Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

A healthy mac and cheese recipe that is packed with protein, broccoli and spinach. Perfect as a full meal and a sneaky way to get your kids to eat more veggies. This post is sponsored by Barilla®.

Mac and cheese will forever be one of my favorite meals. It instantly brings me back to my childhood and reminds me of my sister. She taught me how to make all the pasta dishes you need to know how to make in high school and/or college — mac and cheese, buttered noodles and ramen. So, this recipe is for you, sis! With a little added nutrition oomph. 😉

A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

Macaroni and cheese is a staple for most American families, but there is a miiiiinor problem with traditional mac and cheese — it’s pretty low in nutrients.

Since most kids I know are surviving off of mac and cheese, and because I miss having a bowl every now and then, I wanted to take a stab at turning a traditional recipe into a full meal that’s protein packed and sneaks in some green veggies. Challenge = accepted!

Hand pouring a box of Barilla chickpea rotini pasta into a boiling pot of water for protein mac and cheese.

Ingredients in Protein Mac and Cheese

  • Barilla Chickpea Rotini – I love using Barilla’s line of legume pastas because they’re made with one simple ingredient, packed with plant-based protein and have an excellent source of fiber. And as an added bonus, all of the Barilla legume pastas are certified gluten-free and non-GMO Project Verified.
  • broccoli and spinach because you can’t have healthy mac and cheese without some veggies. 
  • butter I preferorganic butter, but you can use whatever you have on hand. 
  • milk I used unsweetened almond milk, but you can use regular milk as well.
  • Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedge for this you need just one  cheese wedge. You can find them at almost every grocery store in the cheese section. If needed, you can leave this out or sub it for cream cheese (dairy or non-dairy).
  • reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese – I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself, but you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • sea salt and pepper – for a little seasoning.
A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

Notes & Substitutions

Pasta: As I mentioned above, I love using legume pasta to amp up the nutrition count. That said, you can totally use whatever pasta you prefer.

Veggies: Not a fan of spinach and broccoli? Feel free to use other veggies!

Cheese: I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself. In case you were wondering, let me just confirm that real cheese is 100x better than powdered cheese or even pre-shredded cheese. Fresh is always better and shredding the cheese takes no time at all. However, you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.

Vegan + Dairy Free: If you want to make this recipe vegan or dairy-free you can use vegan butter, vegan shredded cheddar cheese and 1 Tablespoon of vegan cream cheese instead of the spreadable cheese wedge. I also have a Vegan Mac and Cheese recipe if you’re interested!

Wooden spoon mixing a pot of creamy and healthy protein mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach.

How to Serve This Protein Mac and Cheese

This mac and cheese is hearty enough to be served as a meal on its own, but if you want additional protein I recommend pairing it with an easy protein option like roasted chickpeas, tofu, shrimp or chicken. It pairs perfectly with my grilled apple cider vinegar chicken.

You can also serve it alongside a salad for extra veggie goodness. I’d recommend one of these salads: Garlicky Kale Salad, Easy Spinach Salad or Easy Caprese Salad.

A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.

How to Store Protein Mac and Cheese

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This mac and cheese will keep for 3-4 days.

More Pasta Recipes to Try

More Broccoli Recipes to Try

Be sure to check out all of the dinner recipes on EBF!

Protein Packed Healthy Mac and Cheese

4 from 68 votes
A healthy mac and cheese recipe that is packed with protein, broccoli and spinach. Perfect as a full meal and a sneaky way to get your kids to eat more veggies.
A bowl of creamy, healthy protein packed mac and cheese made with chickpea pasta, broccoli and spinach. Macaroni is topped with extra cheddar.
Print RecipePin Recipe
Prep Time 5minutes
Cook Time 15minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1box, 8 oz Barilla Chickpea Rotini
  • 4cupsbroccoli florets
  • 1Tablespoonorganic butter
  • 1cupmilk, I used unsweetened almond milk
  • 1Laughing Cow spreadable cheese wedge
  • 1 1/2cups6 oz reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (more, if needed)*
  • 1handful chopped baby spinach
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions
 

