This Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese is a lightened-up version of a comfort food classic. It’s rich, creamy, cheesy, and topped off with crispy, golden-brown breadcrumbs.
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Baked pastas are one of my favorite prep-ahead meals! They might take a little more time to cook but most of that time is hands off, and they can be stashed in the fridge for days before serving.
This Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese is a lightened up, but just as creamy, homemade mac and cheese. It’s made up of whole wheat pasta that’s tossed in a rich and creamy cheddar cheese sauce.
This easy dinner recipe is a family favorite and ready in just 30 minutes!
- Macaroni Pasta: I use whole wheat, but white will work as well.
- Butter or Margarine and All-Purpose Flour: forms a roux to help thicken the cheese sauce.
- Milk and Chicken Broth: creates a creamy and flavorful base for our sauce. I use 1% milk to keep it light, but any type of milk will work.
- Seasonings: we’re using a simple blend of salt, black pepper, and paprika for a kick of heat.
- Shredded Cheddar Cheese: I recommend shredding your own cheese for the creamiest results.
- Panko Breadcrumbs: you can’t have Baked Mac and Cheese without a golden-brown, crunchy breadcrumb topping!
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
This Baked Mac and Cheese is a 30-minute dinner that everyone will love!
- Cook the pasta: Cook the macaroni al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
- Make a roux: In a large skillet, melt butter, then stir in flour and seasonings and cook.
- Add remaining ingredients: Pour in the milk and chicken broth and cook until thickened, whisking frequently. Add in the cheese and stir until melted.
- Combine and bake: Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, then transfer the mixture to a greased baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and bake until bubbly.
Baked Mac and Cheese FAQs
Nope! There’s no need. Leaving the mac and cheese uncovered is what crisps up the breadcrumbs.
I keep it classic with shredded cheddar cheese, but you can use any soft melty cheese you like. Try gouda, gruyere, havarti, Monterey jack, or even goat cheese.
Totally! To make this Baked Mac and Cheese ahead of time, assemble the mac and cheese, but don’t bake. Instead, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. When you’re ready to serve, top with breadcrumbs and bake at 350ºF for 15-20 minutes or until heated through.
Leftover Baked Mac and Cheese will last in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. To reheat, warm in a baking dish in the oven topped with fresh breadcrumbs or in smaller portions in the microwave. I don’t recommend freezing this dish because the texture of the cheese sauce will be affected.
Tips, Tricks, & Notes
- Shred your own cheese. Pre-shredded cheeses contain an anti-caking agent that can result in a gritty texture. I highly recommend shredding your own cheese for ultimate creaminess.
- Cook the pasta al dente. Slightly undercooking the pasta ensures that it keeps its structure even as it bakes.
- Rinse the pasta. After the pasta is cooked, give it a good rinse under cold water. This removes excess starch and stops the cooking process so it stays al dente.
It’s really hard to mess up Baked Mac and Cheese. So, feel free to play around with add-ins to customize this recipe!
- Add veggies. Any pre-cooked veggies will work. Try diced bell peppers, chopped broccoli, bell peppers, peas, onions, you name it.
- Mix in a protein. Bulk your meal up by mixing in shredded chicken or cooked and crumbled bacon.
- Try other cheeses. I like to keep it simple with shredded cheddar, but any soft, creamy cheese will work in this recipe. Try gouda, gruyere, havarti, Monterey jack feta, or even goat cheese.
This Baked Mac and Cheese makes a delicious vegetarian entree or can be served as a side dish next to your favorite protein!
More Mac and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love
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Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese
- 375 grams whole wheat macaroni (about 3 cups dry)
- ¼ cup butter or margarine
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups 1% milk
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- 2 cups + 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese low fat if desired
- ⅓ cup Panko bread crumbs
- Cook macaroni according to package directions (you want it al dente or a little undercooked, as it will continue cooking in the oven). Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (if baking right away)
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large skillet, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt, pepper and paprika and cook 1 minute.
- Whisk in milk and chicken broth and cook over medium heat, whisking often, until thickened (about 5-6 minutes).
- Stir in 2 cups cheese until melted. Add pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Pour into a lightly greased 9×13" baking dish and top with remaining cheese and Panko bread crumbs.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until bubbly. Broil for 1-2 minutes to brown the top if desired.
**Please note: Nutrition information is calculated with margarine and low fat shredded cheese.
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