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Spinach Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese might be old school, but face it, as the ultimate comfort food, it’s hard not to get the occasional craving. Give in.

This spinach mac and cheese is creamy, cheesy and delicious. With some added nutrition. 

baked spinach mac and cheese in casserole dish p2

 

In the old days, I used to make mac and cheese with Kraft cheese slices. I’m not going to lie. It was darn good, but I have since graduated to real cheese 🙂 – less processed. I also add cooked spinach which doesn’t really change the taste much, and adds considerable nutritional value.

As homemade baked macaroni and cheese recipes go, this is a good one and fairly simple. There are tons of variations you can try. I’ve listed a bunch below. Unfortunately, my husband is a purist, so the only one I get away with is adding sauteed onions.

I typically serve spinach macaroni and cheese with baked beans, a gift to my husband who thinks this is the only way to eat a mac and cheese casserole. If you have an instant pot, these homemade baked beans are amazing. Another easy side dish that works well is a marinated tomato salad.

Does the spinach make the mac and cheese healthy? 

Well, it doesn’t change the fact that cheese is generally high in fat and sodium. On the plus side, though, the mac and cheese has excellent calcium and protein.

Including spinach adds 8x the vitamin A, 3x the fiber and almost double the potassium without adding any calories.

So, yes, spinach certainly makes this homemade baked mac and cheese at least healthier. To amp up the health factor further, reduce the cheese a bit and add more veggies.

Tailor To Your Taste

Here are a few variations to try. 

Cheese

  • Sharp cheddar is commonly used. Or a combination of two cheeses
  • Other options are gruyere, goat cheese, gouda, Monterey cheese. 
  • You can, of course, use Kraft cheese slices or Velveeta. They will make a very creamy mac and cheese, but keep in mind they are cheese products – not real cheese – and highly processed.
  • Try sprinkling some Parmesan cheese on top before baking. 

Add-ins

  • Saute a cup of finely chopped onions in butter for a few minutes before adding the flour. (I use this one all the time). Sauteed mushroom is another option. 
  • Add 2 tablespoons of pesto or fresh green onions 
  • Add 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • Try 1 cup chopped cooked ham, cooked sausage or crumbled cooked bacon
  • Instead of spinach, try broccoli florets (cook the same way as per the recipe). 
  • And yes, of course, you can leave out all of the above and just stick to a simple mac and cheese.

Lighter mac and cheese 

  • Lighten up the mac and cheese casserole (lower fat and calories) by:
    • skipping the extra half cup cheese on top
    • using a lower fat cheese
    • using 2% milk instead of whole milk. 

Pasta

  • Elbow macaroni is traditional. Feel free to use any short pasta instead.
  • Some good options are orecchiette, penne, fusilli and rigatoni to name a few. 

Jazz it up with a panko topping

  • Mix a 1/4 cup panko or bread crumbs with a tablespoon of butter and 2 chopped green onions.  Sprinkle over the top before baking.

Shortcuts

I save several steps and time by:

  • adding the spinach to the noodles while boiling (instead of cooking them separately),
  • using pre-shredded cheese and
  • lining the casserole dish with parchment paper (zero clean up!).

Make Ahead 

  • The entire casserole can be completed up until the point of baking. Cover it and keep in the fridge for up to two days. Bake it uncovered when needed at 375F for 25 minutes.
  • You can also freeze the unbaked mac and cheese casserole. 

Other vegetarian mac and cheese recipes (with a twist)

How to make homemade macaroni and cheese with spinach

macaroni and spinach draining in colander
Boil macaroni, adding spinach in last 3 minutes of boiling. Drain in colander and set aside.
cheese sauce in pot
Make white sauce – butter, flour, milk. Add a dab of yellow mustard if you like.
spinach mac and cheese in pot
Mix in cheeses, cooked macaroni and spinach until well combined.
spinach mac and cheese in casserole dish with cheese on top unbaked
Transfer to a casserole dish (lined with parchment) and add remaining grated cheese on top.
baked spinach mac and cheese in casserole dish
Bake at 400F/204C for 15-20 minutes until cheese is browned on top.
baked spinach mac and cheese in casserole dish p2
Dig in!
baked spinach mac and cheese in casserole dish 1
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4.86 from 14 votes

