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Green Mac and Cheese

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Almost immediately after Valentine's Day I started getting messages from weelicious readers asking me for St Patricks Day recipes. While it would be simple to squeeze a few drops of green food coloring into a bunch of recipes, I avoid food dyes as I think they are dangerous. I made the decision to come up a weeks worth of festive, green, dye-free St Patty's Day recipes that you can feel good about feeding your family.

Since every kid I know seems to love mac and cheese, I wondered how I could bring some verdant color to this classic dish. Offering kids green takes some creativity. While some have no issue eating green foods there are plenty who do. Kenya happens to be a great eater, but he took one look at this emerald mac and cheese and instantly said no. Chloe, on the other hand, managed to be on her third serving while he and I continued to discuss why he wouldn't even try it.

Never wanting to push, I told Kenya it was fine with me if he didn't want to eat it. As time passed he started to eyeball me as if he wanted to eat it, however I could sense that he couldn't back down from his original defiant declaration. Kids can instinctively say no to new foods they aren't used to -- a lot of it has to do with their comfort level, and you need to work around that. My solution was offering to grate a little more cheese on top for Kenya and he was finally game to try my new recipe (sometimes I think I could grate cheese on an old shoe and that child would eat it). Two servings later I got the feeling Kenya was very happy with his decision and I was thrilled that it ended as a win for the both of us.

This mac and cheese is not only super creamy and cheesy, it's packed with nutritious veggies like spinach, broccoli and sweet peas which only add to the heavenly nature of this traditional, kid friendly recipe. See, it's easy being green!

Green Mac and Cheese  (serves 8 )

  • Prep Time: 10 mins,
  • Cook Time: 30 mins,
  • Rating:
    Rate this recipe
Almost immediately after Valentine's Day I started getting messages from weelicious readers asking me for St Patricks Day recipes. While it would be simple to squeeze a few drops of green food coloring into a bunch of recipes, I avoid food dyes as I...

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (you can also use campanelle, cavatappi or shells)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cups packed fresh spinach
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups grated white cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 1 cup peas

Preparation

  1. 1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. 2. Cook pasta in salted water for about 3 minutes less than package directions call for, until al dente. Reserve half a cup of the pasta water and strain.
  3. 3. While the pasta is cooking. Place the milk and spinach in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth.
  4. 4. In a large pot melt the butter and then add the flour, whisking continuously over low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes to make a roux. Slowly whisk in the milk mixture and bring to a boil.
  5. 5. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes, or until sauce is gently bubbling and starting to thicken.
  6. 6. Add reserved pasta water and cheese and whisk until melted. Stir in the pasta, broccoli and peas.
  7. 7. Transfer to a greased 13″ x 9″ baking dish and bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling and the pasta is set.
Green Mac and Cheese

Nutrition Information

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Comments






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  5. fabdvamommy

    April 19, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Delicious! My 15 mo old loved this. I am having a hard time getting him to eat his vegetables and this recipe was a big help since the veggies are hidden. He eats it all up when I feed him this. It tastes great. This will be in our regular meal rotation,

  6. jeannine barthel

    March 20, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    My kids loved this recipe! I thought it was good, but would like more flavor. I may try some of the suggestions that others have made with onions or garlic just to give it a little more flavor. A great way to get the veggies in kid friendly meal!

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  13. shaa827

    March 4, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Can you use frozen broccoli and frozen peas? And fresh kale?

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  18. mandolina12

    December 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Do you think I could blend the brocoli and peas with the milk & spinach? My girl is refusing all veggies at the moment in whole form, but loves green smoothies, so I think she’ll be ok if there are no whole pieces. What do you think?

  19. Mayanin

    December 9, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    OK my picky eaters ate it all! They really loved it! it’s in my recipe box! Thanks Catherine :)

  20. Julie

    October 4, 2013 at 8:03 am

    you. mention pass and broccoli, when did you add. then?

    • catherine

      October 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Step 6!

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  22. Chaitra

    September 12, 2013 at 2:09 am

    Hi.this question isn’t related to this recipe but do u hav an idea how many days will the laptop boxes deliver in

  23. Chelsea

    September 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I want to make this, but want to add some ground turkey or chicken to it, too. Catherine, how would you do that? Cook it with seasonings, then add to dish prior to cooking, or…?

    • catherine

      September 9, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Yes, cook it first with a tiny bit of seasoning, then mix in just before baking!

