These healthy-ish mac and cheese cups are perfect for meal prep, served as a hearty appetizer, or whipped up for a quick yet fun dinner. Packed with the flavors of spinach and artichoke dip, they’re a fun upgrade from classic mac too.

mac and cheese in muffin cups set on a wood board

Healthy-ish Mac and Cheese Cups

My goal with these mac and cheese cups was to create a recipe that was delicious and decadent enough to be served as an appetizer and still healthy enough to be a weeknight dinner for the fam. Here are the smart ingredient swaps I made.

  • Add protein and fiber. Instead of refined pasta, I opt for bean-based pasta because it’s lower in refined carbs and is higher in fiber and protein. 
  • Use healthy fats. Instead of mayo and butter, I use Greek yogurt and a combo of unsalted butter and olive oil.
  • Add some veggies! A whole bag of spinach to be exact. Spinach adds important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
dry pasta, shredded cheese, spinach, spices, milk, yogurt and artichokes measured out and on a table

Ingredients Needed:

mac and cheese in muffin cups set on a wood board

How to Make Mac and Cheese Cups:

  1. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. 
  2. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than directed on package. You want the pasta to be al dente (especially when using bean pasta) as it will continue to cook as it bakes.
  3. Brown the artichoke hearts in butter.
  4. Cook the onion until tender then whisk in the flour and briefly cook. Add the milk and cook until a creamy white sauce forms. 
  5. Gradually whisk in cheese until fully incorporated and a silky cheese sauce is formed.
  6. Stir in cooked pasta, browned artichokes, and spinach. 
  7. Scoop mac and cheese into muffin tin and top with buttery breadcrumbs. 
  8. Bake until golden brown.
  9. Enjoyed the baked mac and cheese, crunchy topping and all!

Variations: 

  • Skip the spinach and artichoke altogether and keep these simple.
  • Swap out the Gouda for sharp yellow Cheddar. 
  • Swap out the spinach and artichoke and add tiny broccoli florets or, my favorite, green peas. 
  • Add a little spice by stirring in some red pepper flakes or cayenne. 
  • Make these mini! Bake the mac and cheese in mini muffin pans for a great one-bite appetizer.
  • You could also make these in jumbo muffin cups!
mac and cheese in muffin cups set on a wood board

More cheesy pasta recipes to love…

Did you make these mac and cheese cups (aka mac and cheese muffins)? Let me know how it went—leave a comment and star-rating below. And if you snapped a pic, share it on IG and tag me @zestfulkitchen. I love seeing what you make!

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mac and cheese in muffin cups set on a wood board

Healthy Spinach Artichoke Mac ‘n Cheese Cups

  • Author: Lauren Grant
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 12 cups 1x
  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Healthy macaroni and cheese gets made over into individual cups. Packed with the flavors of spinach and artichoke dip, these mac and cheese cups are perfect for meal prep, served as an app, or a fun weeknight dinner.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 8 ounces bean-based elbow or shell pasta, such as Banza
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • ½ cup diced yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic 
  • 1 ½ cups milk, warmed
  • Cracked pepper and kosher salt
  • ¼ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt  
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
  • 1 cup grated Gouda cheese 
  • ½ cup grated fontina cheese
  • 1 (6 ounce) bag fresh spinach, chopped 
  • ¼ cup Panko bread crumbs  

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners or coat with nonstick spray; set aside.

Cook pasta in a large saucepan or pot of boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than package directions, drain and toss with a splash of olive oil to avoid sticking. 

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium high. Add artichokes and sauté until lightly browned, 4–5 minutes. Transfer browned artichokes to a small bowl; set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to now-empty pot over medium heat, add onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle in flour, garlic, ½ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns golden brown, 1 minute. 

Gradually pour in milk, whisking constantly, until no lumps of flour remain. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Whisk in yogurt and Dijon. Add Gouda and Fontina by small handful, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Remove pot from heat and stir in cooked pasta, cooked artichokes and spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Microwave remaining tablespoon butter in a small bowl microwave-safe bowl until melted. Add Panko and stir to combine; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide mac and cheese between prepared muffin wells and sprinkle each with breadcrumbs. Bake mac and cheese cups until topping is deep golden brown, 10–12 minutes. Let rest in pan 5 minutes before serving.



Notes

Milk: I recommend whole milk or 2% milk. Skim milk will work but the mac and cheese won’t be as creamy. Nut milk will also work, I recommend unsweetened and unflavored soy, almond or macadamia nut milk. 

Gouda: Aged Gouda is one of my favorites here, but smoked is also great. And if Gouda isn’t your thing, you can use a sharp Cheddar cheese instead.

Pasta: Don’t like bean pasta or can’t find it? Use regular or whole-wheat elbow macaroni or shell pasta.

Leftovers: store leftover mac and cheese cups in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave for 30–60 seconds or in a 300-degree oven until warmed through.

Keywords: mac and cheese cups, mac and cheese muffins

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine, EatingWell.com, AmericasTestKitchen.com, and more.

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Comments

  1. These were really great! I loved the flavor of the garlic and onion in the cheese sauce. So flavorful! The whole family loved it!

  2. I was craving mac & cheese, but my usual recipe is super rich, and we are trying to eat a bit lighter lately, so this was great. Thanks for the creative idea! It was delicious!