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Broccoli—just like pasta—makes a tasty pairing with sharp Cheddar. Here, we've combined all three ingredients in a homey casserole that's baked in a cast-iron skillet. Replacing some of the pasta in the dish with vegetables makes it more nutritious and helps you cut down on carbs.

EatingWell.com, June 2021


Read the full recipe after the video.

Recipe Summary

30 mins
45 mins

Here's how we made over this recipe to be healthy and diabetes-friendly:

1. We swap out some of the pasta for broccoli, but do it in the easiest way possible. Instead of steaming or roasting the broccoli separately, we cook it in the same boiling water with the pasta, so you don't have to bother with an extra pot or pan. And because the broccoli simply slips into the cooking water for the last minute of cooking, you don't have to worry about timing either. This results in a dish with fewer carbs and more fiber with very little extra effort.

2. We use low-fat milk as the base of the cheese sauce. Opting for low-fat milk over whole milk means less saturated fat, but still results in a super-creamy mac and cheese. We also use just a small amount of butter to whisk together a roux, which helps keep the cheese sauce thick and creamy without adding too much saturated fat overall.

3. We opt for the sharp Cheddar cheese over mild—its intense flavor goes further, allowing you to use slightly less cheese overall. For the best melting, shred your own cheese rather than grabbing a bag of pre-shredded at the grocery. Yes, that bag is more convenient, but those shreds are tossed with preservatives that keep the cheese from clumping together—also preventing it from melting seamlessly into the sauce.

Having diabetes doesn't mean you have to give up all of your favorite foods. You just need the know-how (and easy cooking tips) to make better choices. In Make Over My Recipe, a fun cooking show geared toward beginner cooks, Mila Clarke takes classics like mac and cheese, meatloaf, brownies and more comfort foods and uses simple tricks to make them healthier—but just as delicious as ever.

Tips from the EatingWell Test Kitchen

I don't have a cast-iron skillet, can I bake it in something else?

A 10-inch cast-iron skillet holds about 3 quarts or 12 cups of food. You can use another medium oven-safe skillet or a 3-quart baking dish, such as a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Can I use frozen broccoli?

Yes! You can add it (still frozen) during the last minute of cooking the pasta, just like fresh.

I hate broccoli (or don't have any), can I use another vegetable?

Sure can. Cauliflower, green beans and asparagus are other low-carb veggies that can be swapped in pretty seamlessly and will have a similarly low impact on your blood sugar level. Cut the cauliflower into bite-size florets and the green beans or asparagus into 1-inch pieces before adding them during the last minute of cooking the pasta. You can use greens like spinach, kale and chard too—their volume reduces a lot during cooking so you may want to start with 6 to 8 cups chopped. You can put spinach in the colander and drain the pasta over it—the hot pasta water will be enough to cook those tender leaves. But you'll want to add heartier greens like kale and chard during the last minute of cooking the pasta.

I don't have smoked paprika, can I use regular?

We like the extra layer of flavor that smoked paprika adds, but regular works as well. If you want to try smoked paprika, look for it with other spices in well-stocked supermarkets. It's great sprinkled on proteins like chicken, pork and tofu along with salt and pepper before cooking.

Can I use plain dry breadcrumbs?

Yes, but keep in mind that plain dry breadcrumbs are higher in sodium than panko (200 mg versus 55 mg per 1/4 cup).

Can I use whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose?

Yes. Whole-wheat flour has a stronger flavor than all-purpose, but since it's only a couple of tablespoons, it shouldn't make a noticeable difference in this recipe.

Can I assemble it ahead of time and bake it another day?

That's a great idea. Cover and refrigerate it for up to 2 days. Set the mac and cheese on the stove while the oven preheats. You'll likely need to bake it for 10 to 15 minutes longer.


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • Preheat oven to 425°F.

  • Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, adding broccoli for the last minute of cooking. Drain.

  • Wipe the pot dry and place over medium-low heat. Add butter and swirl until melted. Sprinkle flour over the butter; whisk until smooth. Slowly add milk, salt and smoked paprika; cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup Cheddar and Parmesan. Add the drained pasta and broccoli, stirring to coat well.

  • Transfer the mixture to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and sprinkle with panko and the remaining 3 tablespoons Cheddar. Bake until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

Nutrition Facts

generous 1 cup
363 calories; fat 14g; cholesterol 38mg; sodium 483mg; carbohydrates 46g; dietary fiber 6g; protein 17g; sugars 6g; niacin equivalents 5mg; saturated fat 8g; vitamin a iu 2074IU; potassium 495mg.