  24. Jane

    August 23, 2013 at 1:17 am

    That’s really clever!

  25. dudeperlike

    August 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I added some ground mustard powder and paprika. Didn’t use peas cause I didnt have any, and I substituted the white cheddar for sharp cheddar cheese cause that’s what I had. I also added about 1/4 cup of Nutritional Yeast for flavoring and for the vitamins. MY 2YO BOY TOTALLY LOVES IT!!!!!!!! And he usually hates anything tasting of spinach!! Thank you for sharing!!!

  26. Cynthia

    July 18, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Awesome!

  27. adrimolina

    July 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Made this tonight and came out so delicious! It was fun to make too :)

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  29. SGon

    July 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    What other white cheeses can be substituted for white cheddar?

    • adrimolina

      July 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      I have the exact same question, I have shredded mozzarella at home, I wonder if it would come out just as good..

  30. cmdoege

    July 5, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Kids did not like this meal (ages 4 + 1). Next time I’ll take the broccoli out and re-sprinkle with cheese

  31. Priya

    July 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Great way to sneak in those green veggies. My lil girl does not like pasta very much but loves her veggies..

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  33. liz smith

    June 6, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    making this tonight! i’ve been wanting to ever since i saw you on the Chew, but i love all your recipes! they’ve all been a great success!

  34. Ann

    May 30, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Hi Catherine, I also saw you on the Chew, and I think I’m a new fan! Thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of us. I do have a question. You mentioned that you make large portions so you can freeze and defrost later. Do you freeze them in blocks? How do you defrost and reheat a dish like this one? Is there a section on this blog where you share with us all your little tricks and your must-haves? Thank you so much for answering!

    • catherine

      May 30, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I usually freeze the entire recipe in the baking dish and throw the whole thing in the freezer! Then I thaw and reheat the entire thing and it gets eaten over a few days. You could also portion this recipe into three or four smaller baking dishes, or any other freezer safe container to reheat as needed. Here are some other freezing tips: http://weelicious.com/2012/06/19/freezing-tips/
      Thanks so much for coming to visit!

      • Mehmet

        February 5, 2014 at 7:53 am

        I dind’t know where to find this info then kaboom it was here.

  35. McCabe Rentz

    May 28, 2013 at 7:03 am

    can’t wait to try the green mac & cheese!

  36. Joy

    May 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Made this yesterday and there are no kids @ my house great way to get in more veggies thanks for recipe Husband loved also.

  37. michaela

    May 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I was wondering if I could replace the spinach with bok choy? I bought some on a whim and not really sure how to cook with it! Thanks!

  38. Rebecca Hendrix

    May 24, 2013 at 2:08 am

    Saw your segment on The Chew, and had to come by and say hello. I had a quick question about this recipe. Did you ever test it with any other veggies, or do you have another version that you know works well? I would really like to eat it as is, but being on blood thinners, a spike in my Vitamin K intake is forbidden, which means I can’t have all the delicious leafy green veggies. I still would like to make it healthy, but not sure what other veggies may work with it,. Have you ever tried zucchini or squash? I wonder if they would release too much moisture and ruin the dish? Any suggestions or extras you have would be much appreciated. Thanks so much!

    • catherine

      May 24, 2013 at 11:36 am

      I haven’t tried this specific recipe with other veggies, but I agree with you about the squash releasing too much liquid. I think you could use any sort of firm veggie: peas, corn, carrots (would blanch first), bell peppers (maybe a quick saute first), cauliflower, etc! Let me know what you try and how it comes out!

  39. Michele Kelley

    May 22, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Love your food!

    • Miyu

      February 4, 2014 at 12:43 am

      I used to HATE pancakes grwiong up! Now, I love them. I haven’t tried them with cottage cheese but it definitely looks delish, gonna have to tr it out!And duh, Cooper is adorbs!

  40. Robin

    May 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Awesome blog! Thank you for your wonderful, healthy recipes!

  41. Susan Rupert

    May 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    My grand kids love my chicken noodle soup. They will request it often.

  42. Heidi

    May 22, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Hi. I was just wondering if anyone has tried this with skim milk or 1%? Thanks.

    • janisse

      May 22, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      Hi. I did my with Almond Milk is was very good also.

  43. Lynne

    May 21, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Have since made this adding fried onions and garlic at the beginning and topping it with a mixture of grated cheese and breadcrumbs before placing in the oven – even more yummy!

