Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese

Prep Time 5 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 6 servings

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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.

overhead image of baked mac and cheese with metal spoon stuck in
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Table of Contents
  1. Ingredients Needed:
  2. How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
  3. Baked Mac and Cheese FAQs
  4. Tips, Tricks, & Notes
  5. Variations
  6. Serving Suggestions
  7. More Mac and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love
  8. Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

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 Baked Ravioli, Baked Spaghetti, and now this Baked Mac and Cheese are favorites around here!

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!

close up image of metal spoon scooping macaroni and cheese from pan

Ingredients Needed:

  • 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!
ingredients needed to make baked mac and cheese

How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese

This Baked Mac and Cheese is a 30-minute dinner that everyone will love!

  1. Cook the pasta: Cook the macaroni al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse.
  2. Make a roux: In a large skillet, melt butter, then stir in flour and seasonings and cook.
  3. Add remaining ingredients: Pour in the milk and chicken broth and cook until thickened, whisking frequently. Add in the cheese and stir until melted.
  4. 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

Should you cover mac and cheese while baking?

Nope! There’s no need. Leaving the mac and cheese uncovered is what crisps up the breadcrumbs.

What are the best cheeses for baked macaroni and cheese?

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.

Can Baked Mac and Cheese be made ahead of time?

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.

How to store:

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.
baked mac and cheese in a bowl with a fork stuck in

Variations

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.

Serving Suggestions

This Baked Mac and Cheese makes a delicious vegetarian entree or can be served as a side dish next to your favorite protein!

Serve it as a main dish with a side of Roasted Green Beans, Air Fryer Broccoli, or a simple side salad.

Alternatively, serve it as a side dish next to Air Fryer Meatloaf, Oven-Fried Chicken, Air Fryer Pork Chops, you name it.

More Mac and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love

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Healthier Baked Mac and Cheese

4.17 from 6 votes
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.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Cuisine American
Course Main Course
Servings 6 servings
Calories 446cal

Ingredients

  • 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
  • cup Panko bread crumbs

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

*TO MAKE AHEAD: Prepare up until baking. Cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until hot.
**Please note: Nutrition information is calculated with margarine and low fat shredded cheese.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 274grams | Calories: 446cal | Carbohydrates: 58g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 15mg | Sodium: 1017mg | Potassium: 297mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 627IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 346mg | Iron: 3mg

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Meet Ashley

My name is Ashley Fehr and I love creating easy meals my family loves. I also like to do things my way, which means improvising and breaking the rules when necessary. Here you will find creative twists on old favorites and some of my favorite family recipes, passed down from generations!

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Comments

  1. Candace Moser says

    I used 2% milk, a mixture of sharp cheddar and pepper jack cheeses and sautéed a package of fresh baby portabella mushrooms with the butter.
    It was excellent!

  2. Grace says

    I’ve made this about 6 times and every time my sauce never thickens up. In step 3 when you add milk and chicken broth and stir until thickened it never thickens, even if I leave it on the stove longer. So the mac and cheese isn’t thick and creamy like yours. Any suggestions?

  3. gloria says

    It needs a lot of ‘doctoring’ I added onion & garlic powder as well as paprika. Overall not bad for a quickie dinner.

    • Ashley Fehr says

      It really depends on your tastes and the kind or brand of chicken broth you use. Broth generally has a good amount of onion and garlic already in it, but every kind is different. Feel free to adjust to your tastes!

  4. marcie says

    Healthier comfort food is where it’s at for me! I don’t like my mac and cheese too rich, so I love that this is lightened up with skim milk. This looks so cheesy and delicious!

  5. Gayle @ Pumpkin 'N Spice says

    Yay for comfort food season! While I really dislike the cold and snow, I do love curling up in my comfy clothes with some comfort food and a hot beverage. This healthier mac ‘n cheese looks perfect for that! Love, it Ashley!

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