Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

It’s here! 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.

I started with my new favorite pasta: Barilla Chickpea Rotini.. Barilla has a new line of legume pastas that are made with one simple ingredient — in this case, chickpea flour! They’re packed with plant-based protein and an excellent source of fiber. I love using legume pasta as the base because it ups the nutrition tenfold! And as an added bonus, all of the Barilla legume pastas are certified gluten-free and Non-GMO Project Verified. PS: the best place to find them is on Amazon!

My latest trick with pasta dishes is adding veggies to the boiling noodles. In this case, I added the broccoli florets to the pasta for the last four minutes of cooking time. More veggies and less dishes? Sign me up. Always.

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

While the pasta is still warm, you add in the spinach, butter, milk and cheese. 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.

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

The final product is a full meal that is perfect for adults wanting a warm bowl of comfort food and something the kids will love (bonus points for sneaking in those extra veggies)!

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

Are you a mac and cheese lover? Have you ever tried making it from scratch?

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

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Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese


  • Author: Brittany Mullins
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x

Description

It’s here! 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. 


Scale

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 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Serve immediately with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Notes

  • I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself, but you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • 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.
  • Category: Lunch/Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Vegetarian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 (made with reduced fat cheddar cheese)
  • Calories: 395
  • Sugar: 3g
  • Sodium: 354mg
  • Fat: 17g
  • Saturated Fat: 7g
  • Carbohydrates: 42g
  • Fiber: 10g
  • Protein: 26g
  • Cholesterol: 38mg

Keywords: protein mac and cheese, healthy mac and cheese

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    11 comments
  1. Honestly this recipe sounded really good! Unfortunately for the amount of stirring to mix the cheese sauce with the pasta, there’s no way that the chickpea pasta can hold up, all my pasta broke up immediately into little pieces. Though I love chickpea pasta sooo much maybe this isnt the best way to use it. Also I should’ve added flour since the milk was way too watery in the end.

    • Oh no! Sorry the recipe didn’t turn out as expected. Which brand of pasta did you use? I didn’t have any trouble with the Barilla pasta breaking apart. I know some brands are more fragile than others. You also shouldn’t have needed to stir the cheese for very long. Just curious, did you follow the recipe exactly or change some of the ingredients?

  2. Maybe a dumb question but after draining the pasta do you add the cheese and milk with the stove off or do you feed it with heat (low/medium)?

    • Ha! I think I’m confusing a lot of people with the spreadable cheese wedge. It’s just one of those Laughing Cow cheese wedges — 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). The cheese wedge is 21 grams so I’d about the same amount of cream cheese if you make that swap. Overall, it helps make the mac and cheese extra creamy. 🙂

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