Healthier Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
Indulge in lighter versions of everyone's favorite comfort food
Some of us grew up with the stuff in the blue box, made with bright orange
powder and half a stick of butter. The lucky ones sat down to homemade,
oven-baked macaroni and cheese, complete with a browned crispy topping.
Whatever kind you loved as a kid, chances are you're still a fan of macaroni
and cheese. Ask any group of people what their favorite comfort foods are, and,
most likely, mac and cheese will make the list.
So just where did the dish everybody knows and love come from?
A type of pasta called "maccheroni" (perhaps similar to today's
macaroni, but without being hollow) is thought to have been eaten in Italy as
early as the 1300s. As for macaroni and cheese, this notoriously American dish
goes back to Colonial times. A dish called "macaroni pie" became a
favorite of a certain statesman named Thomas Jefferson, who tasted it while in
Italy. He served it at his home in Monticello, and at formal parties in
Washington. According to The Food Encyclopedia, Jefferson used American
cheese instead of the European cheeses of the time -- and American macaroni and
cheese was born.
Jefferson might not recognize the dish today, when the various versions of
macaroni and cheese range from kid-friendly to gourmet. "Lobster Mac n
Cheese," featuring marscarpone cheese, Havarti, and white cheddar, is a
popular side dish at the upscale restaurant chain The Capital Grille. A version
of macaroni and cheese using Romano, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, and pepper
jack cheese is the most requested recipe from The Grand Central Baking Company
in Seattle and Portland. The three cheeses in Martha Stewart's recipe for
Macaroni and Three Cheeses are white cheddar, Havarti, and Muenster.
Today's mac and cheese toppings range from buttered bread that's been run
through the food processor to panko crumbs or saltine crackers. But one thing's
for certain in most of the
recipes I found -- homemade macaroni and cheese tends to contain an
abundance of butter and cream. One recipe on Epicurious.com, for example, calls
for 6 tablespoons of butter, 3 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy
Let's hope everyone reading this article is ready to ban the blue box from
their kitchen (at least for the day) and is open to the magic of homemade
macaroni and cheese. And as the "Recipe Doctor," of course, I'm going
to lighten this historic American recipe a bit. Nutritionally, there are three
ways to improve on homemade macaroni and cheese:
- Make a lower-fat and saturated fat cheese sauce. You can do this by
reducing or eliminating the butter, using lower-fat milk instead of whole milk
or cream, and substituting a reduced-fat cheese with lots of flavor.
- Use a higher-fiber noodle. Several brands of whole-grain or
whole-grain blend pasta are available in most supermarkets. Most taste great,
and they boost the nutrients and fiber in the dish.
- Add some veggies. Hot pasta dishes such as macaroni and cheese offer
the perfect opportunity to work in a serving of nutritious vegetables,
including red bell pepper, broccoli or cauliflower florets, spinach, or
carrots. Stir in the lightly cooked veggies right before serving or serve them
aside the macaroni dish.
Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
With these three tips in mind, here are three macaroni and cheese recipes
for you to try; one recipe for beginners (perfect for younger kids who aren't
quite ready for sauces), one for the intermediate macaroni and cheese eater (a
light version of a more traditional American recipe), and one for the more
advanced eater (a light version of a fancy restaurant rendition with lobster or
crab and stronger-flavored cheeses).