pasta with green leaf on white ceramic plate
Main, Pasta

Brenda’s Famous Low-Fat Mac & Cheese


Most people think of macaroni and cheese as unhealthy, but it doesn’t have to be. I perfected this low-fat cheesy pasta over the years, and now the hubby and kids beg for it every weekend! You’ll just need a little patience since we’ll be making this in a slow cooker. In the end, we’ll have a yummy and filling side dish, and it’s so easy to make.

Well did you know that you can turn macaroni and cheese into a healthy dish? Well, you can, but it’s going to take a little time and you’re going to have to watch your portions.

How I came up with this recipe

But first, I need to tell you a funny story about mac & cheese nights in the country home when I was about 7 years old. My mom made this amazing recipe from the Kraft can, and I would eat my dinner in front of the TV while waiting for the homemade macaroni to cook. I had my own little cooking table with a little saucer for my glass of milk.

I would watch all the characters at night on TV and wait for my macaroni to come out of the slow cooker. Finally, the smell filled the house, and it was time to eat.

My usual portion size of this yummy pasta

As soon as I took my first bite, I thought: “This is delicious! I’ll have to make this dish all the time!” I couldn’t wait to ask my mom if I could make it for myself. The sad part is I couldn’t. So I’m not sure what made me think macaroni and cheese was healthy food. I just thought it was “healthy” because it was a TV show. I think I wanted it to be a “healthy” food so it wouldn’t be on the forbidden list for the kids.

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Schoolnight dinners with the Walsh family

I was so excited to eat the homemade macaroni, but the minute I bit into it, I spit it out. It was so salty! I was so disappointed, but I kept eating it anyway. It was so salty that I couldn’t even swallow it. I was so mad at my mom.
I didn’t understand why she would make a dish that was so salty. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t just buy the Kraft macaroni and cheese. I was so mad that I didn’t even eat my dinner. I just went to bed. I guess I was just too young to understand that macaroni and cheese don’t have to be salty.

However, about two years ago, I gave up gluten, wheat, and dairy, and what happened?

I gave myself some space from all those bad ingredients, and all my obsessive “What’s the scoop?” ways that I got every Saturday morning somehow went away. This was a taste of babyhood going away. I am so happy! Instead of always thinking about my calories being low or having to exercise off 100 grams of cheese, I started thinking of how many more taste buds I had to find. I grew up eating whole milk several times a week (every weeknight except two Friday nights) until my teens. Mom gave it to my brother and me with meals several times a week as a whole milk substitute.

My Gram suffered from thyroid problems for most of her life until she became too weak to cook much at her age.

family having a christmas dinner together

Back in Junior High Swim Class at age 11, I ate a baked low-fat pesto chicken, roll peppermint potatoes, asparagus & whole milk nearly every weeknight as a complete supper. Although we ate a bit of rice our adult supervision wasn’t allowing for it.

Fast forward to today, and I’m a grown woman with a family of my own. I’m still learning about the foods I should eat and the foods I shouldn’t eat. I’m still learning about the foods that are good for me and the foods that aren’t.

However, when we would head to swim practice in Texas near Lake Lavon, we didn’t drive back home for food, we didn’t cook, and we certainly didn’t put food by the door for ourselves for the next morning. Yes, there would be peanut butter and jelly every single day from Hostess, but Mom always made sure she also had some very low-fat fridge options in our lunch bags on Tuesday and Thursdays that would keep for the remainder of the week.
There would be morning jelly routines for most meals, though, because, remember, my parents still thought that glazed donuts and bacon were the best option to have if there wasn’t a chance we were heading home for lunch. I was told and I knew I was told the opposite: ā€“ take home your kids.

You know how you go to restaurants to eat as a family and parents always order beans? Lunch ate, we would sometimes eat beans. What kid likes to sit with 5 siblings and eat 2 lunches?

What kind of cheese to use

I have to tell you: the key to a really great mac & cheese is an excellent, aged, sharp cheddar cheese. I’ve used smoked cheddar cheese and it works great too! Just be sure whatever cheese you use, it’s a high-quality one that you love!

If you like a blue cheese flavor, like your Italian or Provolone, that will do the trick too. I really love Cheddar’s in Columbia, Missouri for their cheese selection.

To have a real low-fat macaroni and cheese dish, make sure you use reduced-fat cheese and whole-wheat pasta. (This recipe calls for regular whole-wheat penne pasta.) I also add low-fat milk because of the cream cheese in the dish, but you can omit that if you wish.

Grate it up!

Fun twists on the original recipe

There are lots of ways you can spice up this recipe to make it your own, and try out fun new options each week! Here are some things you can add to your mac & cheese to make it unique:


  • Bacon – Try frying up some chopped bacon and tossing it into the mix at the end of the cooking process! This one isn’t quite so healthy, but it sure is tasty.

  • Grilled chicken – Here’s a healthier option that packs a lot of protein and takes the recipe a lot further. It’s extra filling and is a great option for kids who are picky eaters. I try to keep the chinks of chicken small enough so my little ones don’t complain.

  • Salami – Ok, hear me out on this one. A few months ago, I planned to make the mac & cheese with some bacon, but I didn’t realize the hubby had already used all the bacon in the fridge for his classic Saturday breakfast! We had some salami in the fridge (that stuff lasts forever!) and I tried chopping it up into small slices and tossing it into the dinner pot. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it was delicious! Keep in mind that salami is salty, so you might want to use a little less salt in the usual cooking process.

Other cheeses

  • Provolone – I put provolone on my sandwiches all the time, but it can be great in cooked meals too. I pretty much always have some on hand, so if I want an extra layer of cheesiness in my mac & cheese, I’ll chop up a few slices of provolone and add it to the pot.

  • Gruyere – This cheese is wonderful for fondue and it can make a great addition to this yummy pasta. You can find it in the cheese aisle of most grocery stores.

  • Gouda – It’s too “gouda” not to try! šŸ˜‚ Smoked or non-smoked, this is a wonderful option for a rich, nutty flavor that mixes well with the taste of the cheddar.
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Herbs and seasonings

  • Garlic – Always a staple in this house! We can’t get enough of it, so we usually include it in this dish. I didn’t keep it in the final recipe because I know not all of you are garlic lovers. If the raw garlic flavor is too strong for you, you can sautee it in a little butter before adding it to the pasta.
  • Smoked paprika – The flavor of smoked paprika is typically stronger than that of regular paprika. Commonly used together with bell peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes to make Spanish-style sauces for pasta dishes like paella. Smoked paprika is a type of paprika, which is typically made from ground dried peppers. Smoked paprika is most commonly found in Europe and Latin America, but it can also be found in the United States.
  • Cinnamon – The use of cinnamon in mac and cheese has been a hot topic for the past few weeks. Cinnamon does not typically go with mac & cheese, but is it possible that it can be used to make it that much better? The other flavors in this dish come from the introduction of cinnamon and nutmeg (which adds an extra dimension). You can also add bacon on top which will make your mac & cheese taste like breakfast!
  • Italian Seasoning – In this section, I will be discussing how the use of italian seasoning enhances the flavor of macaroni and cheese. Italian seasoning is a mixture of herbs and spices that is used in cooking. It can be bought at an store or made in a food processor or blender at home. Adding italian seasoning to macaroni and cheese will add a lot of flavor which is lacking in this dish.

Get creative!

  • Chili mac & cheese – It’s time to spice up your mac and cheese with chili bean maraconi and cheese! This recipe is a fun twist on the traditional macaroni and cheese. Here’s an alternative recipe that incorporates some Latin flair with chili beans and maraconi noodles. You’ll never want to go back to regular mac & cheese again! Chili Bean Maraconi and Cheese is a great option for those looking for an alternative to the traditional macaroni and cheese. It’s perfect for those who are looking to have some Latin flair in their lives or are looking for an easy dinner idea.
  • Mac & cheese soup – A recipe for macaroni and cheese soup has been circulating around the internet, and it looks amazing! It’s an easy recipe where you cook the macaroni in vegetable broth, make a roux with butter and flour, then mix it all together with milk, evaporated milk or cream cheese. Delicious!
  • Make it as a side dish – Yes, this doesn’t need to be a filling main meal. It may be “healthy” for mac & cheese, but it’s still mac & cheese! If you stil want this luscious pasta dish but don’t want to overdo it, you can make it alongside a healthier meal like some chicken breast or cereal.
  • Use your imagination – The possibilities are endless! Remember, the only limit is your imagination and there are no rules when it comes to cooking. Let your creativity run wild and try experimenting with different ideas! Share what you’ve come up with in the comments so we can all learn from each other!

Alright, enough talk! Here is the famous macaroni and cheese recipe:

Brenda’s Famous Low-Fat Mac & Cheese

Recipe by Brenda WalshCourse: Pasta, Main CourseCuisine: Country, AmericanDifficulty: Easy


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A delicious, ooey-gooey macaroni & cheese that the family will love! You’ll love this cheesy pasta with a big glass of milk to wash it down!

It’s healthier than you might expect, and it’s a family favorite here at the Walsh house. The hubby and kids ask for it almost every weekend! See the above tips and tricks for how to customize this dish and make it your own.

There are endless ways to change it up and make a mac & cheese that’s perfect for you and your family!

I hope you enjoy!


  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni pasta

  • 16 oz sharp cheddar, grated

  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated

  • 1 cup milk

  • 6oz heavy cream

  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 1/4 cup flour

  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper

  • 2 tsp salt

  • Chopped scallions or chives, for garnish

  • Bread crumbs for serving (optional)


  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain.
  • In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, whisk the flour into the butter with a fork, removing all clumps. It should form a roux.
  • Slowly the milk to the saucepan, stirring as you go. Mix until combined.
  • Mix the cheddar and parmesan cheeses together in a small bowl. Add the cheese to the saucepan one small handful at a time, allowing the cheese to melt completely before adding the next handful.
  • Combine the cooked pasta and the sauce mixture. If your saucepan isn’t big enough, you can use the pot that you cooked the pasta in. Add the seasonings to the pot and stir till everything is well combined.
  • Serve it while it’s hot! You can garnish the dish with some bread crumbs and/or some scallions or chives. Enjoy!


  • Don’t be impatient when mixing in the cheese! Just add a little at a time, or it won’t melt right.
  • This mac & cheese is best served hot and fresh, but it’s great as leftovers too.

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