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What to add to Mac and Cheese?

Hi! I need suggestions for nutritious foods to bake into macaroni and cheese. I do NOT care about making this "healthy" in a skim milk, low-fat cheese kind of way. I just want to find tasty vegetables / other things that are nutrient-dense to add to my delicious, delicious butter and milk fat. Sometimes I throw in peas, but it seems like I can do better. What else would you suggest?

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  1. Tofu (the soft kind)



    Navy beans


    A savory faux-streusal topping (e.g. chopped walnuts, almonds, etc. mixed with a bit of butter and Panko).

    1. I've added spinach, mushrooms or onions in any combination to mac and cheese and it was very good.

        1. chopped ham and broccoli or chopped spinach. My kids love it this way.

          1. It is pretty darn versatile.
            Roasted Chilis, Andoullie Sausage, Corn, roasted Squash, Sauteed Apples.
            Here is a thread about Mac and Cheese additions:

              1. i agree with above its very versatile. i like adding cauliflower or broccoli chopped about the same size as the noodles to mine.

                mushrooms are always great to add

                you could turn it into a tex-mex mac n cheese by adding bell peppers, onions, garlic, and jalapenos, along with some pepperjack cheese.

                kale and spinach would be great additions, along with potatoes and sweet potatoes!

                you can also add tons of proteins to mac and cheese: chicken, fish (i know, fish+cheese, but seriously i never understood that anyways, its good!), even something like bbq pulled pork would be good!!

                1 Reply
                1. re: mattstolz

                  Yeah, definiteyl what the kids want with M&C...Kale & Spinach..MMmmmm!

                2. I like canned tuna in my mac 'n cheese . . . might sound weird but I think it's really tasty! Solid, water-packed albacore and some peas are a really good combo.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: operagirl

                    nah, tuna mac casserole is a classic.

                    what's weird is whoever thought wasting good lobster under all that distracting flavor. off to the side sure, in it? not a chance.

                  2. And what everybody else said but topped with a good white truffle oil.

                    1. I always love to spoon hot M&C on top of some simple canned tuna. Delish.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: CharlieKilo

                        Hmm, isn't that just tuna casserole?

                      2. Butternut squash, spaghetti squash broken up already (depending on the noodle you actually choose), garlic roasted tomatoes.

                        1. Black truffles, white truffles, morel, any kind of mushrooms, asparagus tips, artichoke hearts, cubed or shaved ham, bacon bits, sausage crumbles, shrimp, scallops, lobster, mussels, whole grape tomatoes, quartered Brussels sprouts, fava beans, lima beans, edamame, pitted black olives, pitted green olives, water chestnuts, diced green peppers, diced pimento, diced chiles, chopped chives, or other things.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            hey C1: what "other things"? you've left precious little off your list (smirk) although I gotta object to shellfish - too good on its own.

                            1. re: hill food

                              You've never had mac and cheese with lobster chunks in it? Poooooor baby! Other things? LOTSA other things...! How much time you got? '-)

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                heh, I grew up in the Midwest (I've lived on the coasts since, but...) I treasure good fresh seafood on it's own merits with very little fuss (except when it comes to certain Asian preps like Thai).

                                1. re: hill food

                                  Live it up. There's more seafood (within reason) where yours came from. How do you know you don't like mac & cheese with lobster or conch or abalone or barnacles if you've never tried it? Life is an experiment!

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    I'm with you Caroline1 - love shellfish in my mac and cheese. I'm in the Northwest, so when I want to do a decadent version, I use reduced heavy cream, Beecher's Flagship Cheese and Dungeness crab meat. Not healthy by any means, but so good.

                                    1. re: gmm

                                      Love Beecher's Flagship! We've had montly cheeses delivered from there for a couple of years. I never thought of putting it in mac & cheese, but then again, it doesn't stay around long enough to put it in much.

                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                      hey I'm game, it's just sort of too "precious" round these parts to even need to dress up. if I was in Maine or something I'd prob. eat myself sick of lobster in a week.

