5 Ways to Lighten Up Macaroni & Cheese

Don't get us wrong; every now and then we love ourselves some full-fledged fatty and buttery cheese-loaded mac 'n' cheese. But we run into a bit of a problem when we want to make it at home. After contemplating the amount of butterfat and milkfat and cheesefat that we've thrown into the pan with reckless abandon while making the dish, we start to second-guess ourselves. By the time it's ready to eat, we're scared to take more than just a bite or two.

Well, we've come up with a few ways that we can have our mac 'n' cheese and eat it, too.

Here are 5 Ways to Make a Healthier Mac:

1. Go Whole Grain

You've heard it before, but that's only because it's a good idea.

Skip the caloric wasteland that is refined white pasta in favor of a fiber-rich whole wheat variety and you'll more than double your intake of fiber and get the added benefits of a plethora of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Not only that -- whole grains are also digested more slowly, which helps to keep blood sugar and insulin levels down.

You can also get adventurous and try out 'noa and cheese (patent pending) made with, you guessed it (or maybe you didn't), quinoa. The super-grain is super-rich in protein, fiber, vitamin B2, magnesium and more. Start with this recipe for Quinoa Spinach Mac n' Cheese.

2. Use Low-Fat Dairy

This one's a no-brainer. You can still achieve creamy macaroni without the heavy full-fat milk or cream.

Whole milk, which is called for in most recipes, will deliver 150 calories and 8 grams of fat (5 g saturated) per cup. Making the easy switch to 1 percent milk will save you 50 calories and 5.5 grams of fat per cup.

This recipe even skips the milk altogether and uses low-fat Greek yogurt instead.

3. Enhance Creaminess the Healthy Way

If you want a thicker, creamier mac, try adding in puréed butternut squash and pumpkin or even creamy avocado. The mashed vegetables will bring tons of health benefits to the table along with that sought-after velvety-smooth texture. Vitamins, fiber, folate and potassium with your ultra-creamy mac and cheese? Sounds like a win-win to us.

Check out this recipe for Pumpkin Mac and Cheese.

This story continues on the next page. 2. Think Outside The Cheddar

Using some of the more classic full-fat cheeses like cheddar, fontina and Gruyère is fine; they melt well and bring tons of flavor and protein. But the key here is moderation. Replace half of the cheese called for with lower-fat cheeses that still add creaminess -- like (low-fat) cottage cheese or part-skim ricotta -- and you won't miss a thing.

Check out this recipe using butternut squash (tip No. 3!) and ricotta.

1. Adjust the Extras

The best way to sneak in healthfulness? Antioxidant- and nutrient-rich vegetables, of course.

Skip the buttered breadcrumbs and (insert fatty pork product here). Instead, get tons of flavor without the guilt by mixing in fresh veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower and more. A serving of leafy greens like spinach or kale will add the benefits of iron, calcium, folate, beta carotene, vitamins A, C and K, and the list goes on. Check out this recipe using raw baby spinach and carrots.

Even fresh herbs and spices like parsley, chives, basil, sage, thyme, tumeric and nutmeg contain antioxidants, essential oils and vitamins.

Looks like it's time to get our mac on.

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