As much as I love a good classic mac and cheese, sometimes I'm looking for a slightly more balanced option! This hidden veggie mac and cheese is PERFECT! It's packed with veggies, protein and fibre while still tasting AMAZING.
Why you need this hidden veggie pasta
If you don't know by now I LOVE finding ways to elevate the meals I already love eating by adding a little extra nutrition into them (without sacrificing taste or satisfaction)!
Which is why this hidden veg mac and cheese has been my new favourite creation recently. If you don't believe me, here are four reasons why you need this recipe ASAP!
- It's the perfect balanced meal- By adding in extra vegetables and choosing a higher fibre, higher protein pasta, you get the perfect balanced meal!
- It is SO simple- Honestly do not let the ingredient list scare you away. This high protein mac and cheese is really only 3 steps and it's FOOL PROOF so it's the perfect easy weeknight dinner, last minute holiday side dish or meal prep option!
- It's picky eater approved- Looking for a way to get your kids (or you) to eat more vegetables? This is the perfect healthy mac and cheese for kids. You still get that creamy, cheesy taste and texture you expect while adding in some extra nutrition- there are SIX hidden veggies and I promise you won't even know it's healthy!
- It's nut free- I find a lot of 'healthier' mac and cheese options use a cashew base- which is great if you are vegan, but if you have a tree nut allergy it isn't so great. This is a great healthier nut free mac and cheese option for anyone looking for one!
*bonus: it's a great 'clean out the fridge' meal! Get creative and try changing up the vegetables based on whatever you have left in your fridge
Ingredients needed for high protein mac and cheese
VEGGIES!- You can't have hidden veggie pasta without veggies! For this recipe I use SIX vegetables including onion, zucchini, bell peppers, cauliflower, butternut squash and carrots. I find these are the most neutral tasting vegetables, however if you want to experiment feel free to!
Pasta- Any pasta will work. For a classic mac and cheese choose elbow macaroni noodles! To make this high protein mac and cheese I highly recommend using a chickpea or lentil based pasta for an extra protein and fibre boost (my personal favourite is Chickapea- which you can get at Costco!!)
Vegetable broth- For flavour, and texture! No one likes a dry mac and cheese. I always like to choose a lower sodium broth in all of my cooking and then adjusting the salt to my desired preference.
Pasta water- If you forget to reserve a half of a cup of pasta water after draining your pasta- don't worry any water will work! I just like using pasta water when I can as it has a subtle salt flavour I love!
Spices- The only spices you are going to need are garlic powder, salt and black pepper!
Dijon mustard- The secret ingredient to getting that sharp cheddar flavour we all love in a comforting mac and cheese! I recommend using an old fashion or grainy Dijon mustard if you can for the most authentic flavour. If you want a little bit more of a bite feel free to add more!
Flour- I use all purpose flour for this hidden veggie pasta. All you need is 2 tablespoons to help thicken the cheese sauce!
Butter- To make a traditional roux for our cheese sauce we want equal parts butter and flour!
Cheese- You can't have a good mac and cheese without CHEESE! Feel free to use whatever type of cheese you normally add to your mac and cheese (or even a combination of a few of your favourites). I use a medium cheddar cheese in mine!
How can I make hidden veg mac and cheese?
Despite the longer ingredient list, I promise this hidden veggie pasta is INCREDIBLY easy to make. Grab your blender, a large pot, a pot for your pasta and a baking sheet and lets get started!
Step one: Roast your vegetables. As this step will take the longest I recommend starting with it! Chop up all of your vegetables (including the onion, zucchini, bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots and cauliflower) and arrange them on your baking sheet. Add your pressed garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400F for about 40 minutes.
Step two: Cook your pasta- While your vegetables are roasting, cook your pasta according to the package instructions. I recommend salting your water for the best taste! Don't forget to save half of a cup of the pasta water after draining to use for the sauce!
Step four: Sauce time! Once your vegetables are done, add them to a high powered blender or food processor (you can also use an immersion blender) with your pasta water and vegetable broth and blend until smooth! Note; you may have to do this in batches. In a large pot over medium heat add your butter and flour and whisk until a roux forms (a thick sauce), add your milk and continue whisking until it begins to simmer.
- TIP: The purpose of the roux is to help create a creamy sauce without the milk coagulating (this is what happens when milk is heated and left alone, the protein will begin to form clumps)! SO whisking the entire time is very important!
Step Five: Bring it all together! One your sauce begins to simmer, immediately reduce the heat to low, add the cheese, blended vegetable puree, garlic powder, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and stir until fully combined. Remove the sauce from the heat and mix in your pasta!
adjust spices to your preference (add in some hot sauce if your desire)!
optional: For a baked mac and cheese, pour your pasta and sauce into a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and additional cheese and broil in the oven until brown!
Frequently asked questions
Can I make this healthy mac and cheese for kids?
YES!! One of the best things about this hidden veggie mac and cheese is kids will LOVE IT! I promise they won't even know it's filled with vegetables.
What makes this high protein mac and cheese?
The pasta! I love using chickpea or lentil pasta for an easy protein source in dishes like this one.
Another option would be adding in some shredded chicken or even blending soft tofu into the sauce!
Does this ACTUALLY taste like mac and cheese?
OKAY so you *might* not think this is a traditional comfort food-type mac and cheese when you bite into it but I promise you will still get the creamy, cheesy goodness you love. I find this tastes slightly sweeter and more like a butternut squash mac and cheese than a traditional mac and cheese (duh there's butternut squash in it)!
Try adding additional cheese or hot sauce if you really want to disguise the veggies.
Can I make this hidden veg mac and cheese vegan?
I have not personally tried! I'm sure you could try using vegan butter, milk and cheese substitutes and it would be fine! The only thing I'm not 100% sure about would be the cheese. I personally find vegan cheeses don't melt quite as well (or I haven't found one yet)! However even adding in some nutritional yeast would be a great option!
More vegetable packed dinner ideas
I LOVE finding ways to incorporate more veggies into my meals without sacrificing taste! If you loved this hidden veg mac and cheese you need to try some more of my vegetable packed dinners....
PS. I love seeing my recipes in action! If you decide to make this hidden veggie mac and cheese tag me on Instagram - @nourishedbynic or leave a comment below how it turned out!
Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese
- 1 medium yellow onion sliced
- 2 medium red or orange bell peppers sliced
- 2 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 medium zucchini sliced
- 2 cups butternut squash peeled and cubed
- 1 medium carrot sliced
- 3 garlic cloves pressed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup pasta water reserved
- 1 cup vegetable broth
Mac and Cheese
- 16 oz uncooked chickpea or lentil elbow macaroni
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon flour
- ½ cup milk
- 1.5 cups cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- hot sauce to taste (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
- Arrange onion, bell peppers, cauliflower, zucchini, butternut squash, carrots and garlic on the baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 40 minutes.
- While the vegetables are baking, cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Don’t forget to reserve ½ a cup of pasta water for later!
- Once your vegetables are done, add them to a food processor or high powered blender with vegetable broth and reserved pasta water and blend until smooth ( you may need to do this in batches).
- In a large pot over medium heat add butter and flour and whisk until a roux forms. Add your milk and whisk until it begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add cheese, vegetable puree, garlic powder, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper and stir until fully combined.
- Remove sauce from the heat and pour in your cooked pasta.