                            2. Rajas of chile poblano or Anaheim chile (lots). Or a few ancho chiles toasted, cut into strips, and softened in hot water for a few minutes. All of these would match cauliflower as well, I think.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: hari mirch

                                Yep, chiles, spinach, or a huge sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs like basil, marjoram, or tarragon

                                1. It's not something we ever eat "as is" - always with onion, garlic, courgette & bacon.

                                  1. If ever you had GOOD Mac and cheese, you would not want to make a single addition to it as it stands alone. We all search for that perfect Mac and Cheese recipe to suit our own tastes, that is why there are so many recipes and so many add unneeded additions; here is MY CHOICE: http://www.chitterlings.com/macaroni.... ENJOY.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: TallyEddings

                                      "If ever you had GOOD Mac and cheese, you would not want to make a single addition to it as it stands alone"

                                      Actually, I think I make a really GOOD macaroni cheese, including the additions (which always gets a breadcrumb & chilli topping). I do not want to eat *just* pasta & cheese - it's so mono-dimensional and, well, just plain boring.

                                      1. re: DoobieWah


                                        Cuz EVERYTHING'S BETTER with bacon!

                                        1. re: DoobieWah

                                          Bacon AND jalepenos with a butter crumb top!

                                          1. re: FoodChic

                                            Are you stalking me?!?!?

                                            As a matter of fact, just last Saturday night I made a mac and cheese with mozz, asiago and parm in a white sauce, (ok actually, I just melted the cheese in a little half and half), with two diced rashers of Hungarian style smoked bacon and some diced fresh jalapeno. (I cooked the bacon before adding it, of course.) Then I baked it with a panko and Italian bread crumb topping, dusted with more parm.

                                            I baked it for twenty minutes and then broiled it briefly to brown the topping.


                                            1. re: DoobieWah

                                              Great minds, DoobieWah! Great minds!

                                              BTW...Roasted Hatch peppers make some amazing Mac & Cheese!

                                            2. re: FoodChic

                                              had some not very good mac 'n cheese so i just took some jalapeno pub cheese from trader joes- picked it right up and no work - just nuked it

                                          2. caramelized onion and cauliflower

                                            1. In my "GOOD" mac and cheese (ha!), I have decided that one vegetable addition is absolutely essential - diced roasted red peppers. I use a cheese mixture of good parm, sharp yellow cheddar and gruyere. Gruyere and part of the cheddar goes in a white sauce, and the rest gets mixed in with diced roasted red pepper. Breadcrumbs on top. I like to add kaukuana spread or schuler's bar cheese to the sauce sometimes.

                                              Things I would add to a "lesser" macaroni and cheese would include chilis & tomato or broccoli, ham & spinach.

                                              Adding lobster just makes it lobster mac & cheese, which is its own elevated, lovely thing, and not at all lesser.

                                              1. Thanks everybody! These are wonderful. And thanks for the link to the other mac and cheese thread!

                                                1. This is what we are trying this weekend. Micheal Symons Mac & Cheese w/ roasted chicken and goat cheese.


                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: cb1

                                                    Interesting. My first thought was "why would someone bake roasted chicken for a half hour?" And then I found out he doesn't. I love the cream reduction idea. I might try this sometime with non-goat cheese.

                                                  2. Many of what's already been said: Broccoli, leeks, shallots, onions, diced green and red peppers, Hatch chilies, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and always a crunchy bread crumb topping.

                                                    1. for fall**** ---

                                                      roasted butternut squash, bacon, sauteed shallot, spinach. Sharp Provolone as the cheese. Nothing low-fat about it. ;-) Mmmm.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: twilight goddess

                                                        tg: mac n cheese is no time to go low-fat, so no need for apologies. additions of healthy stuff, great. otherwise...

                                                        1. re: hill food

                                                          I know that, hill food! I wasn't apologizing -- quite the contrary! I was responding with hearty approval to the OP's statement that she doesn't feel like going low-fat either ;-)

                                                          "I do NOT care about making this "healthy" in a skim milk, low-fat cheese kind of way."

