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.

EatingWell Test Kitchen
Advertisement

Ingredients

Directions

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

    Advertisement
  • Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.

  • Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 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.

  • 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.

  • Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Tips

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 1/2 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 1/3 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 Facts

584 calories; 23.9 g total fat; 65 mg cholesterol; 907 mg sodium. 59.8 g carbohydrates; 37.8 g protein; Full Nutrition

Reviews (72)

72 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 16
  • 4 star values: 45
  • 3 star values: 4
  • 2 star values: 2
  • 1 star values: 5
Rating: 5 stars
12/31/2013
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.
Rating: 5 stars
10/29/2011
This was an awesome recipe! I used brown rice elbow noodles and then I also used fat-free cottage cheese. I followed the recipe exactly how it is but like others I mixed the spinach in with the cheese and noodles. I also spinkled a little more cheese on top. So yummy!
Rating: 5 stars
10/29/2011
Healthy creamy dishes do exist! I just wanted to comment and say that I use Skim Milk for all my mac & cheese dishes. It gets just as thick it does take a little longer. It is worth it to me because it is even less in fat. I make my own bechamel sauce with the Skim Milk and add the low fat cheese. Works great for me!
Advertisement
Rating: 5 stars
03/17/2013
Baked Mac & cheese I make this recipe last night and it turned out awesome. I put in colby-jack cheese (low fat) instead. You can microwave the pasta in a large bowl with water to save some time. You can also mix the spinach in the pasta mixture. Pros: Tastes great
Rating: 5 stars
10/29/2011
Amazing! O. M. G. Best mac and cheese ever. I omitted the spinach and I used half shredded mozzarella and half shredded cheddar since that's all I had. I added a few good shakes of garlic powder and some Mrs. Dash. I also used panko bread crumbs and whole wheat rotini. Seriously it was DELICIOUS. My picky fiance and pickier 14-year-old brother both raved over it. Next time I think I'll double the recipe cause it was gobbled up fast! I also would like to try it with a broccoli layer. Pros: Creamy cheesy
Rating: 5 stars
12/06/2011
Delicious and easy! This is a super-easy mac and cheese recipe that the whole family will love! Tasty light and healthy. What more could you want in your baked mac & cheese? Pros: Tasty light healthy
Advertisement
Rating: 5 stars
10/29/2011
Wow gotta say in 14 yrs of marriage this is the first time my husband mac & cheese afficionado liked homemade however unlike my usual creedo I did tweak a bit. I pretty much used this recipe as a basic & made only slight changes - NO SPINACH being the biggest one!! Neither of us like it cooked. I did have Ians WW crumbs but instead used a quarter cup/1 tablespoon evoo Pepperjack cheese instead of Cheddar Dreamfields elbows and added 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard. Not big time deviations. This was so good a recipe that it's the only mac & cheese we will eat going forward. I teamed it with Apricot Glazed Chicken from Epicurious.com and we were in soul food heaven......on this blizzarding Buffalo New York day. So good and so easy to make! Thanks EW!
Rating: 5 stars
02/08/2012
Delicious! This is especially good using hot paprika and adding 1/2 tsp truffle oil. I made the version of the recipe included in the The Essential EatingWell Cookbook and there were two differences: The cookbook specifies that 2 cups of cheese should be 6 oz and it calls for 1/2 tsp of salt instead of 1/4. The stats listed in the book are 503 calories 935mg of sodium 17g of fat (9g saturated) 60g carbs (8g fiber) and 31g protein. The stats in the web version seem consistent with using 8oz cheese instead of 6oz. Pros: Satisfying tasty
Rating: 5 stars
02/08/2012
My Husband Loved It! I was a bit worried how it would turn out with the spinach but we both loved the flavor it added. For once - the only words coming out of my husbands mouth were: This is great! and Is there more? Pros: Easy quick