4 easy tips to lighten up homemade mac-and-cheese.

An all-time crowd-pleaser, mac-and-cheese is the epitome of comfort food. Our version, which EatingWell contributor Patsy Jamieson developed, is healthier than traditional versions of mac-and-cheese, thanks to a lighter sauce, spinach in the middle and a golden breadcrumb topping.

Here’s how EatingWell’s lighter Baked Mac & Cheese stacks up nutritionally against traditional macaroni and cheese:

  • 404 fewer calories—a reduction of 59%
  • 39 fewer grams of fat—36% less fat
  • 15 fewer grams of saturated fat—42% less saturated fat
  • More folate and fiber

1. Add Spinach to Increase Nutrients.

Though delicious, traditional macaroni and cheese doesn’t offer much nutritionally. Adding a layer of spinach to the middle of your creamy casserole gives you 37% of your daily value of folate, as well as some beta carotene and vitamins E and C. And sneaking it in between layers of noodles and cheese might get even the pickiest eaters to enjoy their vegetables.

2. Replace Whole Milk with Low-Fat Milk to Cut Down on Fat and Calories.

While traditional recipes often call for whole milk—which delivers 150 calories and 8 grams fat (5 grams saturated) per cup—our lightened-up version uses low-fat (1%) milk, which clocks in at only 100 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per cup.

And you won’t miss out on milk’s nutritional benefits when you opt for low-fat or nonfat milk: per cup, both varieties deliver about one-third of the recommended daily value for calcium and at least 20 percent of the daily value for riboflavin, phosphorus and vitamin D.

3. Use Whole-Wheat Pasta to Boost Fiber

Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber to your dish—you’ll more than double the amount of fiber per cup of whole-wheat pasta versus traditional refined white pasta.

4. Replace Some of the Regular (Full-Fat) Cheese with Low-Fat Cottage Cheese.

Seek out dairy products that get 30 percent or fewer calories from fat. Low-fat cottage cheese lessens the amount of saturated fat in this recipe and gives the sauce a creamy texture.