Meal Planning: Healthy Mac and Cheese

by | Apr 25, 2019 | Healthy eating, Meal planning

If you’re thinking, “I just want you to give me a healthy mac and cheese recipe, can you write me one that is low fat, dairy free, and gluten-free?” Then you need to understand that personalized meal and recipe planning is a process. To ensure sustainable change and maximize the impact on your health, we need to spend time getting to know one other and exchanging information.


At the beginning of our meal planning relationship assumptions are made on both sides. You assume there is a perfect way to healthy eating and way to lose weight. I assume I know your likes, dislikes and preferences from a questionnaire and your commitment to follow my prescribed plan.


The trial and error menu


But in reality, the first menu I write for you is a trial and error menu. I spend at least an hour reviewing the consult notes. I then put together the best plan for your success based on the information you have given me as well as from my nutritional expertise. When I send you your menu, you will look at it and see unfamiliar recipes or ingredients and may be uncertain about my choices for you. You need to be open-minded to try some meals that may fail your expectations. I need to be open-minded that you may not like my suggestions.


For lasting change, meal plans need to consider likes, dislikes, allergies, cooking styles, time management, and desire for change and commitment.


Not all recipes will be instant favourites. Some will need modifications after the first attempt. This is why recipes often state that when adding spices, “adjust to taste.” Throughout our coaching relationship, I will teach you the skills on how to adapt a recipe to your taste.


Developing a healthy substitute for a favourite meal


Recently, a meal planning client asked for a “healthy” macaroni and cheese recipe to substitute for their child’s favourite boxed kind. Now, that is a tall order because kids will always know when you are trying to trick them, and it is tough to replicate boxed macaroni and cheese.


When I curate recipes, I compare several ingredient combinations and read reviews. I look for non-processed ingredients that are healthy and a recipe that does not have many steps. I try the recipes before I send them to my clients so that I am confident that it will be a good fit, but I can be wrong sometimes.


When I prepared this new “healthy” macaroni and cheese, I kept doubting myself. Was I going to sway kids away from boxed mac and cheese?


First, it was the Dijon mustard in the recipe…why? I decided to leave it out, but when I tasted the sauce something was missing. When I added the Dijon mustard into it, something magical happened – the taste of the sauce improved significantly! Why is that? Well, at first the sauce was sweet, but when I added the Dijon mustard, which has a kind of vinegary taste to it, it balanced out the flavour. Dijon mustard is also found in salad dressings because it acts as an emulsifier creating smoother sauces. I learned that it is a must in this healthy mac and cheese recipe.


Midway through the recipe, I had the feeling the recipe was going to be a disaster because it did not taste like a cheese sauce. To cut down on fat content and up the protein, this recipe called for nutritional yeast, which is an inactive yeast and not even related to baking yeast despite sharing the same name. Nutritional yeast is typically found in vegan recipes as a cheese substitute because of its nutty, cheesy flavour. This interesting yellow flaky ingredient is considered a “superfood” because it is a complete protein, an excellent source of B-vitamins, and a good source of fibre. Most brands are also fortified in Vitamin B12, which is typically only found in red meat products. Complete proteins and Vitamin B12 are essential to our health and therefore makes nutritional yeast a perfect ingredient in plant-based meals.


So, here I am with a not so cheesy macaroni and cheese and terrified of my kids’ judgement. As a last-ditch effort, I placed the mac and cheese into a casserole dish and covered it with a layer of mozzarella cheese because no one in our family is allergic or intolerant to cheese. I baked the casserole in the oven until the cheese was golden on top. When the kids came home and asked what was for dinner, I confidently told them it was my new mac and cheese recipe and showed them the casserole. I was shocked when they got excited about it because it reminded them about the one they had at summer camp. Remember when I wrote about summer camp and how my kids had to make their own meal decisions, eat what was in front of them or skip the meal?


The result…the kids loved it! They polished off the entire casserole and even asked me to make more!? I have since made this recipe several times perfecting it, and each time it does not last more than 24 hours in our house.


Through careful research, testing, and modifications, I was able to make this recipe low fat, dairy free, and gluten-free. My goal as a meal planner is to help you expand your confidence and skills with your nutritional intake and to help you reach your health goals. One way I do this is through recipe development, such as this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe, that can be adjusted and quickly become a part of your easy-to-follow meal plan. For more information on my customizable meal plans as well as for more amazing healthy recipes, click here.


Recipe for Healthy Mac and Cheese

Keren's kids approved Healthy Mac and Cheese recipe

Keren Reiser
Prep Time 12 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
5 minutes
Total Time 42 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 9 Servings
Calories 302 kcal


  • 2 cups macaroni, enriched, elbow GF option: Quinoa Macaroni
  • 1 cup milk, skim V option: Almond milk
  • 1.5 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1.5 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled, cubed, steamed
  • to taste salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cheese, mozzarella, partly skim V option: Daiya Shreds


  • Preheat your oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13 casserole dish.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook macaroni as per the directions on the package. When finished cooking, strain and run under cold water immediately to prevent from overcooking.
  • Add milk, cornstarch, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, and steamed butternut squash to your blender. Blend on high for 30 seconds until all mixed and uniform. Add in salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Pour the sauce over the macaroni and mix well. 
  • Place half the macaroni in a greased 9x13 casserole dish. 
  • Layer with half the mozzarella cheese. 
  • Add the remainder of the macaroni. Cover with the remainder of mozzarella cheese. 
  • Bake at 350F uncovered for 30 minutes. Until cheese is melted and golden brown. 
  • Portion pan into 9 servings and enjoy!
Keyword dairy, gluten-free, healthy mac and cheese, kid approved, options, vegan

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