Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

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A healthy mac and cheese recipe that is packed with protein, broccoli and spinach. Perfect as a full meal and a sneaky way to get your kids to eat more veggies. This post is sponsored by Barilla®.

Mac and cheese will forever be one of my favorite meals. It instantly brings me back to my childhood and reminds me of my sister. She taught me how to make all the pasta dishes you need to know how to make in high school and/or college — mac and cheese, buttered noodles and ramen. So, this recipe is for you, sis! With a little added nutrition oomph. 😉

A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

Macaroni and cheese is a staple for most American families, but there is a miiiiinor problem with traditional mac and cheese — it’s pretty low in nutrients.

Since most kids I know are surviving off of mac and cheese, and because I miss having a bowl every now and then, I wanted to take a stab at turning a traditional recipe into a full meal that’s protein packed and sneaks in some green veggies. Challenge = accepted!

Hand pouring a box of Barilla chickpea rotini pasta into a boiling pot of water for protein mac and cheese.

Ingredients in Protein Mac and Cheese

  • Barilla Chickpea Rotini – I love using Barilla’s line of legume pastas because they’re made with one simple ingredient, packed with plant-based protein and have an excellent source of fiber. And as an added bonus, all of the Barilla legume pastas are certified gluten-free and non-GMO Project Verified.
  • broccoli and spinach because you can’t have healthy mac and cheese without some veggies. 
  • butter I prefer organic butter, but you can use whatever you have on hand. 
  • milk I used unsweetened almond milk, but you can use regular milk as well.
  • Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedge for this you need just one  cheese wedge. You can find them at almost every grocery store in the cheese section. If needed, you can leave this out or sub it for cream cheese (dairy or non-dairy).
  • reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese – I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself, but you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • sea salt and pepper – for a little seasoning.

A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

Notes & Substitutions

Pasta: As I mentioned above, I love using legume pasta to amp up the nutrition count. That said, you can totally use whatever pasta you prefer.

Veggies: Not a fan of spinach and broccoli? Feel free to use other veggies!

Cheese: I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself. In case you were wondering, let me just confirm that real cheese is 100x better than powdered cheese or even pre-shredded cheese. Fresh is always better and shredding the cheese takes no time at all. However, you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.

Vegan + Dairy Free: If you want to make this recipe vegan or dairy-free you can use vegan butter, vegan shredded cheddar cheese and 1 Tablespoon of vegan cream cheese instead of the spreadable cheese wedge.

Wooden spoon mixing a pot of creamy and healthy protein mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach.

How to Serve This Protein Mac and Cheese

This mac and cheese is hearty enough to be served as a meal on its own, but if you want additional protein I recommend pairing it with an easy protein option like roasted chickpeas, tofu, shrimp or chicken. It pairs perfectly with my grilled apple cider vinegar chicken.

You can also serve it alongside a salad for extra veggie goodness. I’d recommend one of these salads: Garlicky Kale Salad, Easy Spinach Salad or Easy Caprese Salad.

A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

How to Store Protein Mac and Cheese

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This mac and cheese will keep for 3-4 days.

More Pasta Recipes to Try:

More Broccoli Recipes to Try:

If you make this protein packed healthy mac and cheese, be sure to let me know how it turned out by leaving a comment and star rating below. Your feedback is so helpful for me and other EBF readers!

Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

4 from 35 votes
A healthy mac and cheese recipe that is packed with protein, broccoli and spinach. Perfect as a full meal and a sneaky way to get your kids to eat more veggies.
A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 box, 8 oz Barilla Chickpea Rotini
  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 Tablespoon organic butter
  • 1 cup milk, I used unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedge
  • 1 1/2 cups 6 oz reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (more, if needed)*
  • 1 handful chopped baby spinach
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Boil pasta & broccoli: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add chickpea rotini pasta, return to a boil and cook for a total of 8 minutes, adding in the broccoli florets at the four minute mark. Drain pasta and broccoli.
  • Add remaining ingredients: In the same large pot over low/medium heat add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Once butter has melted add in drained pasta and broccoli, spreadable cheese wedge and shredded cheese. Let cheese melt a little, about 30 seconds. Use a spoon to stir everything together until pasta is well coated with cheese, adding more cheese if needed. Add in chopped baby spinach and toss until wilted.
  • Serve: Serve immediately with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Notes

