Macaroni & Cheese, Lightened Up

I don’t know many people that would turn down mac and cheese. But is there a way to devour it without worry? Learn how to make the cheesy goodness with less calories and more flavor.

Related To:

I don’t know many people that would turn down mac and cheese, but we know all that cheese really ups the calories and fat. Here are some ways to enjoy the creamy goodness with less calories and the same -- or more -- flavor.

The Not-So-Good News

Many recipes for traditional mac and cheese have more than 1000 calories per serving -- not to mention alll that artery-clogging saturated fat from the cheese, milk and butter. And that blue box with the bright orange “cheese” powder may bring back childhood memories, but the sodium and preservatives in packaged mac and cheese should be enough incentive to stay away (far away!). Using fat-free cheese may seem like a good idea too, but it contains more chemicals than cheese. It tastes like salty plastic (in my humble opinion) and will leave you with a gloppy mess.

The Good News

All is not lost, mac and cheese can be a wholesome, healthy dish. Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium, and pasta adds fiber and energy-producing carbohydrates.

The Great News

You can enjoy simple and traditional recipes as long as you keep the portions small. Serve it as a side with some lean protein, veggies or a salad for a complete meal.

Ways to Lighten It Up

Cut back on the cheese by using smaller portions of flavorful cheeses -- sharp cheddar or pepper-jack are good choices. Low-fat cheeses don’t have added chemicals -- like the fat-free versions -- so replacing some or all with a low-fat version will slash the calories and fat. A good melting soy cheese works well too, and there’s hardly any saturated fat. You might try a mix of soy and cow's milk cheese to maintain a flavor balance.

Experiment with different shapes and types of pasta. Pair up whole-wheat elbows with nutty Gruyère cheese or try brown rice penne with Havarti and savory Parmesan.

Don't be afraid of extra goodies, too! Cut back the calories -- and get an extra serving of veggies -- by adding broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and squash (I could go on…) to your favorite recipes.

Add even more flavor by mixing in some pesto or spicy salsa -- that's Toby’s favorite trick. Fresh herbs, cayenne pepper and nutmeg give this recipe a kick. Part-skim ricotta or low-fat sour cream can help keep baked macaroni dishes moist and creamy.

    Mac and cheese recipes to try:
TELL US: How do you love to make your mac & cheese healthier?

Next Up

Mini Mac and 'Shrooms — Meatless Monday

Upgrade your macaroni-and-cheese game by adding hearty, earthy mushrooms with the help of Food Network Magazine's easy recipe.

Spinach and Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese — Meatless Monday

Cozy up to winter comfort food without the calories using Food Network Kitchen's surprisingly healthy recipe for macaroni and cheese.

The One Ingredient You Need to Make the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese

Sorry, butter and milk — you’ve officially been replaced.

Best 5 Macaroni and Cheese Recipes

Check out Food Network's top-five recipes for decadent macaroni and cheeses from Trisha, Alton and more chefs.

Food Network Magazine: April 2010 Recipe Index

Find recipes for Easter, Passover, mac and cheese, easy weeknight meals and 50 simple egg dishes from Food Network Magazine.

50 Mac and Cheese Recipes

Find dozens of new ways to make a weeknight favorite from Food Network Magazine.

Make Irish Macaroni and Cheese

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, whip up this easy Irish Macaroni and Cheese from Food Network Magazine.

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese — Meatless Monday

Upgrade your mac-and-cheese game with one key ingredient: cayenne pepper.

Taste Test: Frozen Macaroni and Cheese

Taste tested frozen macaroni and cheese. More tips like these at Food Network