  44. kate h

    May 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    hi

  45. Elizabeth

    May 13, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    How could I turn these to muffins? Can I just bake for 20 min like the mac chicken and cheese muffins? My picky eater will only eat in muffin form!

  46. dig this

    April 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    I just like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and take a look at again here frequently. I am somewhat certain I will be told many new stuff proper right here! Best of luck for the following!

  47. Rita

    April 19, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Can I omit the spinach? The recipe sounds yummy but i don’t have any spinach on hand. Thanks!

  48. NYC mom

    April 13, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Can this be done with whole wheat macaroni or partial whole wheat like Barilla Plus? Or not reccommended?

    • catherine

      April 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Any type of short macaroni pasta should work!

  49. Emilia Robert

    April 10, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Thanks so much for the yummy, nutritious and awesome recipe. I avoid using food colors and dyes myself. I’ll make it with shell macaronis tomorrow.

  50. Karen

    March 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    This was a huge hit! Even my 12 month old loved it.

  51. Jenna

    March 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    I just made this for dinner tonight. My husband and I loved it! All the creamy comfort goodness of mac and cheese without guilt, thank you green veggies. Our daughter started off liking it but changed her mind half way through – but that happens. Give it a try – super yummy dish!

  52. Amy L.

    March 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I just made this for the kiddos for St. Paddy’s Day and the kids loved it.

  53. Amanda

    March 17, 2013 at 2:21 am

    Just made this for my sons lunch and dinner. It was a success! My 3 year old, who doesn’t like peas or broccoli, or spinach, LOVED this! He had 2 helpings. I love how many veggies are packed into this.

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  55. Sandi

    March 16, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Made this tonite ahead of time for tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Any tips on reheating? I only tried a forkful tonite so i’ve got the whole baking dish full.

    • catherine

      March 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      I would throw the entire pan back into the oven and reheat at 350, covered, for about 10-20 minutes, or until it is heated through!

  56. Eli

    March 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Nice article. Question – do you “know” for sure or “think” that coloring dyes are bad for you? I’m just asking to be sure, because some people will inquire about facts and data just to be sure. Thank you for the recipe.

  57. Adriene

    March 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Do you think you can use gluten free macaroni noodles? And non dairy cheese?

    • catherine

      March 18, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Yes to the gluten-free noodles! As for the non-dairy cheese, just make sure to buy a good quality “melting” cheese! Sometimes non-dairy cheese don’t melt, but find one that calls itself a melting cheese!

  58. Hsiaolei Parks

    March 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Bummer, I couldn’t get mine to thicken. :(
    I’ve made roux before and it worked fine…not sure what I did differently. love all the veggies in this.

    • Very Proud Marine Mom

      April 10, 2013 at 12:00 am

      After making the roux add the milk slowly in increments of 1/4-1/2 cup at a time then stir vigourously til thickened and then add another 1/4-1/2 cup let that thicken and so on til you have added all the milk to the mixture and then you have a perfect what they call a “Beshamel Sauce” aka “White Sauce”

  59. Jennie

    March 16, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I made this last night and my 32 month old daughter loved it! She loves broccoli and peas so she was happy to see it was all green. I thought it was delicious and a great way to get in spinach, too! We froze about 3/4 of it, so I’m hoping it will be just as great later. Thanks so much for this wonderful recipe!!

  60. Theresa

    March 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    wah. I’ve done similar recipes and I just can never get it to thicken… I try to follow to the letter and somehow it fails every time. Any advice?
    thank you!!
    Theresa

    • Very Proud Marine Mom

      April 10, 2013 at 12:01 am

      After making the roux add the milk slowly in increments of 1/4-1/2 cup at a time then stir vigorously til thickened and then add another 1/4-1/2 cup let that thicken and so on til you have added all the milk to the mixture and then you have a perfect what they call a “Beshamel Sauce” aka “White Sauce”

    • catherine

      March 13, 2013 at 11:27 am

      You need to melt the butter, then add the flour and stir it until that mixture thickens before adding anymore ingredients into the mix. This should take 2-3 minutes, but depending on your heat it could take longer like 5 minutes. Also, whole milk really is the best because it thickens quicker and easier.

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  64. Karen

    March 10, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I love that the veggies are so integrated into the dish! My 3 yo is a fantastic eater, but can still pick around the veggies if they are big enough in a mixed dish of pasta/veggies. Gotta try this!!