                                                      2. brussels & bacon have already been mentioned...but not together :)

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                          brussels, bacon with roasted hazelnuts or pistachios (and you can even drop the M n C, but that's for another thread)

                                                          1. re: hill food

                                                            ha! i was going to suggest toasted nuts too, though my preference with this combination is pecans or walnuts ;)

                                                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                              I like toasted pine nuts. Not only will I add them to mac and cheese, I will even put them on top of my shredded wheat! Toasted pine nuts, a handful of black currants and some caramelized onions are really good in mac and cheese. Add that and some chunks of lamb sausage and feta crumbles to a white cheddar mac and cheese and you don't get any because it's ALL for ME! '-)

                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                as much as i adore toasted pine nuts and enjoy them with roasted brussels sprouts, something about pairing them with the cheese in mac just doesn't work for me. silly, i know :)

                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                    actually, i have tried it, that's how i know i don't like it! :)

                                                        2. Chopped Roma tomato (salad tomatoes are too juicy), chopped poblano pepper (sold as "pasilla" under our illiterate system) and ham. Helps if the cheese sauce is a tad sloppy, and then you beat a big egg into it to tighten things up. I have also just drained a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes/chiles and stirred those in, and it was good.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                                            The pasilla thing irks the snot out of me, too!

                                                            1. re: FoodChic

                                                              Ya know, I'm beginning to wonder about that. We went into a big Latino market this morning. We were probably the only Caucasians in there, as usual. Their MOUNTAIN of poblanos had a sign for pasillas. ???

                                                          2. I've read all of these various additions, but I'm not inspired to stick them in macaroni & cheese. Crabmeat is probably the best idea, but in order for it to really stand out, I'd want an amount equal to the weight of the pasta and cheese, 1/3 of the total, at least. And I'd rather use that amount of crab in something else where I'd really notice its crabbiness.

                                                            I might try it someday, though.

                                                            A couple of the vegetable ideas (broccoli? cauliflower?) make me want to hurl. Cheese is too expensive for me to disrespect it in such a manner.

                                                            And mac & cheese & squash, that I'd eat, but I fear it would taste like nothing, butternut squash and cheesed-up pasta kind of canceling each other out. It would be all temperature and texture, with little perceptible flavor. At least, I think that's what it would taste like. I don't like chocolate and caramel together for the same reason. The flavors cancel each other out, and I'm left with nothing but sweet and whatever texture the dessert has.

                                                            15 Replies
                                                            1. re: Jay F

                                                              re: broccoli ruining cheese

                                                              have you ever had broccoli smothered in cheddar? its amazing. the idea is basically the same here except that pasta is involved.

                                                              this is one of those times when i would definitely suggest not to knock it till you try it. because i think unless you have a strong dislike of vegetables, it could surprise you

                                                              1. re: mattstolz

                                                                +1. broccoli with cheese is a classic (and delicious) pairing!

                                                                1. re: mattstolz

                                                                  I hate broccoli. And I have eaten it with cheese. It is a waste of good cheese. Same with cauliflower.

                                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                                    Well if you hate broccoli to begin with then no wonder you wouldn't like it. Lots of things mentioned I wouldn't put in my mac n cheese for the same reason, but works for others I guess.
                                                                    Agree about the crab. I've had that and lobster in mac n cheese. Been done to death on restaurant menus here so I've tasted my fair share. Love both, but not together. I too feel they cancel each other out in a way. The seafood flavor gets lost in the cheese, for me anyway.
                                                                    However chocolate and caramel canceling each other out? No way; not in my mouth anyway! I'll take yours! :>)

                                                                2. re: Jay F

                                                                  Any variety of chile (red, green; fresh, roasted; dried) goes extremely well with most cheeses, although I'd personally not add green bell peppers or raw, unpeeled poblanos because of the bitterness.

