Mac ‘N Cheese Made Healthier!

Comfort Food Made the Skinny Way

by Cari Coulter, RD, LD

Whether it’s because we’re visiting family and feeling nostalgic, feeling ill and in need of some soothing, or experiencing the winter weather blues and want to warm up, we turn to comfort foods for a wide variety of reasons.  Consuming a comfort food is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, but these traditionally high -at, high-calorie options can lead to physical and psychological dips once the food’s been eaten and the guilt sets in.  

You can keep your favorite foods in your diet and still find low-fat and fat-free versions that will love you back -- and still feel satisfied in a healthy way.  Swap out key ingredients in your favorite comfort food recipes to maintain the texture, flavor,and smells you enjoy about those dishes without the guilt and extra pounds.  Here's one of my favorite modified recipes to serve during the holidays. Take note of the reduced fat and calorie count, then dig in!

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8oz fiber-enriched or whole wheat macaroni noodles

¼  cup fat-free Panko breadcrumbs

¼ packet McCormick Veggie Steamers Cheddar Cheese (or 2 slices fat-free cheese)

1/3 tbsp vegetable bouillon powder

3/4 cup fat-free milk 

¼ block 75% reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

½ tbsp fat free Parmesan cheese

¼ tbsp garlic powder

½ tbsp cornstarch

¼ tsp Dijon mustard

pinch turmeric

Butter spray

Salt and pepper to taste

Nonstick cooking spray



1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

2. Spray a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and butter spray.

3. Boil pasta according to directions with 2 tablespoons bouillon and 1 tablespoon salt . Boil until tender.

4. In a saucepan combine cornstarch with the fat-free milk.

5. Heat until the mixture thickens, and then add the cheese sauce packet, mustard, turmeric, garlic powder, parmesan and the cheddar cheese.  Taste the sauce and season if needed.

6. Stir in the noodles and pour into pan.  Top with Panko breadcrumbs and spray with butter.

7. Bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

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Yield:  4 -1 cup servings

Nutritional Information (per cup):

Calories  294

Fat   3 g

Protein  16g


Traditional Macaroni and Cheese

Nutritional Information (per cup):

Calories  685

Fat  37 g

Protein  26g


Modification Suggestions:

  1. Thicken the milk with cornstarch instead of  using cream
  2. Substitute skim milk and 75% reduced fat cheddar cheese for full the full fat versions
  3. Add spices like garlic powder and Dijon mustard for flavor
  4. Substitute spray butter and nonfat cooking spray for butter and oil



What is your favorite comfort food dish to give a healthy makeover?

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Cari Coulter RD, LD, is the program director at Wellspring Wisconsin. She graduated with honors from Miami University with a BA in psychology and a minor in nutrition and completed her dietetic coursework at NYU's Steinhardt Graduate School. She has since worked in both clinical and corporate health environments.

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