Mac ‘n’ cheese. A classic. For good reason. It’s creamy, delicious, filling, comforting.
But let’s face it, we all know it’s far from healthy.
It’s certainly better (both in terms of taste and health) when you make it from scratch yourself. Boxed mac & cheese or even pre-made shop-bought white sauce are full of worryingly unrecognisable ingredients and are often high in salt, fat and vegetable oils. So homemade is best, as always. But it is definitely not something you will be categorising in the “healthy” section of your diet!
Still, sometimes a day just calls for a classic comfort food like mac & cheese. And kids LOVE it. So I like to include it occasionally in our meal plans. But mine has a twist. It’s green.
I know, it brings to mind scenes from Gilmore Girls in which Lorelai decidedly tells Suki that kids will.not.eat.green.food. Simple as that. Except, in my experience, it isn’t. In the right context, with the right foods, sometimes it’s actually more exciting for being a bright colour. Even green.
My kids love this pasta dish. We have pasta once every week or 2. It’s not a frequent dish in our house primarily because we find it doesn’t fill us up for long and it does spike the blood sugar levels a little, leading to a bit of a crash. We have no real issue with carbs in our house, exactly, but we do believe that we as humans are consuming far more of them than is good for us these days, particularly white, refined carbohydrates. So we eat homemade wholegrain bread, homemade wholemeal pizza and make our primary source of carbohydrates wholegrains like quinoa and millet. We try to keep the carbs to 1/4 or so of our plate, making 1/2 vegetables (& fruit) and the other 1/4 protein and good fats. I am not an advocate of cutting out food groups, particularly for children. But I do believe strongly in making the food on our plates the best possible option.
So we don’t have pasta several times a week as we may have used to. And when we do, I make it wholemeal, spelt, buckwheat or high fibre pasta and I make a dish with it that is full to the brim with goodness.
This is our favourite of those dishes. Creamy, gooey, comforting, and filled with vitamins and 3 serves of vegetables. Not exactly a meal to serve daily, but certainly a great one for a family classic to slot in every few weeks in the meal plan. And a great way to get your greens if you are not usually a big fan!
A nutritious twist on a family classic, this mac 'n' cheese has all of the delicious creamy comfort of the white kind, but with a healthy helping of goodness in the form of 3 types of green vegetables.
- 1 lb (450-500g) macaroni pasta (we use wholemeal, spelt, buckwheat or high fibre to make it more nutrition dense)
- 1 heaped tbsp butter
- 1 heaped tbsp flour (any kind of plain flour - gluten free is fine)
- 2 cups (500ml) full-fat milk (you can use dairy free if you prefer - I've made it 1/2 and 1/2 with cashew milk before and that was really yummy!)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2/3 cup (100g) frozen chopped spinach
- 1 cup (150g) frozen peas
- 1 1/3 cup (200g) frozen broad beans
- 1 cup (125g) grated hard cheese (eg: Cheddar)
- fresh nutmeg (or pinch of ground nutmeg), to taste
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 cup (90g) breadcrumbs, optional
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, but stop cooking about 2 mins before they are cooked so that they still have a bit of a bite to them. Drain (reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water) and pour the pasta into a large casserole dish. Set aside while you make the sauce. Keep the cooking water to one side, too.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once it is melted, allow it to cook a couple more minutes, so that it bubbles and then just starts to turn brown and smell nutty. At this point, whisk in the flour until you have a paste, then continue to whisk and cook for another 30 secs or so to cook the flour. Pour in a little of the milk and whisk continuously so that it turns smooth and thick. Add in the rest of the milk, a little at a time, whisking continuously and waiting until it is all smooth, incorporated and thick before adding in the next bit of milk.
After adding all the milk, whisk in the mustard and mix in the frozen greens. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5-10 mins, until the greens are cooked and the sauce is thick, making sure to stir the sauce every minute or so to ensure it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom.
Take off the heat and stir in the cheese, nutmeg and salt & pepper. Puree the whole thing with a stick blender until you have a smooth, light green colour sauce. Pour over the macaroni along with the reserved cooking water and mix everything together until the macaroni is covered in the sauce.
If you are using breadcrumbs, sprinkle them over the top of the pasta, along with a grating of extra cheese if you wish. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 mins, or until the casserole is slightly golden and bubbling.
Serve warm with a side salad. We especially love this with a generous handful of rocket dressed simply with oil & vinegar and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.