  65. Kristina

    March 9, 2013 at 8:02 am

    I would like to make this ahead of time, can this be frozen?

    • catherine

      March 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      I think so! I actually am testing a few right now to see how they come out! I’ve got two different (including this one) mac and cheeses in the freezer right now! I think you might need to top it with some more cheese while reheating to keep it gooey and not dry!

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  68. dana

    March 7, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I just made a batch and is smells yummy! Can I freeze the leftovers?

  69. Jess

    March 6, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Thank you for such a great recipe! I am grateful that you came up with a non food dye option! Will make on Sunday the 17th!

  70. Liz O.

    March 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Can’t wait to try it. My husband was asking for mac and cheese this week! Let’s hope the little one eats it too.

  71. JudyR

    March 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Love it!

  72. chineye

    March 6, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Can this be made lactose free? For example lactid for the whole milk, and vegan cheddar cheese.

    • catherine

      March 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      I think so! You could use almond or rice milk, vegan butter (like Earth’s Balance), and a good melting vegan cheese. The cheese is probably the most tricky because vegan cheese doesn’t always melt, so make sure to choose a “melting cheese”. It also might separate after sitting out (the leftovers). I haven’t tested it this way so I don’t know for sure, but let me know how ti works if you try it!

  73. Kathy

    March 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I really want to make this but my daughter has a deathly allergy to dairy. I can sub with coconut milk but not sure what to do about the cheese… Any suggestions?

    • Jenn

      March 6, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      You could use a vegan cheddar cheese and Earth Balance butter to avoid dairy.

      • Kathy

        March 6, 2013 at 11:22 pm

        Thanks! I’m a little nervous with the vegan cheese… I use it on pizza, but 4 cups may be too much… It has a strange taste.

  74. Diana @ Eating Made Easy

    March 6, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I was trying to guess what was making this dish green I thought avocado but nope spinach it is! The addition of peas and broccoli is genius. St Patty’s day fun!

  75. Ana

    March 6, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I am sure my daughter will have no problem with this, but it will take a lot of convincing for my son to even try a bite. Maybe I will skip the broccoli and serve it on the side. Or maybe I will stick to my pesto (spinach/basil) sauce which interestingly enough he loves.

  76. Katie

    March 6, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    How important is it that the milk is whole milk? I would love to make this today but currently only have fat free in the house

    • Maggie

      March 8, 2013 at 7:30 pm

      I made it tonight with skim milk (all we have) and it turned out great! Very creamy!

    • catherine

      March 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      The whole milk adds tons of creaminess! You can definitely try fat free, but it won’t thicken quite as much as the whole!

    • Katie

      March 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      I also have buttermilk, not sure if I could use that?

  77. Jeanne

    March 6, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    This looks perfect! I was just looking for a dish I could serve to my vegetarian friends at my St. Patrick’s Day parade afterparty, and kid friendly too.

  78. ramida

    March 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    can i use frozen spinach?

    • catherine

      March 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      That might work as long as you squeeze absolutely all the water out of it!!

  79. Laura W

    March 6, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I can’r wait to try this! It will certainly be better than the mac and cheese where I just throw in some broccoli!!

  80. Amy L.

    March 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

    This will be perfect for St. Paddy’s Day. I’ve been searching all over the internet for green recipes that don’t add food coloring and I could barely find any. My son loves Mac N Cheese so this will be perfect! Thank you so much!

  81. Marisa

    March 6, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I have an intolerance for spinach….is there anything I could use in it’s place? Kale? Chard? Or leave it out?

    • catherine

      March 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Kale should work!

  82. Sara Doepke

    March 6, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I looked at the recipe above but u failed to mention when u add the broccoli and peas. Is when u are ending the milk and spinach?just an FYI. Please let us know.
    Thx

    • catherine

      March 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Step 6!

    • Tara

      March 6, 2013 at 11:27 am

      This looks delicious! Trying ASAP!
      The peas and broccoli are added in step 6 of the recipe. :)

      • Angela

        March 6, 2013 at 1:05 pm

        Should you cook the broccoli at all first or does the 20 mins in the oven do the trick? Looks yummy an I can’t wait to try it!

        • catherine

          March 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

          You do not need to cook the broccoli! The 20 minutes in the oven is plenty of time to cook it since it is chopped so small!