                                                                  1. re: hari mirch

                                                                    Of all of these ideas, chiles sound better than anything else vegetal. I love Mexican food, and there's nothing that would smell bad (broccoli, cauliflower, cooked cabbage, h.b. eggs). But I'm afraid chili would dominate to such an extent I would be unable to perceive any of the cheeses except cheddar, i.e., no parmigiano-reggiano, no gruyere. When I make m&c, I buy those specific cheeses because I want to taste them.

                                                                    I must have a strange set of tastebuds, as I'm one of the only two people in this thread who don't want to put stuff in their macaroni & cheese. Unless everyone except us two was so agog, so aghast, they couldn't bring themselves to open this thread.

                                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                                      Well I'm with you, but I didn't want to post because it was about WANTING to put something in the mac 'n cheese. Since I don't want to do that, I didn't have any helpful suggestions in that direction.

                                                                      PS - I was kidding about the bacon. I wouldn't REALLY put bacon in my mac 'n cheese. It would detrimentally affect both the bacon and the mac 'n cheese, for me.

                                                                      1. re: Jay F

                                                                        i actually have to agree with you most the time that i think the only thing M&C needs most the time outside the mac and the cheese is a nice crunchy crust, but the OP specifically asked for things to put into it haha

                                                                        1. re: Jay F

                                                                          OP asked for suggestions, maybe looking for ideas to smuggle in some nutritious veggies for self or family, so I went with what I've had and liked, however I too prefer my mac n cheese straight up, but always with a bread crumb crust on top.
                                                                          Dang these threads. Now I'm craving mac n cheese!

                                                                          I'm curious what cheese people like to use. Probably a thread on that somewhere too.

                                                                          1. re: Island

                                                                            To be fair, I don't think the OP was talking about this "stealth cooking" concept.

                                                                            I am astonished at the very idea of sneaking things into food. I've never done it, and has never even occurred to me to do it. Before that Jessica Seinfeld put out her "cookbook," I had never even heard of anyone's doing it.

                                                                            Then someone on this forum wrote recently about sneaking tofu into someone else's food. I think it's wicked. I It's so dishonest, it shows no respect for the victim. If I found out someone did that to me, I don't know what I'd do. It might be grounds for divorce. Truly wicked.

                                                                            Again, this is not what I thought the OP was talking about.

                                                                            1. re: Jay F

                                                                              Oh, I so agree with you! I was appalled by the deception in that sneaky Jessica Seinfeld cookbook (and also by the truly nasty recipes I tried from the copy a friend lent me.) My daughter and I made a couple of the baked goods because they were so bizarre-sounding. Her comment on one particularly unpleasant concoction: "If I didn't know these brownies had spinach in them, I'd say, 'wow, these are really gross. They taste like they have spinach in them, but who would do that?'"

                                                                              And the whole idea of sneaking one food into another is pointless, since with children at least, the goal is to get them to like and appreciate what they're eating, not stuff them with some nasty nutrient bolus. That is just not the point of food.

                                                                              But I'm pretty sure that's not what the OP meant, either.

                                                                              1. re: Jay F

                                                                                i dont think its as much about sneaky cooking as about getting ideas for combos that taste good, are good for you, and you wouldnt think of on your own. i love mac n cheese as much as the next guy, but i also like variation and experimentation!

                                                                                oh, and yeah sneaking things into food is not nice. at all. i am a very healthy eater, and to me that is like restos sneaking unhealthy things into dishes that are supposed to be healthy to make them taste better. can really throw off a diet!

                                                                                1. re: Jay F

                                                                                  Oh brother.... I should have said added instead of smuggled, I wasn't implying the OP was trying to be wicked, deceptive or sneaky. I said for self or family and it's kind of difficult to trick youself and kind of hard to miss broccoli in mac n cheese people!

                                                                                  1. re: Island

                                                                                    I find the idea that anyone can "sneak" "smuggle" or "hide" what they put in a dish rather amusing and the idea of "deceptive" cooking is completely foreign to me. My standard has always been I cook, I put the food on the table for the family, I have NEVER announced the ingredients before anyone eats. If someone asks if there is a specific ingredient in anything, I answer honestly. But I have NO idea how you "sneak" anything into a dish. It's there or it isn't. The family likes it or they don't. What's to sneak?

