Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

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!

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

Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

Brittany Mullins
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.
4.44 from 16 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine Vegetarian
Servings 4
Calories 395 kcal

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: 395kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 26gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 354mgFiber: 10gSugar: 3g
Keyword healthy mac and cheese, protein mac and cheese
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Recipe Rating




    39 comments
    1. 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!

    2. Reesa
      January 10, 2021 AT 1:37 pm

      5 stars
      Absolutely fantastic!!! I’m a Mac and cheese fanatic and with adapting a healthier lifestyle I thought Mac and cheese was off the table, but it’s not! Thank you, Brittany, for always making delicious dishes that I can eat on my diet and that my kids will also eat (with their picky palates!!) Even my 9 month old approves!! As always, 5 stars!!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        January 10, 2021 AT 11:46 pm

        Woo!! So glad you loved this recipe. Thanks for making it and for coming back to leave a review. It means the world to me. 🙂

    3. Beth
      October 13, 2020 AT 3:40 pm

      5 stars
      Made this with whole wheat pasta and it was delicious, quick and easy! And my kids loved it! Thanks

      1. Brittany Mullins
        October 13, 2020 AT 5:33 pm

        Ahh yay!! So glad this dish was a hit with the whole fam, Beth. Thanks for making it and for coming back to leave a comment + star rating. I so appreciate it!

    4. Lisa
      September 15, 2020 AT 5:41 am

      2 stars
      Not good. Love the addition of the broccoli and spinach and such a good tip to cook it in the pasta water. The cheese and milk did not mix. Would have had the same outcome without adding any milk. Cheese probably should be added to the milk before adding pasta.
      Not keen on the chickpea pasta either. This recipe turned into a sad disaster 🙁

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 15, 2020 AT 3:02 pm

        Hey Lisa – so sorry to hear that this recipe didn’t turn out for you. What kind of cheese did you end up using? And the chickpea pasta is totally optional! You can make this with any type of pasta in the future.

    5. Kate L
      September 7, 2020 AT 8:21 pm

      Barilla chickpea rotini is always the base of my go-to comfort food– usually with a tomato sauce, sauteed veggies, and Italian seasonings. However, tonight I was feeling indulgent and was craving good old fashioned mac and chees.

      Not only did I already have every ingredient on hand beacuse it requires such simple ingredients, but the directions provided gave perfect results and I was able to enjoy a childhood favorite “sans neon-orange powder.

      Great recipe that gave me exactly what I was looking for!!

Parchment paper lined with protein balls.

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