Healthy Mac and Cheese with Veggies

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This healthy macaroni cheese is my kids' all-time favorite. This mac and cheese recipe is packed with hidden veggies and is the ultimate comfort food for kids and adults alike.

a bowl of mac and cheese sitting on a placemat with a spoon
Trust me there is actually a tonne of veggies in that bowl

I know from the picture I bet you are doubting me. But trust me there is more vegetables in this recipe than there is cheese sauce!

Why This Recipe Works

  • Reason 1
  • Reason 2
  • Reason 3

The ingredients you will need

The ingredients for this healthy mac and cheese are typically pantry and refrigerator basics for the cheese sauce (butter, flour, milk and cheese) plus some veggies (cauliflower, zucchini and onion). Bacon is an optional extra.

Ingredients for the healthy mac n cheese recipe laid out on a bench with text overlay
  • Although this is a macaroni recipe other pasta shapes such as spirals or penne work just fine.
  • If you don't have zucchini, no bother just up the cauliflower.
  • You can also use butternut squash purée, pumpkin purée or broccoli purée, although they will alter the colour of the dish
  • The butter can be substituted for olive oil.
  • I include a cheese sauce recipe in the recipe card below

How to make Healthy Mac and Cheese

Below are illustrated step-by-step instructions to make homemade mac and cheese, if you prefer just the written instructions then head straight to the printable recipe card or check out the recipe video below.

  • Cook your chosen pasta in salted water as per the manufacturer's instructions

Prepare the veggies

  • Finely dice the onion and set to one side for later
  • Cut the cauliflower into large florets, peel and cut up the zucchini, steam until tender, purée. I use a stick blender for this.
Three photo collage showing the steps to making cauliflower and zucchini purée.

Make the cheese sauce

  • Heat the milk- I find if you preheat the milk first, which you can do in the microwave, you will get a smoother sauce and the sauce will thicken much more quickly
  • Heat butter in a saucepan
  • Add onion and bacon and sauté until onion softened and translucent. This step is optional the recipe will work just fine without either the onion or bacon
  • Add the flour and cook for around 2mins whilst stirring
  • Gradually add the milk
  • Bring the sauce just to the boil then reduce the heat. At this point you should have quite a thick but smooth sauce (photo 5)
  • Stir through the grated cheese until melted
  • Remove from heat and stir through the vegetable purée, you should now have a smooth cheese sauce, loaded with hidden veggies
Two photo collage of milk in a jug inside a microwave and cauliflower purée
A saucepan of smooth cheese sauce.

Make and Bake

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius or 360 fahrenheit
  • Stir the hidden veggie cheese sauce through the cooked pasta. You can actually stop at this step and serve the mac and cheese like this (photo 8)
  • Pour the pasta and sauce into an ovenproof dish
  • top with extra grated cheese and bake until the cheese is golden and melted on top.
A large glass bowl of cooked macaroni elbows covered in a thick white sauce.

This recipe does have quite a few steps, if you would prefer a simpler 2 step recipe, be sure to check out my crockpot mac and cheese.

Baked mac and cheese ready to serve with melted golden cheese on top
Baked and ready to serve, with extra melted cheese on top

Recipe FAQs and Tips

Can I use gluten free pasta?

Absolutely this recipe will work with any pasta, for the recipe to be gluten-free you will need to make a gluten-free cheese sauce as well

Do I need to cook the cauliflower and zucchini?

For this recipe, yes you do. I share some other recipes where I blend raw cauliflower into coconut cream but in this mac n cheese it's better cooked first.

Can I freeze and reheat leftovers?

Yes. If you have leftovers they can be stored in the fridge for 3 days. You can also freeze leftovers for up to 3 months. Make sure you reheat to piping hot, I find the microwave does a great job reheating this recipe.

  • I often freeze this dish into kiddy portions, using a silicone muffin tray. Once frozen I pop them out and put them in a zip lock bag, then reheat as many portions as I need.
  • To make a cheese sauce quickly with no lumps heat your milk first! You can do this either in a saucepan or in the microwave but it really does speed up the cheese sauce making process
  • If you want a nice cream coloured cheese sauce be sure to peel the zucchini!
  • Try this recipe with butternut, pumpkin or sweet potato purée it's super delicious alternative kids will love

Let's talk hidden veggies

There are large quantities of 3 vegetables cleverly hidden in this macaroni cheese recipe.

  • Onion, yes never forget onion is a vegetable, and if you dice/slice it finely and cook it gently it goes lovely and sweet, do not burn your onion it adds a bitter flavour
  • Cauliflower puree completely disappears into the cheese sauce
  • Courgette I call it courgette, you may call it zucchini. For the very picky eater, one way to start with courgette is too peel it, the white flesh just disappears into the sauce. If you have more adventurous eaters in your family then simply don't peel it. The sauce will have a green tinge but it will still taste just fine.

