This scientific fact is probably not going to surprise you at all: Comfort food is comforting.
In study after study, both animals and humans who eat in response to stress tend to feel less stress, says Evidence for Action. They explain that this comfort eating actually suppresses the chemical stress response—the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is responsible for many of the physical feelings we experience when we’re stressed out. There is other evidence that certain foods may reduce anxiety and help trigger the production of feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, says Harvard Health Publishing.
What also won’t surprise you is that comfort foods tend to be high in fat, refined carbohydrates, salt and sugar, according to Psychoneuroendocrinology. In excess amounts, these can lead to weight gain, particularly around your middle. Almost no one reaches for a sprig of broccoli to calm their nerves!
Mac and cheese ticks all the boxes. Plus, in a survey of over 1,000 people, mac and cheese made the top five list of favorite comfort foods for both men and women, says Treadmill Reviews. Women even rated it above chocolate!
The good news: There are at least 10 ways to make mac and cheese that are healthy, diet-friendly, delicious and comforting. The great news: It’s easy to make healthier comfort food that won’t leave you stressing over weight gain and meal prep.
Here 10 mac and cheese recipes for a healthy comfort food meal:
1. Buffalo Blue Cauliflower Mac and Cheese >
Technically, there’s no “mac” in this dish. However, it’s so cheesy and delicious, you won’t be able to tell. Instead, cauliflower florets swim in a creamy, cheesy, spicy sauce made of fat-free half-and-half, shredded cheddar, blue cheese crumbles, low-fat creamy cheese and spicy buffalo sauce. One serving of this low carb mac and cheese recipe is only 169 calories and counts as one PowerFuel, one Vegetable and two Extras.
2. Zoodle Mac and Cheese with Roasted Veggies >
No mac to be found here either! We replace the pasta with low carb by spiralized zucchini. If you don’t have your own spiralizer, many stores now sell packaged spiralized veggies in the produce or frozen food sections! The roasted veggies include broccoli, bell pepper, red onion and sweet potato. It’s all tossed together with a sauce made from a wheat flour and light butter roux, nonfat milk, vegetable broth and reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese. This dish is only 156 calories per serving and counts as one PowerFuel, one Vegetable and one Extra.
3. Bacon Jalapeno Cauliflower Mac And Cheese >
Cauliflower may be the star of this show but turkey bacon and jalapeno definitely play best supporting roles! We serve it up in a creamy mix of low-fat cheddar and cream cheese You’ll never miss the macaroni in this flavorful and easy-to-make casserole. It’s only 178 calories per serving and counts as one PowerFuel, one Extra and half of a Vegetable serving.
4. Beefy Mac and Cheese >
We do half of the work for you in this easy, cheesy recipe! Order a package of Nutrisystem Frozen Mac and Cheese and heat according to the package’s directions. Then brown up three ounces of lean ground beef, mix and enjoy! It’s that simple. One serving is 326 calories and counts as one Nutrisystem entrée and one PowerFuel.
5. Buffalo Mac and Cheese >
There is no easier recipe than this one! It starts with Nutrisystem White Cheddar Mac and Cheese to which you add two ounces of prepared rotisserie chicken and one teaspoon of buffalo hot sauce. That’s it! Count this spicy mac as one Nutrisystem Lunch and one PowerFuel.
6. Cauliflower Mac and Cheese >
You can create a creamy, dreamy bowl of cauliflower with just six simple ingredients. Even better, you probably already have them all in your kitchen! This comfort food recipe starts again with cauliflower, everyone’s favorite macaroni substitute. We bake it in a sauce made from almond milk and low-fat cheddar cheese, seasoned with garlic powder and pepper. One serving is 114 calories and counts as one PowerFuel, one Vegetable and one Extra.
7. Broccoli, Bacon Mac and Cheese Cups >
These little mac and cheese muffins are perfect to carry to work for lunch! They start with a package of Nutrisystem White Cheddar Mac and Cheese and feature turkey bacon and broccoli (or your favorite non-starchy vegetable). Simply pour your mac mixture in muffin cups, top them with panko breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. What could be easier? Plus, they’re only 278 calories per serving and count as one PowerFuel, one SmartCarb and one Extra.
8. Creamy Veggie Mac and Cheese >
The very versatile Nutrisystem White Cheddar Mac and Cheese is easily tweaked to become a delicious, veggie-centric meal. This recipe calls for spinach and cherry tomatoes. However, you can add whatever non-starchy veggie strikes your fancy. Count this dish as one Nutrisystem Lunch and one Vegetable. One serving is only 236 calories.
9. Green Mac and Cheese >
You don’t have to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to enjoy this green dish! It combines broccoli and zucchini with whole grain elbow macaroni in a creamy sauce made from almond milk, reduced fat white cheddar cheese and spinach. One serving is only 290 calories and counts as one SmartCarb, one PowerFuel, one Vegetable and one Extra.
10. Crabby Mac and Cheese >
Crab plus mac and cheese? On a diet? You heard us right! Plus, this healthy recipe is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Start with a package of Nutrisystem Mac and Cheese as the healthy shortcut. We then add two ounces of crab meat and top with Parmesan cheese before baking. Decadent? Yes,. However, you deserve it. One serving is only 288 calories and counts as one Nutrisystem Dinner, one PowerFuel and one Extra.
Looking for more comfort food made healthy (and easy)? Learn more about the Nutrisystem meal delivery service! >