                                                                                  2. re: Jay F

                                                                                    Oh Lord, here we go again...lack of trust between two married people & over reacting is grounds for divorce, not adding different ingredients to a dish without announcing said ingredients for approval beforehand....Geesh...

                                                                          2. Pork products of any kind. A nice andouille sausage would be great. Any kind of sausage would be great.

                                                                            Caramelized onions are a great idea.

                                                                            Because of all that fat, you could put the heat to it with whatever peppers you like even cayenne or tobasco.

                                                                            1. Lobster and bacon. We had a lobster boil for family from Cali and had some leftover lobster. My wife whipped up this little gem. Outstanding.

                                                                              12 Replies
                                                                              1. re: hhookk

                                                                                Leftover lobster? Is there really such a thing? Call me next time and I'll be right over! Oh how I miss the lobster action of the Northeast.

                                                                                1. re: Island

                                                                                  We had 30 lobsters, 10lbs of steamers 2 dozen ears of corn and 3 lbs of melted butter for 8 adults and 3 kids (no kids had lobster or clams). There were leftovers, but not much. Maybe 4 lobsters and 1 lb of clams. We have a straight off the boat lobster source and he only charges us $4 per lobster (not 4 a pound- 4 per lobster). I love living here :-)

                                                                                  1. re: hhookk

                                                                                    Brat. Trade you a fish taco? :>)

                                                                                    1. re: Island

                                                                                      Fish tacos are good, but don't compare to this :-)

                                                                                      1. re: hhookk

                                                                                        Yeah no comparison that's for sure. What a great feast and glad you aren't scrimpin on the drawn butter! Drool. I take back my brat; You're pure evil hhookk!

                                                                                        1. re: hhookk

                                                                                          stop it! stop it!

                                                                                          I'm not looking at or reading your post (eyes shut, fingers in ears humming)...

                                                                                          1. re: hhookk

                                                                                            WHERE are the green leafy vegetables! '-)

                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                The closest thing to green leafy vegetables were the pre meal apple martinis :-)

                                                                                                1. re: hhookk

                                                                                                  As long as you're getting some sort of greens. '-)

                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                    I keep parsley on hand for situations just like this.

                                                                                      2. Make your mac and cheese with sharp cheddar, chipotle pepper powder and garlic. Then, rather than baking veggies into it, serve the M&C over steamed cauliflower or, even better, on a huge bed of the sharpest arugula you can get. We have it this way all the time. It's especially good made with whole wheat penne. I'll also roast two red bell peppers, peel and chop them, and mix them in. Substitute smoked Spanish paprika for the chipotle powder and add a can of garbanzos if you use the red peppers. This gives you extra fiber, flavor and a fun texture.

                                                                                        I have certainly baked the steamed cauliflower or broccoli into the M&C, but I find you end up eating more veggies and that they have a better texture if you serve the pasta on top.

                                                                                        1. personally I don't like additives to mac/cheese. I have read it using hamburger in there with tomatoes, no thanks, or the addition of ham, nut-uh. I would only try using lobster and truffles, but that's it. Sorry

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                                                                            Well, I was just thinking... My favorite steak-house cole slaw has miniature marshmallows and pineapple chunks in it, so... What about a dessert-ish mac and cheese with a nice brie for the cheese, maybe a touch of a sweet liqueur and some mini-marshmallows and pineapple chunks? Worth a shot!

                                                                                            1. re: iL Divo

                                                                                              But OP is ASKING for those additions.

                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                I know C Oliver, I can read, which is why I said the two things I did

                                                                                                1. re: iL Divo

                                                                                                  Oops. I just never think of lobster and truffle as being "nutritious."

                                                                                            2. A couple hounds mentioned squash. That reminded me of this recipe on my to do list: pumpkin browned butter mac n cheese. In addition to the browned butter and pumpkin, it has aged cheddar.

                                                                                              Looks really good to me: