This make-ahead protein macaroni and cheese provides 17 grams of protein per serving. It’s easy whip up and makes a perfect lunch or snack on busy days!Jump to Recipe
A Mac and Cheese Story
Mac and cheese was a staple lunch for me growing up. At least once a week we would eat it. I was always baffled though why sometimes when my mom made it for us, it was runny and other times when she made it, it was thick. As I pondered this, I recalled what my parents taught me about when it was day time for us, it was night time for the kids in China. I then assumed that other things must be opposites for them too. So, whenever our macaroni and cheese was runny, I assumed it must be because the children in China had thick macaroni and cheese that day (and vice versa). I was a weird kid. Ha ha!
Why Protein Mac and Cheese?
A couple of my kids aren’t big meat eaters. One of these non-meat eating children of mine isn’t particularly fond of drinking milk or eating cottage cheese or eggs either. Sometimes I struggle to think of food sources of protein that she will actually eat. Especially in her school lunch.
One food all of my kids love though is macaroni and cheese. That’s why the idea to create a make-ahead mac and cheese recipe higher in protein was born. And guess what? My kids love it! I stocked the freezer with this recipe twice, and they flew right through it both times!
To make this macaroni and cheese recipe higher in protein, I used a pasta made from chickpeas instead of a pasta made from wheat flour. Chickpea flour is naturally higher in protein than wheat flour is. Switching to this type of pasta bumped the protein up by 6 grams per serving.
Other contributors to the protein in this recipe are the cheese and milk. These, combined with the chickpeas pasta, provide 17 grams of protein per serving. Pretty great, right?!
I used Banza elbow noodles for this recipe. Simple truth organic also makes a chickpea pasta. Barilla makes a similar pasta that is high in protein as well, but gets its protein from a mixtures of multiple flours. Any of these pasta brands would be a great option!
Can I use regular pasta?
Absolutely! This recipe would taste great with a traditional wheat-based pasta as well. Just keep in mind that the amount of protein it provides, would go down. That is no big deal as long as you include other protein containing foods with it.
Chickpea pasta has a tendency of being a little more crumbly than wheat pasta. To mitigate this, I cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package tells me to. This keeps the pasta more firm. It also helps keep a nice texture after it has been frozen.
If you don’t have silicone muffin liners you can freeze it in blobs on a parchment lined baking sheet.
To reheat the mac and cheese after it has been frozen, place the amount you are reheating (we typically use 2-3 of the muffin sized portions) in a bowl and warm it in the microwave for 45 to 60 seconds, stirring partway through.
Packing it for Lunch
You can eat this mac and cheese cold or warm. If you place it in your lunch box frozen with an ice pack, it should be defrosted enough to eat within 3 hours.
To eat it warm, start by pouring hot water into a small thermos to warm it up. We use these lunch thermos’. While the hot water is sitting in your thermos, start reheating your macaroni in the microwave following the directions above. When it is done, dump the water out of the thermos, and pour the macaroni in. Put the lid on and it’s ready to go.
Make-Ahead Protein Mac and Cheese
- 1 Large Pot
- 1 colander
- 16 ounces elbow noodles made from chickpeas
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups low-fat milk
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chickpea elbow noodles and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes (1 to 2 minutes less than the package directions). Do not cook too long, or the pasta will get mushy.
- Drain the pasta in a colander then rinse it with cold water.
- Heat the same pot over medium heat. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Add the flour and continue stiring until it has dissolved and is slightly golden.
- Slowly pour the milk into the pan and stir it until the flour and butter mixture is blended in. Continue stirring over medium heat until the milk mixtures has thickened slightly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, garlic powder and salt. Stir it until everything is well blended.
- Add your noodles back into the pan with the cheese sauce and stir them until they are evenly coated.
- Divide it the mac and cheese evenly into silicone lined muffin tins, or in blobs on a parchment lined baking sheet. Allow it to cool, then place it in the freezer until frozen (about 3 hours).
- After they are frozen, you can store them in a freezer safe container for up to 3 months.
Reheating you Mac and Cheese
- Place your frozen macaroni round in a microwave safe bowl. Warm it for about 60 seconds, stirring part way through. Give it a stir to break it up, then enjoy!