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10 Macaroni and Cheese Recipes That Make the Ultimate Side

Plain ol’ macaroni and cheese can be hard to beat, but these 10 deliciously creative mac ‘n cheese recipes give the classic a run for its money.

Macaroni and cheese has a special place in most of our hearts.

Many childhood dinners were whole boxes of “Kraft Blue,” and it’s something we can still turn to whenever we’re looking for a hit of simple, delicious, and inexpensive comfort food.

If you’re on the same page, but haven’t tried giving the classic dish some new (healthier) twists, you’re missing out.

And these recipes will show you why. They put pre-packaged mac and cheese mixes to shame.

There’s something for everyone here, too, so whether you’re dirty bulking, “clean eating,” or even vegan or vegetarian, this is for you.



Slow Cooker Broccoli Mac & Cheese

broccoli mac and cheese Picture courtesy of Eat Good for Life

If you love broccoli cheddar soup, this is one mac ‘n’ cheese that you need to add to your meal rotation. No doubt you’ll want to eat it again and again, especially since the whole dish is easily made in a slow cooker.

The best part of Crock Pot macaroni and cheese is that you don’t have to boil the pasta. Just leave it all to warm for a couple hours, and mix in the broccoli shortly before serving.

Serves 8


12 oz. fresh broccoli

13 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 oz. gorgonzola cheese

4 cups milk

1 1/2 boxes (19 oz. total) whole-wheat elbow macaroni

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 556

Protein: 29 grams

Carbs: 57 grams

Fat: 24 grams


Mac & Cheese with Apple Sausage

mac and cheese one pot recipe Picture courtesy of Adventures in Cooking

When you’re making a seasonal meal for fall, you could add pumpkin or butternut squash.

But this homemade macaroni and cheese takes things in an unexpected direction with a pairing of apple sausage and applesauce. It delivers big on comforting flavor, yet is also a grown-up mac and cheese that’s impressive enough to serve for holidays or date night.

Serves 10


1 lb. elbow macaroni

3/4 lb. chicken apple sausage, casings removed

3 1/3 cups whole milk

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

12 oz. grated gruyere (about 1/2 cup reserved)

2 cups (about 8 oz.) grated cheddar

1/2 cup flour

6 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 581

Protein: 31 grams

Carbs: 49 grams

Fat: 29 grams


Mac & Cheese Stuffed Pumpkin

pumpkin filled mac and cheese Picture courtesy of Cooking on the Side

Here’s baked mac ‘n’ cheese like you’ve never had it before. Rather than using a casserole dish or Dutch oven, this one is baked in a whole pumpkin.

This recipe is for a complete dinner, macros and all, but you can use this healthy cooking method with whatever is the best mac ‘n’ cheese recipe for your meal plan.

Serves 4


1 sugar pumpkin (about 5 lbs.)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 lb. mild Italian pork sausage

4 oz. elbow macaroni

5 oz. fontina, cut into 1/4” cubes

2 oz. gruyere, cut into 1/4” cubes

3 scallions, diced

1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 tsp. chopped fresh sage

1 cup heavy cream

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 640

Protein: 28 grams

Carbs: 61 grams

Fat: 35 grams


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Clean-Eating Tuna Pasta Salad

tuna macaroni salad Picture courtesy of The Country Cook

Making a nutritious tuna macaroni salad doesn’t require a whole new recipe. Start with whole-wheat pasta, and then use Greek yogurt with just a touch of mayo for that original flavor.

Use canned tuna that’s packed in water for a low-fat pasta salad, and mix in your favorite veggies like peas or carrots.

Serves 4


1 cup diced onion

1 cup diced celery

2 cans (5 oz. each) chunk light tuna packed in water, drained

3 cups pre-cooked whole-grain pasta

1 cup frozen peas, defrosted

2 Tbsp. mayo

1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 241

Protein: 22 grams

Carbs: 30 grams

Fat: 4 grams


Cheesy Sloppy Joe Macaroni Casserole

cheesy sloppy joe macaroni casserole

Picture courtesy of Noshing with the Nolands

This is a family-friendly way to combine several comfort foods into one high-protein dinner.

And unless you’re feeding a full table, you’ll have leftover cheeseburger macaroni to take to work the next day, or to wolf down when you get home from the gym. It tastes like cheesy chili mac, but with post-workout macros that’ll help you refuel after some heavy lifting.

