Which is Healthier, Lasagna or Mac & Cheese?
Our next head-to-head battle is between two popular pasta entrées. We’re pitting cheesy layers of lasagna against gooey mac & cheese. Who’ll win this food fight?
If your lasagna includes pasta, veggies, cheese and meat, you’ve got yourself a pretty balanced meal. Plus the tomato sauce is a great way to get in the antioxidant lycopene.
This dish is also easy to modify— pile on more veggies or eliminate the cheese to accomodate a dairy allergy. It’s also a very easy dish to cook and freeze in individual portions—a plus for those busy weeknights.
The portions of higher fat ingredients can get out of control, making even a moderate-sized portion a recipe for disaster. Although ground chuck is cheapest, it’s also the highest in fat with over 300 calories and 20 grams of fat per 4 ounces (that’s without any cheese, noodles or other goodies).
The cheese can also get out of control. One cup of whole milk ricotta cheese has 428 calories, 32 grams of fat (20 of which are saturated). Add that to a cup of whole milk shredded mozzarella with 336 calories, 25 grams fat and 15 grams saturated fat. Between the amount of cheese and meat, you’ve gone well above the daily fat limit.
- Instead of fatty meats or sausage, use ground turkey, turkey sausage,veal, bison or 90-95% lean ground beef.
- Trim down the fat and cholesterol by replacing part of the meat with beans or chopped mushrooms.
- Choose whole wheat noodles.
- Use mostly part-skim cheese and add just a sprinkle of fattier cheese (about 1-2 tablespoons per serving).
- Pile on the veggies while holding back on some of the cheese and meat.
- Watch those portions!
- Check out more ways to lighten up your lasagna.
- Squash and Spinach Lasagna
This classic favorite can provide a healthy dose of calcium, protein and fiber. To do so, use moderate portions of cheese and use whole grain pasta. If you think outside the mac & cheese box, you can even get in your veggies like winter squash, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes or cauliflower.
Many traditional mac & cheese recipes can rack up 1,000 calories—that’s half your daily recommended calories! If you’re making the boxed version, you’re talking boatloads of sodium and a laundry list of added preservatives. Folks may also turn to nonfat cheese, which also has tons of chemicals and will leave you without tasty results.
- Experiment with whole grain pasta to up your fiber.
- Add a veggie like in Ellie’s Macaroni and 4 Cheeses.
- Use small portions of flavorful cheeses like sharp cheddar. Aim for 1-2 tablespoons per serving.
- Serve mac & cheese as a side dish alongside lean protein and veggies.
- Check out more lightened mac & cheese tips and recipes.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »