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Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Looking for a healthier but equally delicious version of mac and cheese? Then check out this quinoa mac and cheese packed with veggies. A perfect vegetarian weeknight meal.

Ok, this is not a classic mac and cheese recipe as there is no “mac” (macaroni) in this dish.

piece of quinoa mac and cheese on plate F

But mac and cheese lovers may be pleasantly surprised with this new version.

  • It has that same comfort food feeling – creamy, yummy and satisfying on a cold day
  • Quinoa has excellent health benefits so why not try quinoa in place of pasta for a change?
  • And this recipe is a great way to sneak in veggies for a picky eater.

You might just love this healthy twist on a classic comfort food.

I tested this quinoa mac and cheese recipe several times to get the balance of ingredients and textures just right.  

It can be doubled or tripled for a larger family event, potluck, brunch or buffet. Needless to say, there are lots of tweaks or adaptations you can try including gluten-free and lower calorie.

What to serve with mac and cheese quinoa 

The recipe serves 2-3 as a main dish 4-6 as a side dish.

As a main dish

I like to serve it with a winter salad, a tomato and onion salad or a citrus salad. My husband’s favorite side with any mac and cheese is canned baked beans or instant pot homemade baked beans.

As a side dish 

This dish is a great side for simple herb roasted salmon fillets, chicken meatloaf with vegetables or glazed pork tenderloin. And yes, for burgers too, like our sous vide burgers or our baked homemade veggie burgers.

Tailor To Your Taste

Here are several variations and substitutions to try.

  • Vegetable options:
    • Instead of onion, red pepper and carrots, try chopped broccoli florets (microwaved for 2 minutes), mushrooms, zucchini.
    • Spinach: If you don’t have fresh spinach, use frozen spinach that is thawed and well drained with all the water squeezed out (use about 1/3 to 1/2 a 10-ounce package). You can also substitute swiss chard for the fresh spinach.
  • Cheese variations:
    • I use a combination of Gruyere and sharp Cheddar cheese (white or orange).
    • Other good options are Gouda, Muenster, Fontina, Havarti and Monterey Jack.
  • Topping variation
    • Instead of a breadcrumb topping, you can just add a thin layer of shredded cheddar cheese and a bit of Parmesan cheese on top before baking.
  • Add some heat
    • For those of you who need to have everything spicy, feel free to add a dash of hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Gluten-free version:
    • Omit the breadcrumb topping and and, instead, spread 1/2 cup (60 grams or 2.1 ounces) or more grated cheese on top of the casserole before baking. You will also need to use gluten-free flour for the cheese sauce.
  • Lower calorie, lower fat version
    • To reduce calories and saturated fat, use a bit less cheese or a lower fat cheese.
    • Use a low fat milk like 1%.
    • And skip the bread crumb topping.

How to make quinoa mac and cheese

quinoa, onion, carrots, cheese, spinach, pepper
Ingredients: quinoa, cheese, onion, carrots, pepper, spinach (plus milk, flour and Dijon, oil not shown)
cooked quinoa in a pot
Cook quinoa and set aside.
sauteed veggies in sauce pan
In a separate pot, sauté veggies for a few minutes. Add fresh spinach until wilted. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
quinoa sauce veggie mixture in pot
Make cheese sauce in the same pot. Then add back sautéed veggies and cooked quinoa.
baked quinoa mac and cheese in casserole dish with bread crumb topping
Combine ingredients for breadcrumb topping. Scoop quinoa cheese mixture into a prepared baking dish. Top with bread crumbs and bake until golden brown.
piece of quinoa mac and cheese on plate  3
Dig in!
piece of quinoa mac and cheese on plate p1

FAQ – good to know

Is quinoa healthy?

Yes. According to Healthline, quinoa has excellent health benefits. It is an excellent source of protein, fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.

Here is a good article on the nutrition differences between pasta and quinoa. Quinoa includes healthy whole grains and good fiber whereas pasta has more protein. This recipe has significant vitamin A, C, calcium and iron.

Shortcuts

  • Use pre-shredded cheese in a package.
  • Use 1 1/2 cups/277 grams leftover or store-bought cooked fluffy quinoa.
  • Instead of chopping onions, substitute a rounded teaspoon of onion powder or a rounded tablespoon of onion flakes.
  • Skip the sauté step with multiple veggies and just do a quinoa spinach mac and cheese. Stir frozen spinach (thawed, and all the water squeezed out) right into the finished cheese sauce.

Make Ahead 

  • You can make the whole casserole (without baking) ahead of time and keep it covered in the fridge for a day or two. Bake at 375F/190.5C for 20-25 minutes when ready to use.

Other vegetarian mac and cheese recipes you might like

Or check out our 25 Meatless Monday dinner ideas.

piece of quinoa mac and cheese on plate F
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Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Looking for a healthier but equally delicious version of mac and cheese? Then check out this quinoa mac and cheese packed with veggies. A perfect vegetarian weeknight meal.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2 -3 mains (or 4-5 sides)
Author: Cheryl

Ingredients

Quinoa

  • 1/2 cup dry uncooked quinoa
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Veggies, Note 1

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, (chopped in small pieces) green onions are fine too
  • 1/2 cup red pepper, chopped in small pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated or matchstick carrots
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped, Note 2

Cheese Sauce

  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (or per taste)
  • 1 cup grated cheese, Note 3

Panko Breadcrumb Topping, Note 4

  • 1 teaspoon butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • pinch of garlic powder, salt, black pepper, Parmesan as per taste

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400F/204C. Line a small oven-proof casserole dish with parchment paper or spray the dish with cooking spray for easier clean up.
  • MAKE QUINOA: Rinse quinoa in a strainer. Drain and add to a small saucepan. Add water and salt. Bring to boil. Lower heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
  • SAUTE VEGGIES: Heat oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Add carrots and peppers. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until tender. Add spinach and stir for 1 minute until wilted. Scoop veggies into a bowl and set aside.
  • MAKE CHEESE SAUCE AND CASSEROLE: In the same saucepan, melt butter on medium heat. Add flour and stir for 2 minutes. Add milk, Dijon (if using) and salt. Continue stirring until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Add cheese(s), cooked quinoa and sauteed veggies. Stir to combine. Spoon quinoa mixture into prepared baking dish.
  • ADD PANKO TOPPING AND BAKE: Combine Panko crumbs, melted butter and a pinch of seasonings of your choice. Sprinkle evenly over the casserole. Bake for 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown. Serve hot.

Notes

  1. Vegetable options
    • Instead of onion, red pepper and carrots, try chopped broccoli florets (microwaved for 2 minutes), mushrooms, zucchini.
    • Make sure the water from the veggies evaporates to avoid a watery result. Or pat them dry with a paper towel if needed.
  2. Spinach options: 
    • If you don’t have fresh spinach, use frozen spinach that is thawed and well drained with all the water squeezed out (use about 1/3 to 1/2 a 10-ounce package).
    • You can also substitute swiss chard for the fresh spinach.
  3. Cheese options:
    • I use a combination of Gruyere and sharp Cheddar cheese (white or orange) – fairly classic.
    • Other good options are Gouda, Muenster, Fontina, Havarti and Monterey Jack.
  4. Topping alternative: Instead of a breadcrumb topping, you can just add a thin layer of shredded cheddar cheese and a bit of Parmesan cheese on top before baking.
  5. Other variations and substitutions
    • Gluten-free version:
      • Omit the breadcrumb topping and and, instead, spread 1/2 cup (60 grams or 2.1 ounces) or more grated cheese on top of the casserole before baking. You will also need to use gluten-free flour for the cheese sauce.
    • Lower calorie, lower fat version
      • To reduce calories and saturated fat, use a bit less cheese or a lower fat cheese.
      • Use a low fat milk like 1%.
      • And skip the bread crumb topping.
    • Add some heat: with a pinch of cayenne pepper or a dash of hot sauce.
  6. Shortcuts
    • Use pre-shredded cheese in a package.
    • Use 1 1/2 cups/277 grams leftover or store-bought cooked fluffy quinoa.
    • Instead of chopping onions, substitute a rounded teaspoon of onion powder or a rounded tablespoon of onion flakes.
    • Skip the sauté step with multiple veggies and just do a quinoa spinach mac and cheese. Stir frozen spinach (thawed, and all the water squeezed out) right into the finished cheese sauce.
  7. Make Ahead:
    • You can make the whole casserole (without baking) ahead of time and keep it covered in the fridge for a day or two. Bake at 375F/190.5C for 20-25 minutes when ready to use.
 
Nutrition values are estimates based on a generous portion of 1/2 the full recipe per person. They include values for 2% milk and cheddar cheese. 
 
    • Use different veggies such as chopped broccoli florets (microwaved for 2 minutes), red bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini. Make sure the water from the veggies evaporates to avoid a watery result. Or pat them dry with a paper towel if needed.
    •  

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Quinoa Mac and Cheese
Amount Per Serving
Calories 626 Calories from Fat 306
% Daily Value*
Fat 34g52%
Saturated Fat 18g113%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 11g
Cholesterol 82mg27%
Sodium 1185mg52%
Potassium 977mg28%
Carbohydrates 54g18%
Fiber 7g29%
Sugar 12g13%
Protein 28g56%
Vitamin A 11576IU232%
Vitamin C 65mg79%
Calcium 660mg66%
Iron 5mg28%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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