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Recipe Rescue: Macaroni and Cheese

When it comes to comfort food, macaroni and cheese is as classic as you can get. But forget the boxed versions -- if you're going to have the mac, do it right. Macaroni and cheese from scratch is far more satisfying, and you have better control over what goes in it. Unfortunately, some recipes go a little overboard, packing close to 800 calories per serving! Try my recipe that's creamy and cheesy, and fits more easily into a healthy, balanced diet. (Scroll to the bottom of the post for a printable PDF version of the recipe!)

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Baked Macaroni and Cheese:
  • 4 cups (1 pound) elbow macaroni
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar, plus 1 cup in big chunks
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Changes Made:
    • 4 cups (1 pound) elbow macaroni: Reduced to 12 ounce box for better convenience (most boxed macaroni is sold this way); specified choosing whole grain noodles or white noodles with added fiber and nutrients
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter: Halved to 2 1/2 tablespoons
    • 4 cups milk: Specified to be low-fat milk (1%)
    • 1/2 medium onion
    • 4 cloves garlic
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 sprigs fresh thyme: For convenience, substituted dried thyme
    • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour: Increased to 4 tablespoons for a thicker sauce
    • 2 cups shredded Cheddar, plus 1 cup in big chunks: Reduced to 2 cups shredded cheddar and used reduced-fat
    • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

              Nutrition Facts Face-Off!

              1/6 recipe

              Note that although the "after" version is still relatively high in fat, it can still be worked into a healthy eating plan by choosing lower-fat options throughout the day and/or getting a little extra physical activity. Remember, all foods fit!

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              Homemade Baked Macaroni and Cheese (Printable PDF Version)

              Serves 6-8


                • 12 ounces elbow macaroni, dry (whole grain or with added fiber)
                • 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
                • 3 cups low-fat milk (1%)
                • ½ medium onion
                • 4 cloves garlic
                • 1 bay leaf
                • ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
                • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
                • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
                • 2 cups shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
                • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
                • Salt and black pepper to taste
                1. Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare an 8x8" casserole dish with nonstick spray.
                2. Prepare macaroni according to package directions, cooking until al dente. Drain and toss with ½ tablespoon of butter. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and reserve pasta pot for making sauce.
                3. Combine milk, onion, garlic cloves, bay leaf, thyme, and mustard in a saucepan. Warm over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until it begins to steam. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl or measuring cup.
                4. In pasta pot, melt remaining butter over medium-high heat. Add flour, whisking to form a paste. Stir the paste for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk in the warm milk until it has all been added.
                5. Heat milk, butter, and flour mixture, stirring often, until thickened (about 5 minutes). Turn off heat and stir in 1 ½ cups of cheddar and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
                6. Pour sauce over macaroni noodles in mixing bowl and toss with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed. Transfer macaroni and cheese sauce to casserole dish, then top with remaining ½ cup of cheddar and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese.
                7. Bake for 25 minutes, then broil on high for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

                    Enjoy with a side of steamed vegetables or a lightly dressed green salad.

                    Note: If desired, serve without baking (immediately after combining macaroni with cheese sauce).

                    Nutrition Facts (1/6 recipe): Calories 440, Total Fat 18g (Saturated 10g), Cholesterol 55mg, Sodium 750mg, Total Carbohydrate 51g, Dietary Fiber 5g, Protein 24g, Vitamin A 15% DV, Vitamin C 2% DV, Calcium 100% DV, Iron 10% DV

                    Today's post was written by Leia Kedem. Leia Kedem, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator covering Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion Counties. She appears weekly on WCIA-3/WCIX-49 and is a biweekly contributor to the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. She also maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts where she regularly posts health tips and answers nutrition questions for free.