When I was a child, I was totally spoiled. Never did I ever have to eat Mac and Cheese out of a box. In fact, when I went over to friends' houses, I didn’t understand how cheese came in powder form and why my dinner was neon orange. But traditional homemade mac and cheese isn’t the best choice either. With Mac and Cheese being my favorite comfort food, when I became a dietitian, I learned to turn this dish into a healthier, low-fat choice. Here’s how…
Why have you done a good thing?
As I’ve said before, my mom taught me at a young age the value of making things from scratch. Mac and cheese out of a box, although fast and easy, is loaded with sodium, calories, and chemicals. And as I always tell my clients, if you can’t pronounce it, than don’t eat it! Don’t be fooled by the organic versions either. Although these brands contain less chemicals, one serving contains salt for the entire day! By making your own, not only can you control the sodium, but you also can control the fiber by choosing to use whole-wheat pasta and adding veggies, and you can also reduce the fat and calories by using skim milk and reduced fat cheeses. Homemade mac and cheese, when following a recipe such as the one below, can be a great source of calcium as well as a way to encourage you and your kids to eat more veggies in a delicious way.
So try making your own! Your kids will greatly appreciate it…And so will you when you are treating yourself to some comfort food. Here is my personal recipe:
Nutritiously Delicious, Yet Simple, Homemade Low-Fat Mac and Cheese
(serves 8 – and if children are eating, can serve 12)
1 lb whole-wheat penne or elbows (recommend Barilla Plus or Whole Foods 365 Brand)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp canola oil
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
3.5 cups skim milk
6 oz reduced fat extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (recommend Cabot 75% reduced fat)
6 oz Monterey Jack reduced fat cheese, grated
½ cup whole-wheat plain breadcrumbs (recommend Whole Foods 365 Brand)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot, cook pasta in salted boiling water until just shy of al dente. Drain and place pasta in a casserole dish.
In a medium pot, melt butter completely with oil together on low heat. Whisk in flour and cook on low heat for 3 minutes or until fragrant, creating a roux (your thickening agent for the cheese sauce). Add milk slowly to make a béchamel, whisking together milk with butter/oil mixture. On low heat, allow béchamel to thicken to sauce-like consistency. Do not let bechamel boil. Once thickened, add cheese to make the cheese sauce, stirring until all cheese is melted.
Pour cheese sauce over pasta in casserole dish until combined. Make sure all pasta is well coated with sauce. Top with breadcrumbs and bake for 30 minutes. Serve in 1-1.5 cup portions with a big side of veggies.
**If you want to bump up the nutrition factor, consider adding veggies too! Suggestions: peas, mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, onion, zucchini, bell pepper.
**Wanna make it more upscale? Add lobster, shrimp, spinach or other leafy greens, butternut squash, or a couple of ounces of decadent cheese, such as Gruyere.
We are launching PASTABILITIES as another new series, bringing you healthy, easy pasta recipes. Don’t be afraid of these carbohydrates; in small portions, pasta can be a great source of whole grains, veggies, and protein. We’ll show you healthy spins on traditionally pastas, as well as new ideas for your pasta dinners.
--Amy Santo, MS RD CDN