil for a few minutes to get the breadcrumbs golden.

Last Step:

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Nutrition

Serving: 1 cup, Calories: 261 kcal, Carbohydrates: 36.5 g, Protein: 13 g, Fat: 7.5 g, Saturated Fat: 4 g, Cholesterol: 20.5 mg, Sodium: 277 mg, Fiber: 5.5 g, Sugar: 5 g

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320 comments on “Lighter Baked Macaroni and Cheese”

  1. The first time I followed the instructions to the letter, which I always do with a new recipe, and then I figure out if I want to change it, if at all. The first time I made it, it was delicious but the second time I added some lean ground turkey Along with the spinach to add some more protein. Was absolutely fantastic! I found I did not need to add salt and pepper once I made the cheese sauce, and certainly the Parmesan adds enough saltiness to this recipe if you’re watching your sodium intake. 

  2. I’ve been making skinnytaste recipes for years yet I never made your Mac and cheese.  I always considered it “off limits”.  

    Well
    I decided to try it today – as a surprise to my daughter who loves all things Mac and cheese.  It. Was. Fabulous!  And she had no idea it was lightened up and I liked that I was using real ingredients and not some manufactured, colored powder.
    (Though- they have their place in this world too).

    Added bonus:   i made the realization I can use the sauce recipie as a jump off to many others.  This may have been obvious to others, but I just made the connection now! 🤦🏻‍♀️. 

    I plan to use it over cauliflower rice, steamed broccoli, queso, nachos, disco fries, etc!

    Thank you!!