Ooey-gooey mac & cheese

We took this yummy shot of Baked Mac & Cheese for the cover of our newest book, Comfort Foods Made Healthy (in stores in October). Mac-and-cheese didn't end up on the cover, but it doesn't change the fact that mac-and-cheese is an all-time crowd-pleaser. It's the ultimate comfort food.

This version, which EatingWell contributor Patsy Jamieson developed, is one of my favorite recipes in the whole book. It's healthier than traditional versions of mac-and-cheese, thanks to a lighter sauce, spinach in the middle and a golden breadcrumb topping. Here's how it stacks up nutritionally:

Baked Mac & Cheese

  • Cut calories by 43%
  • Cut total fat by 66%
  • Cut saturated fat by 68%
  • Added folate and fiber

How We Did It

  • Add spinach to increase nutrients.
  • Low-fat milk replaces whole milk to cut down on fat and calories.
  • Use whole-wheat pasta instead of refined white pasta to boost fiber.
  • Replace some of the regular (full-fat) cheese with low-fat cottage cheese, which has great creamy texture.

Baked Mac & Cheese

ACTIVE TIME: 25 minutes | TOTAL TIME: 55 minutes


3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach
1 3/4 cups 1% milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
1 cup low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne

1. Put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Cook spinach according to package directions. Drain and refresh under cold water; press out excess moisture.
3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 503 calories; 17 g fat (9 g sat, 2 g mono); 54 mg cholesterol; 60 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 8 g fiber; 935 mg sodium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (200% daily value), Calcium (60% dv), Folate (27% dv).

Can't get enough mac-and-cheese? A few more versions we have created over the years:

No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese This stovetop version is ultra-creamy and it includes broccoli.

Macaroni & Cheese This one is a baked version, without spinach in the middle.

By Jessie Price

EatingWell food editor Jessie Price's professional background in food started when she worked in restaurant kitchens in the summers during college. She started out testing recipes for EatingWell and then joined the staff here full-time in 2004 when she moved to Vermont from San Francisco.

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