Some people have reservations about sneaking vegetables. I believe there is a place and enough space for both options. Sneaking and not sneaking.

My kids have meals where the vegetables are loud and proud and meals where the vegetables are more subtle. Feel free to read my thoughts on whether to sneak or not to sneak vegetables, and also my other hacks for boosting the vegetable content in meals.

Hidden veggie recipes

If you are looking for other kid-friendly meals and snacks that have a veggie boost be sure to check these out as well

Baked mac and cheese being served with a large serving spoon
I hope you enjoy it!

If you made my healthy mac and cheese or any other recipes on the blog please :

  • leave me a comment and a star rating below to let me know how you got on, I love hearing from you.
  •  FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKINSTAGRAMPINTEREST to see more kid-friendly food and what I’m getting up to.
a bowl of mac and cheese sitting on a placemat with a spoon

Healthy Mac and Cheese

A homemade mac and cheese recipe that is perfect for the whole family including picky eaters, this veggie mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food.
Print Pin Rate
Course: Hidden Veggies
Cuisine: American
Keyword: healthy mac and cheese, healthy mac and cheese recipe with veggies, veggie mac and cheese, homemade mac and cheese
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 242kcal
Author: My Kids Lick The Bowl

RATE THIS RECIPE

4.57 from 461 votes

Ingredients

  • 250 g 1 ½ cups uncooked pasta (macaroni, penne, spirals etc)
  • 400 g cauliflower approx. half a small cauliflower
  • 250 g zucchini 2 medium
  • 2 tablespoon 30g butter or your preferred oil
  • 2 tablespoon plain flour
  • 1 medium onion finely diced
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon finely diced
  • 250 ml milk 1 cup
  • 125 g grated cheese 1 cup

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta as per the packet directions, drain and set aside
  • Roughly chop the cauliflower, peel the courgette/zucchini, roughy chop and steam with the cauliflower until tender
  • While the cauliflower is cooking start on the roux sauce (white sauce). 
  • Heat butter/oil in a saucepan
  • Add onion and bacon and sauté until onion softened and translucent 
  • Add the flour and cook for around 2mins whilst stirring
  • Gradually add the milk (I find if you preheat the milk first, which you can do in the microwave, you will get a smoother sauce and the sauce will thicken much more quickly)
  • Bring the sauce just to the boil then reduce the heat. At this point you should have quite a thick but smooth sauce
  • Stir in ¾ Cup of the grated cheese, it should melt through the sauce, remove from heat
  • Once the cauliflower and courgette is tender, drain, then puree. I usually use a whizz stick/stick blender. You will end up with around 2  cups of vegetable puree,
  • Stir the vegetable puree into your cheese your sauce
  • Combine your sauce with the pasta
  • Then pour the pasta and sauce mixture into a greased oven proof dish. You can top with the remaining grated cheese
  • Bake for around 20mins at 180 degrees celsius, until the cheese on top is melted, bubbling and golden
  • Serve

Video

Notes

  • Remove the bacon entirely and you will still have a lovely vegetarian dish.
  • I use butter when I make a roux sauce/white sauce as I just find it cooks better for me, but you can use olive oil
  • You can use gluten-free pasta in this recipe
  • Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen and reheated in the microwave when needed
  • I often freeze this dish into kiddy portions, using a silicone muffin tray. Once frozen I pop them out and put them in a zip lock bag, then reheat as many portions as I need.
  • Add sliced boiled eggs to up the protein content
  • It also makes a great side dish for lean meat, fish or chicken.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 242kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 34mg | Sodium: 332mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 3g

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11 Comments

  1. Made it yesterday and it was a great success! I didn't have courgettes but I had some broccoli and added that without blending, so not everything was hidden. Thanks!

    1. I don't use any specific brand. I am in New Zealand and just choose whichever block cheddar cheese is on special

      1. I like that, brand doesn't matter as long as it's cheddar cheese. And I like how easy your recipes as well as the products are that you use.

  2. Love that you have made this and shared! Just now experiencing a picky eater for the first time in my life. My 8 1/2 yr old son is very adventurous and loves all my cooking, even the keto stuff! My boyfriend’s 10 yr old daughter is a whole other story. Won’t try anything new. Basically lives on fruit, chips, noodles. She’s visiting for the summer. I made spaghetti at her request 2 weeks ago... she didn’t even eat the sauce just noodles with Parmesan cheese ????? Any other tips to get this girl to eat properly? Her brothers were a similar story when they came (11 & 15). However within a week they were chomping down my meals telling me what a good cook I am. I know it sounds a little selfish, but it’s sooo disappointing/exhausting when you cook a good meal and your kids don’t eat it! ?

  3. My 2 year old loves this meal. I can never get her to eat vegetables ever but sHe had 3 bowls tonight