Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese

VG

This baked mac and cheese is made lighter with a combo of almond milk and vegetable broth and almond meal instead of breadcrumbs. It’s creamy, cheesy, comforting and sure to become a new family favorite!

There’s nothing quite like a comforting bowl of mac and cheese, am I right? It always brings me back to my childhood and now with two kiddos myself mac and cheese is definitely a staple in our household! While boxed mac and cheese is convenient, I prefer to make homemade mac and cheese. I love my healthy mac and cheese, but today I’m sharing a lightened-up baked mac and cheese, which might just be my new favorite.

I love the end result of baked mac and cheese… it still has the same creamy and cheesy consistency of regular stovetop mac and cheese, but it has a nice crisp, crunchy topping! To lighten up this recipe just a bit I used a combo of almond milk and vegetable broth instead of heavy cream, less butter and almond meal instead of breadcrumbs that can typically be found in many baked mac and cheese recipes.

A baking dish containing healthy baked mac and cheese, some portions have been removed.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Packed with cheesy goodness!
  • It’s a dish that the whole family will love!
  • It’s a lightened-up version of a comfort food classic.
Ingredients measured out to make Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese: pepper, almond milk, almond meal/breadcrumbs, elbow macaroni, parmesan, butter, vegetable broth, cheddar, flour and salt.

Ingredients Needed

  • elbow macaroni – you can’t get any more classic than elbow macaroni for this dish. That said, any variety of pasta will work! For some added protein and fiber you can use whole wheat pasta, lentil or chickpea pasta.
  • butter – when combined with the flour this forms a roux to help thicken the cheese sauce. I suggest using butter that’s from grass-fed cows.
  • all-purpose flour – this is what thickens the cheese sauce. Feel free to use gluten-free all-purpose if you need a gluten-free option.
  • almond milk – I used unsweetened almond milk for this recipe instead of cream or regular milk, but any type of milk will work. If you’re going the dairy-free route I recommend using unsweetened milk as many milk alternatives will have sugar and this will change the flavor of the mac & cheese.
  • vegetable broth – instead of using all milk for the liquid I decided to use half vegetable broth for some added flavor! Chicken broth will work as well. I just recommend using low-sodium broth so you can control the sodium content in this dish.
  • cheddar & parmesan cheese – the combo of sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan takes this dish to the next level. I recommend shredding your own cheese instead of using pre-shredded store-bought cheese for the best results.
  • almond meal or panko breadcrumbs – this adds a nice crispy, crunchy topping! I prefer using almond meal for some added nutrients, but panko breadcrumbs are also a great option.
  • salt & pepper – for seasoning and bringing all the flavors together.
Collage of six photos showing the steps to make Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese: starting by making the cheese sauce, adding the elbow macaroni and then baking it with breadcrumbs on top.

How to Make

Begin by preheating the oven to 375°F and spraying a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray. Cook your macaroni noodles according to the package instructions until al dente (you want the pasta a little undercooked). While the pasta is cooking, add the butter to a large pot and heat over low heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour until combined. 

Next, add the almond milk, broth, salt & pepper and bring the mixture to a boil while whisking constantly until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and slowly add 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, mixing until melted and smooth. Add the noodles to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. 

Pour the mac & cheese into your baking dish and top it off with the remaining cheddar and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle bread crumbs or almond meal on top and bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbly and the top begins to brown. Broil for 2 minutes to make the topping nice and crispy, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly and enjoy!

A bowl containing baked mac and cheese.

Substitutions & Notes

  • Add veggies – want to amp up the nutrition count in this recipe by adding vegetables? Go for it! Broccoli, spinach, kale or zucchini are some options that would pair well with this dish.
  • Swap the cheese – sharp cheddar cheese and parmesan are my favorite cheeses to use for this dish, but there are many other varieties of cheeses that would work well such as white cheddar, gouda, monterey jack, pepper jack, havarti and gruyere.
  • Spice it up – want to make spicy mac and cheese? Add your favorite peppers or spices to the dish. Sliced jalapeño, cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes are some good options.
  • Amp up the flavor – combining some herbs and spices can really amp up the flavors in this mac and cheese recipe. Garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, paprika, cumin powder, dried thyme, oregano, rosemary or fresh parsley are all excellent additions.
  • Vegan – I haven’t tried a vegan version of this baked mac and cheese and I’m not sure how it would turn out with vegan cheese, but let me know if you try it in the comments below! You could also try this vegan mac and cheese instead!
  • Low-carb – for a low-carb mac and cheese option I recommend making this baked cauliflower mac and cheese instead!
  • Gluten-free – to make this dish gluten-free use a gluten-free pasta option like brown rice or chickpea noodles and almond meal instead of breadcrumbs. Banza is my favorite gluten-free brand that’s high in protein, using chickpeas as a main ingredient.
A close up of healthy baked mac and cheese in a dish.

