Can’t Go Wrong…

…making a bowl of mac and cheese healthier. Namely with spinach, and black or dark red kidney beans.

This past week, in my attempt to “healthify” (Is that even a word? Probably not, but who cares, right?) the conventional mac and cheese that so many families depend on for a quick meal or bite isn’t quite so healthy – basically carbs and processed cheese. Alright, so my two ways of approaching this depends on how much time there is in my case. If I don’t have the time to make my own cheese mix, then I’ll go ahead, rinse the spinach, wash the beans (or take whatever from my pre-soaked batch if I have any) and toss them in as I mix the yogurt in with the cheese mix and the pasta.

Yes you read that one right. The butter goes.

Substitution 1: A lot of recipes call for butter and milk as the mixture, but I choose plain yogurt instead and I get much better results.

If I keep the processed cheese mixture for lack of time, I just make sure that when I mix in the yogurt along with everything else, the beans and spinach go in as well. If I am really anxious for a protein-heavy meal, then I go ahead and throw in a 5-8 ounce can of albacore tuna. Again, just rinse the contents inside, throw in, and voila…much healthier, and voluminous amount that will last a bit longer – leftovers to take to work tomorrow isn’t such a bad thing, now is it?

Mac & cheese "enhanced" with spinach and kidney beans. Spring 2010.

Now, what if I want to take this recipe from scratch? It’s actually not too bad, although in my case which variation I take will depend on how much studying I have to do. (Of course!)

From scratch, I’ll boil roughly the same quantity of whole-wheat rotini (ha, that’s another way I can make this recipe more healthy – most prepackaged boxes are just plain white pasta), say, take 8 oz or so of pasta for 7-10 minutes.

The rest of the ingredients – the beans, spinach, and tuna, should we opt for this – are prepared/rinsed like in the original recipe.

Now the kicker – the cheese sauce. I set aside 1-2 cups of plain yogurt (NOT greek yogurt mind you) just like the original recipe.

What I then do for my own cheese sauce is that I will pour the yogurt into a smaller pan, starting with one cup, generally 5-6 ounces if you buy individual cups and not measure out the whole thing. After this, I will then melt softer cheeses into the yogurt. Usually I’ll shred the cheese first before melting it in. But it should come out as a gooey mixture that I can later mix into the pasta and other ingredients. If it’s too sticky, then I’d just be adding more yogurt.

Obviously you can’t win in totally making this healthy – you’ve got to choose between a processed product and the “danger” of adding too much cheese. But for the most part, the addition of spinach and beans (and tuna if you’re able!) turn an ordinary, dull and not-so-nutritious dish into something much more interesting!

Give it a whirl, folks!

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