Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese
Published Dec 19, 2018, Updated Nov 01, 2022
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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. 😉
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!
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.
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. I also have a Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe if you’re interested!
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.
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
- Healthy Pasta Salad
- Creamy Pesto Rutabaga Pasta
- Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta
- One-Skillet Enchilada Pasta
- Penne alla Vodka
- Mushroom Stroganoff
- Creamy Pumpkin Pasta
- Healthy Baked Mac and Cheese
- Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
More Broccoli Recipes to Try
- Broccoli Salad
- Roasted Broccoli
- Broccoli Noodle Stir-Fry
- Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Casserole
- Roasted Broccoli Quinoa Salad
- Vegan Broccoli Raisin Salad
Be sure to check out all of the dinner recipes on EBF!
Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese
- 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
- 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.
- 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 information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Sooooo Good! 😊
Yay! Glad they were a hit, Brynn!
Hello! What is the serving size? is it one cup for 395 cals? Please let me know!
Hi Halee – This recipe makes 4 servings and one serving is 395kcal and one serving is about 2-2.5 cups. If you decide to give this recipe a try, I would love to know how you enjoy it!
I am pregnant and in my first trimester and eating is difficult. I was looking for a recipe that sounded appealing and was also high in protein and fiber, and came across this one. Full disclosure – I didn’t add any vegetables :p I have an aversion to broccoli at the moment, and I simply didn’t have any others on hand that sounded good. Even so, I darn near ate my weight in the creamy goodness that came from the rest of this recipe! So good! When my appetite is back I will try it again WITH the veggies!
AH YAY! Congratulations, Laura. I am so excited to hear that this recipe was a hit. Thank you so much for sharing your review & star rating, I really appreciate it. Best of luck on your pregnancy journey, hoping your appetite comes back soon!
Hi. So excited to make this! My SIL gives birth soon and broccoli Mac is her comfort food. Do you think this would freeze okay to deliver as a freezer meal after birth?
Hey Devon – I’m not sure how this would freeze as I haven’t tried it! I would be concerned that the cheese sauce would thaw weirdly after being frozen, but let me know if you end up trying it!
This was absolutely disgusting. I wanted a healthy comfort meal for my toddler but this is not it. A huge waste of expensive ingredients. I am shocked there are so many positive reviews.
Hi Sarah – I am sorry to hear that this recipe did not turn out as you had hoped. Did you change anything about the recipe?
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