Spinach Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese might be old school, but face it, as the ultimate comfort food, it's hard not to get the occasional craving. Give in. This spinach mac and cheese is creamy, cheesy and delicious. With some added nutrition. 
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Vegetarian
Servings: 6 (or 4 large portions)
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

  • 8 ounce elbow macaroni - 2 cups I use 1/4-1/2 cup less to make the mac and cheese more saucy)
  • 2 cups frozen chopped spinach (or 4-5 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped)
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon flour
  • 2 cups whole milk (or 2% if preferred) (use 2% if preferred or any combination of milk - any type - and cream)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or more, to taste (depends on saltiness of cheese)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional) prepared mustard is ok too
  • 3 cups (338g, 12 oz) shredded cheese. I use half American cheese (or gruyere) and half sharp cheddar cheese (I/2 cup (2 oz, 170g) will be used for topping)

Instructions

  • HEAT OVEN TO 400F/204C. Line 2 quart casserole with parchment paper (for easy cleanup) or spray casserole dish with oil.
  • BOIL MACARONI AND SPINACH: Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan and add macaroni. Cook as per package directions. 3 minutes before macaroni is cooked, add frozen or fresh chopped spinach. This will slow the boil, so increase heat to medium high to finish cooking pasta to al dente which is what you want. Drain in colander and set aside.
  • MAKE CHEESE SAUCE: Heat butter in saucepan on medium heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook for 2 minutes. Add milk. Whisk to blend. Add salt and mustard (if using). Cook for about 5-7 minutes until thickened. Turn off heat. Mix in 2 1/2 cups (~280g) cheese, reserving remaining 1/2 cup (56g) of cheddar for topping.
  • COMBINE SAUCE AND MACARONI: Add cooked macaroni and spinach to cheese sauce. Mix to combine well. Transfer to 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese casserole.
  • BAKE AND SERVE: Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is golden brown on top. Serve with slaw, baked beans or tomato salad.

Notes

  1. Variations and Substitutes
    • Cheese
      • Options are sharp cheddar, gruyere, goat cheese, gouda, Monterey cheese. Or a combination of two cheeses.
      • You can, of course, use Kraft cheese slices or Velveeta. They will make a very creamy mac and cheese, but keep in mind they are cheese products - not real cheese - and highly processed.
    • Add-ins
      • Saute a cup of finely chopped onions in butter for a few minutes before adding the flour. (I use this one all the time). Sauteed mushroom is another option. 
      • Add 2 tablespoons of pesto or fresh green onions 
      • Add 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
      • Try 1 cup chopped cooked ham, cooked sausage or crumbled cooked bacon
      • Instead of spinach, try broccoli florets (cook the same way as per the recipe). 
      • And yes, of course, you can leave out all of the above and just stick to a simple mac and cheese.
    • Lighter version (lower cal, lower fat)
      • Lighten up the mac and cheese casserole (lower fat and calories) by:
        • skipping the extra half cup cheese on top
        • using a lower fat cheese
        • using 2% milk instead of whole milk. 
    • Pasta
      • Elbow macaroni, orecchiette, penne, fusilli and rigatoni 
    • Panko topping (optional)
      • Mix a 1/4 cup panko or bread crumbs with a tablespoon of butter and 2 chopped green onions.  Sprinkle over the top before baking.
  1.  
  2. Make Ahead: Before baking, you can cover the casserole and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Then bake the spinach mac and cheese when needed at 375F/190C for 25 minutes.
 
Nutrition values are estimates and will depend on cheeses  and add-in used. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Spinach Mac and Cheese
Amount Per Serving
Calories 482 Calories from Fat 243
% Daily Value*
Fat 27g42%
Saturated Fat 17g106%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 81mg27%
Sodium 682mg30%
Potassium 435mg12%
Carbohydrates 37g12%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 24g48%
Vitamin A 6919IU138%
Vitamin C 3mg4%
Calcium 579mg58%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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Spinach mac and cheese, originally published in 2016, has been updated. 

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