Healthy Harvest Mac and Cheese

Full of good things tucked inside, this make ahead dish holds all the notes of a spectacular grits casserole, the creamy decadence of mac and cheese, and the subtle Tex-Mex twist of roasted peppers. Its full of veggies and about half the fat and calories of typical holiday fare. Double bonus, its GOOD straight out of the oven, AMAZING reheated, perfect for the office potluck, or even your holiday table.

Adapted from Makeover Creamy Macaroni and Cheese from Taste of Home magazine which was so darn good, I ate two servings in eleven minutes, blowing over a days worth of smart points in one sitting. Damn it. Totally worth it, but still... More about "Worth It" after the recipe.

Yield: 5 servings, 9 smart points per serving


1 tsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced (1 centimeter)
1/2 poblano, diced (1 centimeter)
1 cup frozen corn
3/4 cup (90 g) uncooked macaroni (I used Dal Raccolto)
25 g table salt, iodized
2 Tbs unsalted butter (I used Kerrygold)
2.5 Tbs flour
3/4 C skim milk
2 tbs hot water
1 tsp (ish) Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base
1/2 C fat free greek yogurt (always Fage)
4 oz 2% Velveeta
1/8 tsp Worcesterershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins)
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 parmesan, grated fine
2 oz sharp cheddar (Tillamook) grated

1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Before roasting your diced peppers, blot dry on a clean towel. You aren't using a ton of oil, which helps intensify flavor. Making sure your peppers are good and dry encourages more browning (flavor) and less steaming (less flavor). Toss with oil and spread on a sheet pan. Roast at 400℉ for 20 minutes. The edges should be slightly brown. More browning tasted delicious, but makes the cheese sauce look muddy. Your choice. Turn oven down to 350℉ and allow to mostly cool on pan while you cook the macaroni and cheese sauce.

2. While cooking the macaroni, you can start on the cheese sauce. Cook macaroni in salted water (I use 90 grams of salt... its what my handful measures as) according to package directions. During the last minute of cooking time, add in your frozen corn.

3. Combine your bouillon and hot water, then pour it into the milk.

4. In a large saucepan heated on low, melt butter and whisk in flour until smooth. Cook for thirty seconds, until fragrant (smells toasty instead of floury). Whisking constantly, SLOWLY add your milk/broth mixture. When full combined, boil until thick enough your spoon leaves a track through the pan (about 2 minutes).

5. My stove is kind of janky, maybe yours is too. You want your stove hot enough to melt the velveeta, but not so hot your sauce is simmering. I have to turn mine off and on to maintain the correct temperature. Add your velveeta, mustard and white pepper. Whisk until combined. Velveeta is a pain in the butt to incorporate, but worth it.

6. Whisk in parmesan. This is a cinch after the velveeta.

7. The next step might look like something is terrible is happening, but the funky pinkish color returns to golden in the oven. So you can relax. Off heat, stir in the greek yogurt. Brace yourself.

8. Stir in hot corn, cooked macaroni, and peppers. Then scrape into a prepared 8x8 baking dish.

9. In the dish, add your shredded cheddar, and stir to slightly combine. This last direction is straight from the aforementioned Taste of Home recipe, and I think its critical in creating little pockets of cheesy goodness in the finished dish. If you look closely, you can see strands of unmelted cheddar, studding the vaguely pink weirdness. In the oven, your casserole with return to the proper golden color, I SWEAR.

10. Bake at 350℉ for about 25 minutes.

11. Please don't eat this until its cooled and been reheated. I let mine cool on the counter, wrapped it in foil. Refrigerated it over night. Let it warm slightly on the counter. Then reheated it at 350℉ for 20 minutes. SO GOOD. Enjoy!

If you're here for the recipe, stop. Go cook. If you're here for the weight loss ramblings, READ ON.

One of the most fun parts of losing weight was viewing healthy cooking as, "AN EXCITING CHALLENGE" versus, "KILLING ALL MY KITCHEN JOY". It took a TON of WW meetings to reframe my thinking on this... and seeing and FEELING the physical results of changing my eating habits. It's highly motivating! It's not very challenging to get "WOW" results when you can add as much fat, sugar and, say, bacon, to a dish you prepare for you family, but...

Several years ago, at a WW (Weight Watchers) meeting, we were discussing holiday cooking. A fellow member said, "Why do we serve our loved ones food we know makes people unwell, and call it an act of love?", an interesting question in a room full of people obsessed with food. We then talked about the concept of moderation, and how lifelong success at maintaining a healthy body weight means that every now and again, you should eat the cake and macaroni and cheese. But, mostly what you eat yourself and feed you family should be healthy, as an act of love. It's loving to make food thats delicious AND makes you feel great.

This is what makes this time of year an exciting challenge, finding new recipes, or tweaking old ones to keep them festive and delicious, yet with a solid eye on health. What are your favorite healthy holiday foods? What are your favorite "WORTH IT" holiday foods?


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