This healthy mac and cheese is easy, cheesy, and ready in under 20 minutes. Packed with 22 grams of protein per serving, it’s a lighter version made with cottage cheese. No need for breadcrumbs, heavy cream, or the oven!
Healthy macaroni and cheese made with cottage cheese
I’ve always had a soft spot for mac and cheese – the boxed kind made many appearances in my childhood. It was quick, easy, and downright tasty. However, as I’ve started to pay more attention to what I eat, I became determined to create a healthier version without fake ingredients or tons of processed fats. So, here we are! Say hello to the best-ever healthy mac and cheese recipe.
I am so proud of this recipe. After about 20 rounds of testing, I’ve nailed it. It’s still cheesy, creamy, rich, velvety, and smooth – without drowning in the noodles in heavy cream, using half the cheese of traditional recipes and just one tablespoon of butter. What makes this recipe special? We use cottage cheese instead of heavy cream to lower the fat, increase the protein, and ensure a creamy texture.
This mac and cheese recipe is perfect for those busy weeknights or meal prepping. It’s foolproof, made in one pot, and ready in under 20 minutes. You can even sneak in some broccoli or spinach for extra health benefits or grilled chicken for double the protein.
I can’t wait to hear what you think about this healthy mac and cheese recipe. Trust me, even the pickiest eaters and kids will be fans – and the best part? They won’t suspect it’s the healthier version!
Why you’ll love this healthy recipe:
- Easy to Make: This mac and cheese in made in one pot in under 20 minutes.
- High Protein: There are 22 grams of protein per serving.
- No Heavy Cream: Instead, we use cottage cheese!
- Low-Fat: This mac and cheese is low in fat.
- No Fake Ingredients: This mac and cheese is healthy and made without colorings or preservatives.
- Gluten-Free Friendly: Just use gluten-free noodles.
- Creaminess Without the Guilt: It’s velvety, creamy, and smooth without heavy cream or loads of butter and cheese.
- Kid-Approved: Tested and approved! So yummy.
- Try this healthy penne alla vodka pasta next!
You only need seven ingredients for this healthy mac & cheese. It’s rich, creamy, healthy, and protein-packed. Here is a list of everything you need so you are prepared:
- Noodles: I used elbow noodles. You can use chickpea, gluten-free, rice, or regular pasta noodles for this recipe.
- Cottage Cheese: My secret ingredient in the healthy mac and cheese recipe. It adds protein and a rich creaminess to the cheese sauce.
- Cheddar Cheese: I love cheddar cheese. You can use regular or low-fat cheddar). It gives this recipe that classic mac & cheese flavor!
- Broth: You can use either vegetable or chicken brother to add flavor to the mac and cheese.
- Low-Fat Milk (or any Milk): This ensures a super creamy and smooth texture. Low-fat milk also lightens up this mac and cheese recipe.
- Butter: You only need 1 tbsp of butter to add richness and flavor. If you want to omit the butter, read the recipe instructions below.
- Flour: You can use all-purpose or gluten-free 1:1 flour. It creates a roux, which thickens the sauce and adds flavor. If you want to skip the butter and flour, then skip to the recipe card at the bottom of this page.
Kitchen tools needed
Here is a quick list of kitchen utensils you’ll need to make this 20-minute healthy cottage cheese mac n cheese recipe:
- Colander (for draining noodles)
- Stirring Spoon or Spatula
- Measuring cups and spoons
How to make healthy mac and cheese
You can make this cheesy, high-protein, healthy mac and cheese in under 20 minutes. It’s made with cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, low-fat milk, and any variety of noodles. Here are detailed step-by-step instructions with pictures for visual reference so any level cook can make them; scroll to the bottom of this post for the full recipe and ingredient measurements.
First, cook the noodles according to the package instructions and then set them aside.
On medium-low heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pot. Add 1.5 tbsp of flour and mix until a golden brown roux forms, stirring often. This takes about 5 minutes. Monitor the heat and remove the pot if necessary to prevent overheating.
Meanwhile, blend the cottage cheese in a high-speed blender to ensure it is smooth without chunks.
Slowly whisk in ½ cup of broth, followed by ¾ cup of low-fat milk. Bring the mixture to a boil on high heat.
Remove the pot from the heat and add half of the cheddar cheese and cottage cheese. Add the ground pepper. Whisk until it melts into the sauce. Then, add the remaining cheddar cheese and continue to whisk or stir until fully melted.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked noodles and toss until the noodles are evenly coated. Then, taste and add salt if desired.
Enjoy your super creamy and cheese healthy mac and cheese!
Expert recipe tips:
- Blend the Cottage Cheese: Blending ensures a smooth texture, seamlessly integrating into the sauce for a consistently creamy mac & cheese.
- Grate your Own Cheese if Needed: Pre-packaged shredded cheese often contains anti-caking agents, which can affect the texture of the cheese sauce. By grating your own cheese, you maintain control over the quality and enhance the dish’s overall flavor!
- Use Chickpea Pasta: Choose chickpea pasta for a secret 11g of extra protein per serving, compared to regular noodles with only 2g.
- Cheese Selection: Experiment with sharp cheddar combined with milder options like Gouda and Swiss, or stronger ones like Gruyere for a gourmet twist.
- Vegetable Boost: Sneak in extra nutrients by adding finely chopped vegetables to the cheese sauce. Spinach, broccoli, or cauliflower work well.
- Garlic Infusion: Sauté minced garlic with the butter before adding the flour to infuse the sauce with a subtle garlic essence.
- Protein Boost: Incorporate grilled chicken or turkey for added protein, transforming your mac & cheese into a hearty meal.
Why this mac and cheese recipe is healthy:
This mac and cheese recipe is considered healthy for several reasons:
- High Protein: This recipe has 22 grams of protein, thanks to the cottage cheese and chickpea noodles. Regular mac & cheese has closer to 8 grams.
- No Breadcrumbs: This recipe is cheese and delicious without adding breadcrumbs on top.
- No Heavy Cream: We skipped the heavy cream in this recipe. This mac and cheese stays creamy without the extra saturated fats.
- Lower in Fat: We use low-fat milk and blended cottage cheese for a lighter, low-in-fat mac and cheese. Less guilt, all the flavor.
- Gluten-Free Option: Opt for gluten-free flour and chickpea pasta.
- Whole Wheat Option: Use whole wheat noodles instead of regular pasta for extra fiber!
Variations & ingredient substitutions:
- Noodles: You can use whole wheat elbow pasta, chickpea pasta, or gluten-free pasta for this healthy mac and cheese.
- Butter: Try olive oil, vegan butter, or avocado oil for a fat alternative.
- Broth: You can use vegetable or chicken stock, or even water.
- Cottage Cheese: Use Greek yogurt for a tangy twist or ricotta.
- Cheddar Cheese: Swiss, Gouda, or mozzarella for a different cheese flavor. Opt for low-fat versions for a lighter option.
- Add Spinach: I love adding chopped and whilled spinach. You can see the green, but you can taste it.
- Buffalo Chicken: Toss in shredded cooked chicken and a drizzle of buffalo sauce for a spicy and protein-packed twist.
- Add Pesto: Mix in a dollop of pesto sauce for a burst of herby goodness.
- Truffle: Drizzling truffle oil over the finished mac & cheese – so good!
- Add Bacon: Crisp up some bacon or turkey bacon and crumble it over the mac & cheese.
- Add Broccoli: Mix in steamed broccoli florets and top the mac & cheese.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you taste the cottage cheese?
No, the cottage cheese is blended into the sauce, contributing to a creamy texture without leaving a distinct taste in the final dish.
Why do you need to blend the cottage cheese?
Blending cottage cheese ensures a smooth and creamy texture for the healthy mac & cheese,
Can I use ricotta cheese instead of cottage cheese?
Yes, you can substitute ricotta cheese for cottage cheese in the mac & cheese recipe. Ricotta will add a rich and creamy texture to the sauce, creating a velvety consistency similar to cottage cheese. Adjust the quantities based on your taste preferences and enjoy the delicious results.
Can I make it spicy?
Absolutely! Add a pinch of cayenne pepper, buffalo sauce, or hot sauce for a spicy kick.
Can I add chicken?
Absolutely! Incorporating grilled or shredded chicken into this healthy mac & cheese adds a protein boost and turns it into a heartier meal. Adjust seasonings accordingly for a delightful combination of cheesy and savory flavors.
Can I make it gluten-free?
Absolutely! Just use gluten-free flour and gluten-free noodles. I prefer chickpea noodles, but you can use rice, quinoa, or another gluten-free variation.
What to serve with mac and cheese?
We love serving mac and cheese with some roasted veggies (like broccoli and cauliflower or air fryer broccolini) and extra protein (like this air fryer buffalo chicken or these air fryer chicken thighs). The best thing about this easy cottage cheese mac and cheese recipe is that it goes well with salads, meatballs, veggies, and just about any protein.
Can I freeze it?
No, I do not recommend freezing homemade mac and cheese. It will alter the texture.
How to store and reheat mac and cheese:
Storing: To store mac and cheese, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3-4 days.
Reheating: When reheating, use the microwave for individual portions, stirring occasionally, or reheat in an oven-safe dish at 350°F (175°C) until heated through, adding a splash of milk to maintain creaminess if needed. Avoid overcooking to prevent the sauce from drying out.
If you love this recipe, try these next!
- Air Fryer Chicken Cutlets
- Lemon Caper Pasta
- Healthy Chicken Penne Alla Vodka
- Dairy-Free Tomato Soup
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- Sweet Potato Gnocchi Recipe
- Healthy Chicken Parm Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Did you make this recipe?
If you make this recipe, be sure to comment and rate it down below. Also, don’t forget to tag me @healthfulblondie on Instagram and use the hashtag #healthfulblondie so I can see your delicious creation and share it with my followers!
Healthy Mac and Cheese
- 12 oz noodles (elbow pasta), chickpea, whole wheat, regular, gluten-free
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1.5 tbsp all-purpose, or gluten-free 1:1 flour
- ½ cup broth, vegetable or chicken
- ¾ cup low-fat milk, or any milk
- ½ cup cottage cheese, blended (see instructions)
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, or low-fat cheddar. I have also made this with ½ gruyere and ½ cheddar, so you can get creative with cheese choice.
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Set aside.
- On medium-low heat, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pot. Add 1.5 tbsp of flour and mix until a golden brown roux forms, stirring often. This takes about 5 minutes. Monitor the heat and remove the pot if necessary to prevent overheating.
- Meanwhile, blend the cottage cheese in a high-speed blender to ensure it is smooth and without chunks.
- Slowly whisk in ½ cup of broth, followed by ¾ cup of low-fat milk. Bring the mixture to a boil on high heat.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add half of the cheddar cheese and all the cottage cheese. Add the ground pepper. Whisk until it melts into the sauce.
- Add the remaining cheddar cheese and continue to whisk or stir until fully melted.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked noodles and toss until the noodles are evenly coated.
- Taste and add salt if desired. Enjoy!
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