Healthy Mac n Cheese:
Why This Mac n Cheese is Healthy:
When you consume simple carbohydrates on their own with little to no fat or protein (aka a plain box of mac n cheese), it will raise your insulin levels and spike your blood sugar. This gives you a temporary burst of energy but a quick and intense crash shortly afterwards.
If you consume carbohydrates with a balanced portion of fat (grass-fed butter and olive oil), protein (grass fed organic beef), and complex carbohydrates found in vegetables this helps balance your blood sugar and digest the food faster.
Your energy levels will feel more stabilized and you won't feel so tired after this meal.
Personally, I get an intense tummy ache when I eat mac n cheese on its own as a meal. Although mac n cheese has always been my favorite food, I always remember having stomach aches after I ate it, since I was little. When I eat pasta with sufficient protein and fat, however, I don't get a stomach ache (unless I eat too much, which is easy since it's so delicious haha!)
Of course, I honor that everyone's body is different and this may not be a "healthy" meal for you. I am always re-evaluating what is "healthy" for my body and it can change quite drastically in a week or a month or a year.
Learning how to eat intuitively and sort of shut out all the noise about "good" and "bad" foods is a lifelong process. You are the one who knows your body best.
Which Type of Boxed Mac n Cheese to Choose:
Annie's is a great option because you can find their products at most stores and they have so many different types and flavors to choose from. You can buy Annie's on Amazon here. My sister buys these same variety packs of Annie's in bulk at Costco.
My top choices health-wise are the organic grass-fed and organic boxes. They have tasty gluten free options too. I like Annie's classic cheddar and the shells with white cheddar.
If you're going for non-organic, any type of mac n cheese box will work for this recipe, because we are going to be adding so many delicious extras to it. Most big grocery stores have their store's brand of boxed mac n cheese for a great price.
If you want to just use macaroni, adding some type of powdered cheese like parmesan will give it the nice alfredo-like texture that makes this dish stand out.
Other Ingredients You Will Need:
For the filling:
- 1 pound ground beef
- olive oil or other type of oil
- 1 small container baby bella mushrooms
- 1 zucchini
- 1 bell pepper
- 3-4 cups chopped kale or spinach
- Spices to taste: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder
- Extra optional toppings: Chalula hot sauce, saurkraut (try my FAVORITE store-bought Cleveland beet and carrot kraut)
For the sauce:
- 1-1.5 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I recommend Cabot Seriously Sharp)
- about 1/2 cup milk
- about 3-4 tablespoons butter
- cheese packet from box
Following directions on box, cook macaroni in small saucepan. When finished, drain in colander and set aside.
In large generously oiled pan, sautee chopped mushrooms.
When mushrooms have been cooking for a few minutes and are beginning to turn brown, add chopped bell pepper.
After a couple minutes, add ground beef.
Cook until meat is browned then add chopped zucchini.
Add chopped kale and/or spinach. Note: kale takes longer to cook than spinach. If just using spinach, add it when everything else is almost fully cooked.
Add spices. Turn off heat.
In small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and milk.
Add grated cheese and cheese packet. When melted, add this cheese mixture to a large bowl with the macaroni and the meat vegetable mixture.
Serve immediately. Top with hot sauce and black pepper.
Note: usually when I make this with the quantity of ingredients above for 2 people, I will only add about half of the meat and vegetable mixture to the pasta. You can add all of it or save it to add to another box of mac n cheese later in the week. Or, if you are cooking for more people, you can cook more than one box of mac n cheese and adjust quantities of the other ingredients accordingly. This recipe is super easy to tweak to your liking 🙂
This healthy mac n cheese is the perfect recipe to make if you're not very experienced at cooking, if you're low on time and have a low food budget, and for picky eaters in your family. My 2 and 3 year old nephews love this dish. Cooking delicious food can be really simple with the right ingredients and the right recipes.