Tips for Success

  • Cook your pasta only until al dente. You’ll want it a little undercooked as it’ll cook more in the oven.
  • Skip the store-bought pre-shredded cheese. Use hand-shredded cheese! I definitely recommend buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself. Fresh is always better and shredding the cheese takes no time at all. The pre-shredded store-bought cheeses typically contain preservatives like potato starch, natamycin and/or cellulose to prevent the shreds from clumping together in the bag. This will prevent your cheese from melting properly in the roux mixture and will likely lead to more of a grainy taste texture.
  • Remove roux from heat before adding cheese. You don’t want to add your cheese to the sauce mixture if it’s still bubbling, otherwise it could burn the cheese or result in a grainy texture.
  • Add cheese a little at a time. It will take longer for the cheese to melt and may end up too clumped together if you add it all at once. 
  • Watch closely if broiling at the end. To make sure the top doesn’t burn! Only speaking from experience here. 😉 You should only broil the mac and cheese for about 2 minutes.
A bowl of baked mac and cheese. A fork is removing a cheesy bite.

What to Serve With Baked Mac & Cheese

This baked mac and cheese makes a great option for a meatless dinner or lunch, but I also think it would be amazing served alongside some protein or additional sides for a more filling meal. Here are some ideas:

A bowl full of baked mac and cheese.

How to Store

Store any leftovers in an airtight sealed container for 4-5 days in the fridge. To reheat, add the mac and cheese to a saucepan and heat over medium-low, until warmed, stirring often to prevent burning. If needed, add a little bit of milk or water to thin out the sauce. Alternatively, you can reheat this in the microwave if you’re short on time.

A rectangular baking dish containing baked mac and cheese.

Baked Mac and Cheese FAQ’s

Should you cover your mac & cheese while baking?

No you don’t need to! It’s actually more convenient to leave it uncovered as this helps the top of the dish become nice as crispy!

What’s the best cheese to use?

The best cheese to use for any mac & cheese is sharp cheddar, and of course it doesn’t hurt to add parmesan to the mix! There are plenty of other cheeses that will work with a much different taste. Gruyere is a common cheese used for fondue and melts really well and Gouda cheese will add a robust, almost smoky flavor to your mac & cheese. White cheddar, Monterey Jack and Colby cheese are other common options for mac and cheese.

Do you need to add breadcrumbs to the top?

No, you don’t need to add breadcrumbs or almond meal. You’ll still end up with a creamy and ever-so-cheesy meal. The breadcrumbs/almond meal just adds a really nice touch with a slightly crunchy texture.

Can you prep this baked mac and cheese ahead of time?

Yes! You can easily prepare this mac & cheese ahead of time! Simply prepare the mac & cheese as directed, but hold off on the breadcrumbs/almond meal and don’t bake it! Cover the dish and set it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to bake, uncover it, top it with breadcrumbs and bake for 20-25 minutes, until bubbly and the top begins to brown. Broil for the last 2 minutes to brown the top even more, watching closely to not burn the cheese.

A spoonful of baked mac and cheese being removed from a larger baking dish.

More Pasta Recipes

Be sure to check out all of the pasta recipes as well as the full collection of vegetarian recipes on EBF!

Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese

5 from 6 votes
This baked mac and cheese is made lighter with a combo of almond milk and vegetable broth and almond meal instead of breadcrumbs. It's creamy, cheesy, comforting and sure to become a new family favorite!
A baking dish containing healthy baked mac and cheese, some portions have been removed.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup almond meal or breadcrumbs

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F and spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente (you want the pasta a little undercooked).
  • While pasta is cooking, add butter to a large saucepan and heat over low heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour until combined.
    Butter and flour whisked together in a pot.
  • Add almond milk, broth, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, raising heat to medium-high, until mixture is smooth and thick.
    Pepper and milk added to pot.
  • Remove from heat and slowly add 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, mixing until fully melted and smooth.
    Cheese melted into milk mixture in pot.
  • Add cooked pasta to cheese mixture and stir to combine until pasta is fully coated.
    Cooked noodles added to melted cheese mixture in pot.
  • Add pasta to prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle breadcrumbs or almond meal over the mac and cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbly and top begins to brown. Broil for the last 2 minutes to brown the top even more, watching closely to not burn the cheese.
    Healthy baked mac and cheese in a rectangular baking dish.
  • Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 recipe Calories: 505kcal Carbohydrates: 31g Protein: 22g Fat: 32g Saturated Fat: 17g Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 81mg Sodium: 923mg Potassium: 162mg Fiber: 2g Sugar: 2g
Course: Lunch/Dinner, Side
Cuisine: American
Keyword: baked mac and cheese

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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Recipe Rating




    2 comments
    1. Royce
      October 20, 2022 AT 8:32 pm

      5 stars
      This recipe for Baked Mac & Cheese is wonderful! Very creamy with an exceptionally crispy crust on top. Hubby loved it also. The aroma while it was baking was heavenly. Our dogs truly enjoyed cleaning the casserole, even though all of the food was removed to storage containers. Keep up the good work!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        October 21, 2022 AT 9:51 am

        WOO! I am so happy that this recipe was a hit for everyone, Royce. Thank you so much for sharing your review & star rating, I really appreciate it!

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