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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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


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

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. 


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

  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

This post may include affiliate links. Thank you for your support.

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    33 comments
    1. Beth
      October 13, 2020 AT 3:40 pm

      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!

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

      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.

    3. 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!!

    4. Karen Anderson
      September 2, 2020 AT 7:16 pm

      Brittany,
      This was absolutely delicious and my hubby loved it as well! Made it tonight with unsweetened plain almond milk and substituted 1 T. whipped cream cheese for the Laughing Cow (because I forgot it at the store 🤣) and added a bit more spinach than called for. I am super happy I now have a healthy comfort dish I can make that is quick and easy! Thank you and would love to try more of your recipes!
      Karen of Florida

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 3, 2020 AT 11:23 pm

        Ahh yay!! This makes me so happy to hear, Karen! I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe. I appreciate you trying it and coming back to leave a comment + star rating. It means the world to me. <3

    5. Suanne
      July 16, 2020 AT 11:57 pm

      You didnt say how big a serving size is or how many servings this makes prepared. It sound awesome I’m excited to try this soon

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 17, 2020 AT 6:33 pm

        Hey Suanne! It says at the top of the recipe that it yields about 4. 🙂

    6. sarah
      June 24, 2020 AT 4:35 pm

      is the milk supposed to evaporate completely? cause mine ended up kind of watery/milky and the cheese didn’t really stick to the pasta

    7. Agatha
      April 15, 2020 AT 5:09 pm

      Is it ok to use regular fusilli pasta over the chickpeas ones? I’m not a big plants pasta, and also during this pandemic is harder to source such deli.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        April 16, 2020 AT 1:28 pm

        Yes, any pasta will work!

    8. Chelsea
      April 8, 2020 AT 8:38 pm

      This recipe looks delicious! I have yet to try the chickpea pasta — I’ll need to try it with this recipe.
      Thanks so much for sharing!

    9. Lauren
      January 30, 2020 AT 11:08 am

      Silly question but what is one serving? A cup, half a cup?

      1. Brittany Mullins
        February 1, 2020 AT 6:56 pm

        About a cup!

    10. Maya Casagrande
      January 26, 2020 AT 7:56 am

      This sounds great and I’m looking forward to trying it. However please reconsider your recommendation of Laughing Cow – they have a record of animal cruelty and abuse – just thought it was worth a mention. Thanks :).

    11. Kristina
      December 30, 2019 AT 7:34 am

      How can anyone not try this mac and cheese? My little one would absolutely love this.

    12. Rachel
      November 26, 2019 AT 12:29 pm

      I noticed you say serve immediately – how does it hold up if you make ahead? I wanted to bring it to an office potluck, so was planning on making it the night before.

      Thanks!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        December 2, 2019 AT 4:16 pm

        Hey Rachel, I think that would be just fine! Do you plan to use regular pasta or a legume-based pasta?

    13. Tammy Dockham
      October 5, 2019 AT 2:10 pm

      What exactly is a spreadable cheese wedge?

    14. Adi
      October 2, 2019 AT 12:57 pm

      Lovely idea and super delicious! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    15. Autumn
      September 3, 2019 AT 9:26 pm

      How could you go wrong with mac & cheese? This looks absolutely amazing. I can not wait to make this for my little one.

    16. Michelle
      September 1, 2019 AT 3:13 pm

      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.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        September 1, 2019 AT 7:47 pm

        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?

    17. eatfrysmith
      June 22, 2019 AT 5:23 am

      Oh. It looks so delicious. Am going to try it now.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        June 22, 2019 AT 10:55 pm

        Yay!! Let mw know how it turns out.

    18. Chris
      December 19, 2018 AT 4:22 pm

      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)?

      1. Brittany Mullins
        December 20, 2018 AT 11:01 am

        Not a dumb question. Yes, you do need a little heat for the cheese to melt. I’ll add that to the recipe. Thanks for noticing. 🙂

    19. sue
      December 19, 2018 AT 1:49 pm

      What exactly is a “spreadable cheese wedge”?

      1. Brittany Mullins
        December 19, 2018 AT 1:53 pm

        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. 🙂

    20. Kathy
      December 19, 2018 AT 12:30 pm

      What is a spreadable cheese wedge?

      1. Brittany Mullins
        December 19, 2018 AT 1:10 pm

        It’s similar to cream cheese. I used the creamy swiss Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedge for this recipe!

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