How to Make Healthy Mac & Cheese in a Slow Cooker

How to Make Mac ‘n Cheese in a Slow Cooker
Hungry Girl's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. Courtesy of Hungry-Girl.com

Slow cookers are among the most useful kitchen tools out there. They're perfect for big batches of soups and stews; just set 'em and forget 'em. But did you know you can also use your Crock Pot to make low-calorie macaroni and cheese? I’m Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and I’m here with a guide to making slow-cooker mac ‘n cheese that won’t weigh you down.

Step 1: Pick the Right Pasta

My go-to pasta for mac ‘n cheese is high-fiber elbow macaroni.

You get that classic shape with the added bonus of filling fiber. Look for brands with 2 grams of fiber or more per serving. Even better if it's made with healthy whole grains. Five ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) is a good amount for a 5-serving slow-cooker meal. Don't worry if that doesn't seem like enough pasta... We'll supersize this dish with other ingredients!

Step 2: Boil the Macaroni, but Only Halfway

The trick to tasty slow-cooker mac 'n cheese is to partly precook the pasta. You want it very al dente before it goes into the slow cooker. About 4 minutes in a pot of boiling water will do the trick. Drain it thoroughly, so you don't water down the cheese sauce.

Step 3: Select Your Supersizer

One of my top tricks for making guilt-free mac 'n cheese is to supersize the portion with veggies. But not just any veggies! You want ones that blend into the dish and don't have any distracting flavors.

Cubed butternut squash has a slightly sweet taste and velvety texture that works really well in mac 'n cheese. But my favorite vegetable to use in mac ’n cheese is definitely cauliflower. The taste is mild, and the texture is similar to the pasta! Four cups of small cauliflower florets is the perfect amount to balance out that macaroni.

By the way, cauliflower is also a great supersizer for mashed potatoes, and it makes the perfect rice swap! 

Step 4: Craft Your Cheese Sauce

Now that we have the mac part taken care of, let’s move on to cheese! I’m a fan of The Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese. It's low in calories and the perfect base for a creamy cheese sauce. Five wedges will do the trick. Reduced-fat cheddar (3 slices) and grated Parmesan (just a tablespoon or so) are also good additions. Next, add a little milk, about 1/2 cup. Go for fat-free skim milk to keep the calories low. Then add a couple of tablespoons of light sour cream for creaminess, and some seasonings for flavor. I like to keep it simple with salt, pepper, and a little chopped garlic.

If you can't get enough of cheese, try healthy snacks that cheese lovers will flip for.

Step 5: Slow Cook It!

Add the al dente pasta, veggie supersizers, and cheese sauce to your slow cooker, then give it a gentle stir. Cover and cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours, until veggies are tender and pasta is fully cooked.

Now you have a complete recipe for Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, made with both cauliflower and butternut squash! 

More Recipe Ideas

  • Spice it up. If you like a little kick, add some thinly sliced jalapeño peppers (seeds removed) to your mac ‘n cheese.
  • Make it veggie-rific. In addition to that cauliflower and/or butternut squash, roast up some broccoli or Brussels sprouts to add to your mac ‘n cheese. It’ll be super supersized, and the roasted veggies will add more flavor! 
  • Make mac ‘n cheeseburger. Add raw lean ground turkey or raw extra-lean ground beef to the slow cooker before you cook it up. It’s like a cross between mac ‘n cheese and a juicy burger!

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