Serves 8


1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

4 tsp. minced garlic

1 1/2 lbs. 93% lean ground beef

2 cans (14 oz. each) tomato sauce

1 small can (5.5 oz.) tomato paste

2 tsp. chili powder

2 tsp. ground cumin

Salt to taste

1/2 cup beef broth

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

3 Tbsp. brown sugar

12 oz. macaroni, cooked

2 cups (about 8 oz.) grated cheddar

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 427

Protein: 33 grams

Carbs: 49 grams

Fat: 11 grams 


Greek Yogurt Macaroni & Cheese

baked macaroni recipe Picture courtesy of Tori Avey

This easy mac and cheese starts on the stove, then finishes in the oven until the breadcrumbs on top begin to brown and crisp.

It’s a classic with everything you want – including a touch of butter – yet all the flavor is delivered with half the fat of a restaurant mac. And since it’s a simple recipe, you can easily switch it up with a blend of cheeses like smoked gouda and Swiss.

Serves 6


1 lb. elbow macaroni

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 cups low-fat milk

1 1/2 cups (about 6 oz.) shredded sharp cheddar

3/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. breadcrumbs

1/8 tsp. smoked paprika

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 433

Protein: 23 grams

Carbs: 66 grams

Fat: 8 grams


Chipotle Chicken Quinoa-Macaroni Salad

chicken macaroni salad Picture courtesy of Fit Men Cook

Chicken and macaroni salad gets a bad rap, but it’s easy to pump up the nutrition and flavor for a delicious meal. This one uses pasta that’s made from quinoa, or you could go for brown rice or whole-wheat for the complex carbs.

This recipe can also be tweaked for your tastes. For a Hawaiian macaroni salad, just swap out the goat cheese for shredded carrots or chopped celery, and use pineapple instead of tomato.

Serves 10


1/2 cup chipotle mayonnaise

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

8 oz. quinoa macaroni shells

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast

1/2 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup (about 1oz.) goat cheese

1 large vine tomato

1 cup kale, chopped

1 large bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup diced red onion

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 230

Protein: 13 grams

Carbs: 21 grams

Fat: 10 grams


Pressure Cooker Macaroni & Cheese

oven mac and cheese recipe Picture courtesy of Dad Cooks Dinner

Forget about the Kraft mac and cheese, both the stove-top kind and the microwavable pasta with cheese powder. You can use real cheddar and Parmesan and still have a convenient meal.

This one-pot macaroni and cheese comes together in a half hour or less, even if you decide to finish it with bread crumbs under the broiler. And it has healthy macros too, which can be made even leaner with reduced-fat cheddar cheese.

Serves 6


1 lb. elbow macaroni

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. yellow mustard

1 tsp. hot sauce (plus more to serve)

2 tsp. salt

4 cups water

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

4 cups (about 16 oz.) shredded extra-sharp cheddar

1 1/2 cups (about 6 oz.) shredded Parmesan

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 614

Protein: 41 grams

Carbs: 65 grams

Fat: 21 grams


Secretly Healthy Macaroni & Cheese

healthy macaroni and cheese Picture courtesy of Pancake Warriors

Low-carb mac and cheese might seem impossible, but there’s a trick to slash the calories by minimizing the amount of macaroni noodles.

Chop up cauliflower florets into bite-sized pieces, and they’ll take on the texture of pasta once cooked. That means this dish has more protein per serving than anything else.

Serves 4


1 head cauliflower, stem removed

2 cups vegetable broth

1 1/4 cups (about 5 oz.) shredded 2% sharp cheddar, divided

3/4 package brown rice pasta

1/2 tsp. salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. almond meal

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 204

Protein: 15 grams

Carbs: 14 grams

Fat: 10 grams


Vegan Macaroni Salad

vegan macaroni salad Picture courtesy of Minimalist Baker

This pasta salad doesn’t use mayonnaise, and it doesn’t have creamy Greek yogurt either. Instead it has silken tofu, which not only makes it vegan but adds extra protein too.

For more healthy, flavorful comfort foods, pick up Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking. It has over 101 plant-based, mostly gluten-free recipes for kitchen inspiration.


Serves 8


4 cups elbow macaroni

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced red onion (or green onion)

1 cup (about 8 oz.) silken firm tofu

2 Tbsp. dried dill (or 4 Tbsp. fresh dill)

3 Tbsp. agave nectar (or cane sugar)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar (or vinegar of choice)

2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 Tbsp. spicy mustard

Water to thin

Nutrition Facts (Per Serving)

Calories: 242

Protein: 8 grams

Carbs: 41 grams

Fat: 5 grams


What did you think of these macaroni recipes? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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