  • Boil pasta & broccoli: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add chickpea rotini pasta, return to a boil and cook for a total of 8 minutes, adding in the broccoli florets at the four minute mark. Drain pasta and broccoli.
  • Add remaining ingredients: In the same large pot over low/medium heat add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Once butter has melted add in drained pasta and broccoli, spreadable cheese wedge and shredded cheese. Let cheese melt a little, about 30 seconds. Use a spoon to stir everything together until pasta is well coated with cheese, adding more cheese if needed. Add in chopped baby spinach and toss until wilted.
  • Serve: Serve immediately with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Notes

  • Pasta: As I mentioned above, I love using legume pasta to amp up the nutrition count. That said, you can totally use whatever pasta you prefer.
  • Veggies: Not a fan of spinach and broccoli? Feel free to use other veggies!
  • Cheese: I used organic Irish cheddar cheese and shredded it myself. In case you were wondering, let me just confirm that real cheese is 100x better than powdered cheese or even pre-shredded cheese. Fresh is always better and shredding the cheese takes no time at all. However, you can use whatever you prefer including reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • Vegan + Dairy Free: If you want to make this recipe vegan or dairy-free you can use vegan butter, vegan shredded cheddar cheese and 1 Tablespoon of vegan cream cheese instead of the spreadable cheese wedge.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(made with reduced fat cheddar cheese)Calories: 395kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 26gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 354mgFiber: 10gSugar: 3g
Course: Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keyword: healthy mac and cheese, protein mac and cheese

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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Recipe Rating




    58 comments
    1. Halee De Luna
      July 17, 2022 AT 10:24 pm

      Hello! What is the serving size? is it one cup for 395 cals? Please let me know!

      Reply
      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 18, 2022 AT 9:57 am

        Hi Halee – This recipe makes 4 servings and one serving is 395kcal and one serving is about 2-2.5 cups. If you decide to give this recipe a try, I would love to know how you enjoy it!

        Reply
    2. Brynn
      June 15, 2022 AT 3:58 pm

      5 stars
      Sooooo Good! 😊

      Reply
      1. Brittany Mullins
        June 16, 2022 AT 8:49 am

        Yay! Glad they were a hit, Brynn!

        Reply
    3. Lauren Andersen
      January 20, 2022 AT 10:18 pm

      5 stars
      I made this tonight and it was yummy. It is very similar to a less healthy version I’ve made many times that starts the cheese sauce with butter and flour. I made your cheese sauce in a separate pan to help the cheese melt evenly. I added 2 wedges of Laughing Cow to make it thicker and coat the pasta better. If you cheese sauce separates into oily or milky liquid with cheese clumps, your heat is too high. You need to melt on a low heat. You can try the Alton Brown method to fix it by putting the sauce in the blender and then back in the pan before combining with pasta and broccoli.Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn’t but it’s definitely an improvement for a broken sauce.

      Reply
    4. aliyah
      December 15, 2021 AT 3:47 pm

      2 stars
      followed recipe except i did the sauce separately and melted everything together first before mixing. unfortunately even after almost 10 minutes my pasta still crumbled to bits when i added it. ultimately everything was melted but the pasta was a mess. it’s edible but i’m disappointed…the sauce was quite wet and i had to cook it down some more.

      Reply
      1. Brittany Mullins
        December 16, 2021 AT 3:41 pm

        So sorry to hear that!! I made this recently and didn’t have any issues, so wondering if it might be the brand of pasta. What kind of pasta did you use?

        Reply
    5. Kelsey
      November 10, 2021 AT 4:15 am

      5 stars
      I was just wondering what is your serving size is? Thank you!

      Reply
      1. Brittany Mullins
        November 19, 2021 AT 8:58 pm

        Hey Kelsey – I don’t remember what the servings were in cups, but this recipe serves 4 🙂

        Reply
Parchment paper lined with protein balls.

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