Baked Mac & Cheese

Baked Mac & Cheese

68 Reviews
From: EatingWell Magazine, Winter 2004

Mac & cheese can be a true comfort on a gloomy day, and our healthy update takes advantage of extra-sharp Cheddar balanced with creamy low-fat cottage cheese and tucks a layer of spinach into the middle, which may help picky eaters down their vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber.

Ingredients 4 servings

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Original recipe yields 4 servings
Nutrition per serving may change if servings are adjusted.
  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs, (see Tip)
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1¾ cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne


  • Active

  • Ready In

  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
  3. Heat 1½ cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining ¼ cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
  5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 4. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, if necessary, then bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
  • To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about ½ cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about ⅓ cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs. We like Ian's brand labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.
  • Storage smarts: For long-term freezer storage, wrap your food in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of foil. The plastic will help prevent freezer burn while the foil will help keep off-odors from seeping into the food.

Nutrition information

  • Per serving: 584 calories; 24 g fat(13 g sat); 9 g fiber; 60 g carbohydrates; 38 g protein; 193 mcg folate; 65 mg cholesterol; 9 g sugars; 0 g added sugars; 14,547 IU vitamin A; 2 mg vitamin C; 750 mg calcium; 4 mg iron; 907 mg sodium; 676 mg potassium
  • Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (291% daily value), Calcium (75% dv), Folate (48% dv), Iron (22% dv)
  • Carbohydrate Servings: 4
  • Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 3½ medium-fat meat

Reviews 68

February 02, 2017
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By: Cheyenne Rigaglia
I followed the recipe. And we all loved it!
September 21, 2015
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By: EatingWell User
English version. I've always made mac & cheese from scratch but instead in the sauce I use a low fat cream cheese and hard boiled eggs instead of spinach. Nether do I put a topping unless we have company. It tastes just as good without the topping. Pros: Quick, easy but SO tasty. Cons: Always want too much of it.
June 11, 2015
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By: EatingWell User
how is 22 grams of fat healthy?! I may try this with low fat cheddar. As is, I don't see how anyone can consider this healthy!
May 24, 2015
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By: EatingWell User
Sooo good, adults and kids alike rave! Changed only slightly... I've been making this for years, and my kids and husband love it. I change a few things to make it easier AND bigger servings: use Italian Breadcrumbs (so you don't have to use the other seasonings listed for the breadcrumb mixture); double---or even triple--the breadcrumb amount. Use 3 cups of pasta instead of 2 cups. And I use a whole 16 oz bag of frozen chopped spinach. I also love that I can make this ahead in the morning/night before, and it's ready for the oven whenever! Pros: Easy to make, yet good enough for company! Cons: Probably not as healthy as you think, but oh well!
April 24, 2014
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By: EatingWell User
Not Heart Healthy Just what is so healthy about this recipe? It has over 900mg of sodium per serving, almost half of your RDA! No thanks. Pros: None Cons: Way too much sodium
December 31, 2013
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By: EatingWell User
Never eat boxed again A friend ended up in the hospital over Christmas and I wanted to make sure his fiancee was eating well. I made a double batch of this and brought them one of the casseroles. She was SO grateful and wanted the recipe. I happily shared. It may be more effort than the boxed version but thre is absoluely no comparison! It was sooo tasty.
August 27, 2013
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By: chandvakil
Yuummm This was so yummy. It was pretty quick and easy to make too. I followed the recipe exactly, but also threw in some diced onions I had on hand into the sauce. The onion definitely added some good flavor to it and I suggest adding if you like onions.
August 21, 2013
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By: Valasca
I thought this recipe was pretty good. I've made it twice now, once with the layer of spinach and another time with chopped fresh broccoli. I think I prefer the broccoli. I also added more breadcrumb topping because that it one of my favorite components of homemade mac and cheese. Overall it was pretty decent, but I agree that it was a little on the bland side. I will probably try the onion idea of the other reviewer. It was decent enough though that I will make it again even though my husband did not care much for it.
August 06, 2013
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By: EatingWell User
secret ingredient for mac and cheese! I've got mine in the oven baking right now so I haven't actually tried it yet. I did of course taste the sauce and I like what i'm tasting so far. I just wanted to throw in a tip to all of you that say that it tastes bland. I usually make another much more fattening mac and cheese (trying this recipe to eat lighter these days) and my secret ingredient that adds so much flavor is nothing more than half of an onion very finely chopped and sauteed in olive oil. If you chop it very finely no one will no it has onion in it unless you tell them. You really can't believe the amount of flavor that it adds to the dish. Every time I make mac and cheese people want to know what I put in it and when I say onion everyones reaction is a very shocked really???. Just a little tip for those of you wanting to add a bit more flavor to this dish.
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