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Recipe Redux: Beef Mac and Cheese Casserole can be healthy

Dietitian Becky Varner gives classic beef macaroni and cheese a healthful makeover.
BY BECKY VARNER Published: October 24, 2012

Casseroles are among the most delicious and versatile of all dishes and offer many advantages. Although some casseroles are complicated to prepare, there are many that are simple and very quick to fix. They can include a variety of ingredients, often incorporate leftovers and can easily be modified to include favorite ingredients.

Casseroles are a great option when family members eat at different times because most can be easily reheated and are just as good as when they were first served. They are also great options for self-serving on a buffet. Many people consider casseroles comfort foods.

Generally casseroles consist of a combination of precooked foods such as rice or pasta and a sauce or perhaps a condensed soup to bind ingredients together. Many can be prepared up to 24 hours before the cooking time, refrigerated and then cooked just before time to serve them. A one-dish meal that can be prepared ahead of time is a great time-saver. Casseroles can be baked, cooked on the stove or in a slow cooker. Many times they can be served in the same dish they were cooked in, which minimizes cleanup.

It is often just as easy to make two casseroles the same time. Cook two and freeze one. To freeze one of the casseroles let it cool at room temperature for about 30 to 45 minutes. Then refrigerate until cold. Wrap the chilled casserole tightly with heavy foil, and label it before freezing. Most casseroles can be frozen for up to three months. To thaw, place in the refrigerator for a day, no more than two days, before reheating.

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Original Classic Macaroni and Cheese with Beef Casserole Recipe

2 cups regular macaroni

8 cups hot water

1 pound 80-20 ground beef

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon garlic

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons mustard

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Modified Macaroni and Cheese with Beef Casserole Recipe

2 cups (8 ounces) whole grain wheat macaroni

8 cups hot water

1 pound 93-7 fat ground beef

2 cups water

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon dried basil

4 cups diced canned tomatoes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese made with 2 percent fat milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11 inch baking dish with a nonstick cooking spray.

Bring 8 cups water to a boil and add macaroni. Bring to boil again and cook 7-9 minutes, until tender but not overcooked. When done, place pasta in colander and drain.

While pasta is cooking, place beef in skillet and heat to medium heat. Add 2 cups of water and cook meat, breaking apart as it cooks. Stir occasionally while cooking. When beef is thoroughly cooked pour remaining liquid in a small jar.*

Add garlic, pepper, cumin, paprika, basil, tomatoes, vinegar and honey and simmer for flavors to blend for a few minutes until most of the juice from the tomatoes has evaporated.

Add cooked pasta and stir to mix.

Pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with grated cheese.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted and casserole is set.

Nutrition Information: This recipe makes 8 servings. Each serving contains approximately 254 calories and 7 grams fat.

Cook's notes: Adding a simple green salad with a light dressing and a dessert of fruit with yogurt provides something from every food group in MyPlate.

*Allow liquid to reach room temperature, cover and refrigerate. When cold, the fat will surface and can easily be removed. The remaining defatted stock can be added in soups or to season vegetables. Use within a couple of days or freeze for later use.

SOURCE: Becky Varner


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