Easy (Healthy!) Baked Macaroni and Cheese

When it comes to love in the form of food, macaroni and cheese is right there with mom’s chicken noodle soup and grandma’s apple pie. On a list of favorite American comfort foods, mac & cheese would surely take one of the top three spots. Who doesn’t like macaroni and cheese? Well, I’ll tell you who, my husband.

Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

Recipe Highlights:

  1. Quick and easy macaroni and cheese recipe – no stovetop required!
  2. Steamed cauliflower is the secret to the rich and creamy sauce.
  3. Vegetarian, easily converts to gluten-free by swapping the noodles and breadcrumbs, 6 Weight Watchers Points Plus Per Serving

spiral noodles Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

I know what you are thinking. You guess this is an issue of texture, many people avoid foods because they find the texture off putting. However, I can assure you, the man appreciates nearly all types of food from crunchy to slimy. Perhaps, you are thinking, he must has never tasted a really great homemade macaroni and cheese. I thought that too, but, then he did.

For reference, we are talking about a potluck that happened about 10 years ago. Even now I can immediately recall the perfection of this macaroni and cheese but, last week someone asked me my age and my mind was a complete blank.

Shortly after we began dating, a friend of mine, who happens to be a chef currently working for Tom Douglas (shameless name drop), showed up at a potluck with a dish of mac & cheese. This wasn’t just any macaroni and cheese, this was the sort of comfort food I expect to find served in heaven. Perfectly cooked noodles snuggled in a sauce of multiple cheeses including gruyere – the ultimate cheese for making a sauce so comforting it should be woven into blankets. She even covered the top with crushed potato chips that turned even more golden and crisp as the casserole baked to perfection.

Mac n' Cheese with cauliflower

Everyone at the party raved about the mac & cheese but Mike deftly skipped right over it in favor of the other offerings. Finally, I thrust a spoon at him demanding he taste the macaroni. I was confident that one bite would rock his world. He acquiesced and accepted the spoon.

I leaned in awaiting his conversion.

He chewed quickly, swallowed, then shrugged as he handed back the now empty utensil. “It’s not terrible, but I’d rather not have any more.”

To say I was shocked is an understatement.

Following the jaw dropping potluck incident, I was finally convinced of my future husbands odd aversion and I stopped making macaroni and cheese at home. I would occasionally order some in a restaurant, or enjoy a scoop as a dinner guest but truth be told, I didn’t really miss it.

Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese with homemade breadcrumbs

Eventually, as you know, we moved beyond the issue of macaroni and cheese to be married, start a family, lose 320 pounds, and now spend most days trying to stay one step ahead of our kids. Kids who have discovered they like macaroni and cheese – a lot.

A restaurant we visit, more often than I should admit, has a pretty amazing, from scratch, mac & cheese on their kids menu. It’s appeal is heightened by the use of swirly-twirly tubular noodles, rather than the usual elbows. The sauce comes pretty close to my memory of the potluck casserole, though they skip the potato chip crust. Best of all the child’s portion is enough for both kids to share with some leftover.

Baked Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

Recently, I asked my son what he would like in his school lunch bag. “Macaroni and cheese from Indigo.” I couldn’t stifle my laughter at his response. What he had done, in a very clever way, was request a dinner out that would result in leftovers for lunch. I applauded his logic even as I turned down his request.

Instead, I did something unprecedented in our home. I made macaroni and cheese for dinner.

That night, Mike, usually mild mannered and easy-going, was in one heck of a stormy mood. He moved around the kitchen like a kid who had lost his dessert privileges. While setting the table he closing cupboard doors with more force than needed and finally slumped into his chair. (He will tell you he was fighting a cold and his grumpiness came from feeling unwell.) Shortly before sitting down to eat, I reminded him of all the past meals that our kids peered at with suspicion and distaste. Here was a golden opportunity to model open-mindedness at the dinner table. (I started to add, wasn’t it clever of me to create such a situation, but in this rare instance I held my tongue.)

Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese

Comically, the kids did not notice their father frowning at his small “adventure bite” portion nor were they aware of him pushing the rest to one side before filling his plate with salad – twice. In a delightful turning of the tables, they were happily cleaning their plates, requesting more, and thanking me for making a yummy dinner. While I’m sorry I couldn’t please all the people with this easy recipe, I couldn’t help relishing the enthusiasm of 2 out of my 3 boys.

Before we were married Mike and I agreed, our family would share one meal at dinner time – no short order cooking. Unfortunately for Mike, this easy weeknight meal will be going on the menu again. However, when it does, I’ll make sure to serve a hearty salad on the side.
Cauliflower Mac n' Cheese


5.0 from 2 reviews
Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This quick and easy way to enjoy comforting homemade macaroni and cheese - guilt free - is sure to become a favorite family recipe. A simple cauliflower puree gives the sauce its traditional velvety texture without overpowering the familiar cheesy flavor.

To easily adjust this recipe for gluten-free: use your favorite gluten-free pasta (not long noodles) and skip or replace the bread crumbs with gluten-free bread. You may also use crumbled potato or corn chips.

Adapted from Sasha and Malia Obama's Favorite Mac and Cheese via popsugar.com
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb cauliflower, chopped into large chunks
  • ½ lb macaroni noodles
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup low fat milk
  • ½ cup half & half
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 8 oz. (2 cups) low fat shredded cheese (recommend a cheddar & jack blend)
  • 1 slice of whole grain sandwich bread, toasted (may substitute ⅓ cup whole wheat bread crumbs)
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • optional: chopped parsley leaves for serving
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Have a medium (3 quart) casserole dish standing by.
  2. Bring a large pot of water plus salt to a boil over high heat. Once the water reaches a rolling boil add the macaroni noodles. Cook the pasta, uncovered, for 10 minutes (or follow the package instructions for al dente). When the pasta is cooked to tender, drain the water and set aside.
  3. While the pasta is cooking: Place the chopped cauliflower into a microwave safe bowl, cover with a plate and cook on high for 10 minutes. Remove carefully the dish will be very hot. The cauliflower should be soft. Transfer the cauliflower to a large mixing bowl. Use an emersion blender to puree the cauliflower into a mash -about 1 minute. Add the milk, half & half, pepper and garlic power then blend to combine. Add the cheese and drained pasta. Stir to coat the pasta then transfer the mixture to your casserole dish and smooth into an even layer.
  4. Break the toast into pieces then pulse in a food processor until it becomes crumbs. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like damp sand. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta.
  5. Bake the macaroni and cheese for 15 minutes until the top is crispy and dark brown. Let the casserole sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley if desired.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 cup Calories: 235 Fat: 11g Carbohydrates: 20g Sugar: 3g Sodium: 390mg Fiber: 4g Protein: 15g Weight Watchers Points Plus: 6

Comments

  1. I’ve made this a dozen or so times and it continues to be one of our favorite diet meals. Instead of half a cup of milk, I just use another half cup of half & half. The calorie penalty is minimal. You can also mix in sliced cooked chicken breasts for a heavier meal. I like to put steamed broccoli or green beans on the side.

    • How wonderful to hear this recipe has become a favorite in your house! Thank you for sharing your tips for how to adjust the recipe for alternate ingredients and taste preferences.

  2. My husband and loved it and I’ll certainly be making it again soon! I added some chili pepper to my portion, but it is good without. Thanks for the recipe!

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