Few dishes unite a family (or group of friends) around the dining table like mac and cheese. Whether your first brush with the dish came from the blue box with dried elbow pasta and neon orange cheese dust or your grandma’s bubbling casserole topped with golden breadcrumbs and sharp cheddar clinging to spiral noodles, most of us share a childlike fondness for mac and cheese.
Our stovetop version makes a few modern swaps to the classic recipe. Whole-milk shredded cheeses add the expected creaminess to the roux (white sauce), but we use Zero Acre oil instead of butter, and recommend an alternative pasta for extra protein or fiber.
Lightly caramelized white onions and softened cauliflower florets add extra nutrition and balance to the dairy-forward richness. Customize our version to suit your (and your family’s) tastes, the occasion, or what veggies are in season — scroll after the recipe for inspiration.
14-oz. box of your favorite dried pasta
8 oz. raw cheddar, shredded cheddar
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
2 ½ tbsp. Zero Acre oil, divided
¼ cup diced white onion
1 bag frozen cauliflower*
¼ cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
1 1/2 cups skim milk or seed oil-free unsweetened plant-based milk
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. spicy mustard
Optional but tastes great: 16 ritz crackers, crumbled on top
*You can use fresh cauliflower florets (one small head) or even a bag of riced cauliflower.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Bring a medium-sized pot to a boil. Add salt. Cook the noodles according to the box instructions. Strain after noodles are al dente and set aside until needed. (Feel free to add a few drops of Zero Acre oil to your pasta to keep it from sticking.)
Use a cheese grater to finely shred the cheeses. Set aside.
Use a vegetable chopper (or knife) to finely dice the onions and cauliflower.
Heat a dutch oven/large sauce pot to medium heat and add ½ tablespoon of Zero Acre oil. Add in the diced onions and cauliflower and sauté. Cover the pan for a few minutes to let cauliflower steam, allowing it to soften and resemble a noodle-like texture. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.
Use the same dutch oven/pot and add 2 tablespoons of Zero Acre oil. Whisk in flour until completely absorbed. Continue whisking fervently while slowly adding the milk.
Add all of the shredded cheese while continuing to whisk. The result will be a thick cheese sauce. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add more milk until you have your desired consistency.
Turn off the heat and sprinkle in all of the seasoning and mustard to the cheese sauce. Add the cooked noodles and sauteed vegetables to the pot and stir again so everything is evenly coated.
Top with crumbled crackers (optional) and serve hot!
How to Customize Your Mac and Cheese
Use another cheese: Cheddar and mozzarella are classic cheeses that melt well, but you can use practically anything to switch up the creamy flavor. Try shredded pepper jack, gouda, parmesan, or provolone. Sprinkle in goat cheese, crumbled feta, or blue cheese for different flavors and textures.
Add extra veggies: Pretty much anything goes here, but favorites include broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, or peas. Make it seasonal with asparagus in the spring, summer squash or eggplant in the summer, butternut squash or pumpkin in the fall, and Swiss chard or kale in the winter.
Add protein: Make this mac and cheese a casserole-like meal by adding shredded chicken, cubed ham, or diced turkey breast. Flaked (or canned) salmon or low-Mercury tuna are also tasty options.
Change up the spices: Instead of paprika and garlic, try chili powder, turmeric, onion powder, oregano, or elote seasoning.
Savory Flavor Combos To Try
Umami: Add sauteed mixed mushrooms (try cremini, shitake, portobello, and maitake or porcini), shallots instead of white onion, fresh diced garlic, and a few splashes of soy sauce or coconut aminos. Add dried thyme and rosemary instead of paprika and dried garlic. Use a blend of shredded gruyere and parmesan.
Spicy queso: Add diced garlic, chopped tomatoes, diced green onions, and about four ounces of fire-roasted green chilies (you can also use hatch chilies or pickled jalapenos). Use 16 ounces of shredded cheddar cheese (omit the mozzarella) and use cumin and cayenne pepper for the spices.
Luxe lobster: Add chunks of cooked lobster, a sprinkle of ground nutmeg instead of paprika, and a combo of shredded cheddar and gruyere cheeses. For even more decadence, add a small handful of crisped, crumbled bacon to the top instead of the crackers.
Is This Mac and Cheese Healthy?
This mac and cheese recipe includes cauliflower, real cheese, and skim milk for protein and calcium, plus an extra protein and fiber boost if you use a protein-heavy pasta like Banza.
Compared to boxed mac and cheese loaded with additives and colors, this homemade stovetop mac and cheese recipe uses real-food ingredients for a healthier family pasta dish. It also uses Zero Acre oil to caramelize the diced onions and soften the cauliflower, so, unlike restaurant dishes, you won’t have to worry about high-linoleic seed oils.
You can swap a traditional cracker crumble for the top of the mac and cheese with seed oil-free options like Mary’s Gone Crackers or Hu’s Grain-Free Crackers for some crisp without the toxic additives.
How to Make This Mac and Cheese Kid-friendly
Tip 1: Blend the cooked cauliflower and onion together with a few splashes of milk in a high-speed blender or food processor. Add it to the cooked pasta before the shredded cheeses. Stir together and nobody will be the wiser!
Tip 2: For sensitive palates, swap the spicy mustard and paprika for a dash of white or black pepper and ground mustard powder.
Fat: 27 grams
Carbs: 55 grams
Protein: 29 grams
Nutrition info collected from Cronometer.
This delicious recipe was developed and photographed by Courtney Paige.
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