  • Pasta: As I mentioned above, I love using legume pasta to amp up the nutrition count. That said, you can totally use whatever pasta you prefer.
  • Veggies: Not a fan of spinach and broccoli? Feel free to use other veggies!
  • Cheese: I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself. In case you were wondering, let me just confirm that real cheese is 100x better than powdered cheese or even pre-shredded cheese. Fresh is always better and shredding the cheese takes no time at all. However, you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • Vegan + Dairy Free: If you want to make this recipe vegan or dairy-free you can use vegan butter, vegan shredded cheddar cheese and 1 Tablespoon of vegan cream cheese instead of the spreadable cheese wedge.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(made with reduced fat cheddar cheese) Calories: 395kcal Carbohydrates: 42g Protein: 26g Fat: 17g Saturated Fat: 7g Cholesterol: 38mg Sodium: 354mg Fiber: 10g Sugar: 3g
Course: Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keyword: healthy mac and cheese, protein mac and cheese

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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Recipe Rating




    48 comments
    1. Giftbasketworldwide
      September 16, 2021 AT 2:27 am

      Excellent!! Will try it for sure.

    2. Melissa
      September 8, 2021 AT 6:26 pm

      5 stars
      Really enjoyed this quick, one pot meal. My 6 year old ate it up! The spinach is hidden and while you can’t hide the broccoli it’s covered in a yummy cheese sauce. Adding this to the regular rotation.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 9, 2021 AT 10:44 am

        Yay!! So pumped to hear this recipe was a hit, Melissa! Thanks so much for the review and star rating. I really appreciate it!

    3. Charis
      September 7, 2021 AT 9:01 pm

      5 stars
      I made this tonight in a double batch, using half chickpea pasta and half whole wheat. I used 2% milk and 4 c. cheddar, without any of the Laughing Cow cheese. I also didn’t get the spinach in because I didn’t have it prepared to go in the pot on time… Not understanding the chemistry issue others mentioned with cheese globbing together, I decided to just make my cheese sauce in a separate pot, adding the pasta and broccoli after they were cooked. This worked perfectly. Mine may have been a bit less healthy than the original recipe, but still healthier than other mac ‘n cheese recipes out there, and very tasty and filling!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 8, 2021 AT 12:41 am

        So glad this recipe turned out for you, Charis!! Thanks for making my recipe and for coming back to leave a review. I so appreciate it. 🙂

    4. Kristen K Balko
      August 30, 2021 AT 7:45 pm

      Agreed. A sad disaster. Had to throw it away after trying the stir the oily cheese globs in the pot of expensive pasta and broccoli. So frustrating and disappointing. I had this recipe saved for months and was almost in tears when it didn’t come together. (I know it sounds dramatic – but we really value good, healthy food here. We live in a rural area and it is hard to get anything other than basic white or wheat pasta for example).

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 6, 2021 AT 4:43 pm

        Hey Kristen – I hated that this recipe didn’t work out for you so I decided to test it again over the weekend and I didn’t have any issues with the cheese melting. I’m trying to figure out what might have happened! What brand/style of cheese did you use? Did you use a laughing cow wedge as well?

    5. Corin
      January 26, 2021 AT 4:13 pm

      5 stars
      I’ve always made mac&cheese from the box but wanted a less processed version that is easy/quick to make, and this is JUST THAT! I didn’t use the cheese wedge or butter, but still sooo creamy. I also used Banza chickpea shells and they worked fine. Also had frozen veg to use up so dumped those in. An A+ dinner!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        January 26, 2021 AT 8:50 pm

        Woo!! So glad you loved this recipe, Corin. Thanks for the review. I so appreciate it!

Parchment paper lined with protein balls.

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