Cottage Cheese Mac and Cheese {High Protein & Hidden Veggies}

Here’s a healthy twist on a traditional macaroni and cheese – in this recipe, I combine the “hidden veggie” trick with the addition of cottage cheese for extra protein. If you’re looking for equal parts tasty and healthy – give this cottage cheese mac and cheese a try!

A bowl of cottage cheese mac and cheese on a yellow towel next to a fork.

This recipe is a part of my “busy mom collection”: finding recipes the whole family will love so that you’re not cooking multiple meals for everyone.

The cottage cheese and butternut squash are subtle in flavor that even you’re pickiest kid might not notice the difference (keyword here is might).  I even tested this out with my own family and recorded their reactions. I have two young girls – will my kids eat it, or will they not? That was the question. Stay tuned to see what they thought!

Reasons to Try This Recipe

  • First and foremost, it tastes really good (in my opinion).
  • It’s very nutritious! 28 grams of protein per serving and it is high in vitamins A and C from the butternut squash. Or, potassium and iron if using sweet potatoes.
  • You have toddlers who love macaroni and cheese, but don’t eat a lot of vegetables or protein.
  • You’re a busy mom and looking for an easy, cost-effective, healthy recipe your whole family will love.
  • Ideal for baby-led weaning – a healthier option than traditional mac and cheese. Babies are usually less picky than toddlers and would love this!
  • A tasty way to sneak in some extra protein and veggies, even if you don’t have kids.

Benefits of a Hidden Veggie Sauce

It can be quite the challenge to make sure kids, especially toddlers, are eating enough vegetables. My kids in particular have become very picky. 

Hiding vegetables in a cheese sauce is a creative solution to getting them to consume more veggies. The only problem with this is they’re not getting used to the exposure of vegetables in their true form. Therefore, unique creations like this shouldn’t be an everyday thing.

You might be thinking – well won’t my child know that there are veggies hidden in this sauce? If you use the right vegetables, they probably won’t. In this recipe, I used butternut squash and the color of the cheese sauce did not change at all. Other great options would be cauliflower, sweet potatoes or zucchini. 

Even if you’re an adult who struggles to get enough vegetables in your day, I think you will definitely love this recipe. 

cottage cheese mac and cheese

What Makes This Recipe High in Protein?

Protein is a macronutrient most people are trying to get more of, not restrict. It is vital for so many important functions in our body, not to mention it promotes satiety, assists with preserving lean muscle mass, and can help promote weight loss by keeping us fuller for longer (1). 

With children, at least in my experience, foods high in protein seem to be low on the totem pole of their favorite foods. My two toddlers love their carbohydrates. Put a piece of chicken in front of them and they often won’t touch it.

There are three ingredients used to make this cottage cheese mac and cheese high in protein. First of all, cottage cheese – there are 13 grams of protein per 1/2 cup serving! 

Second of all, the pasta – I used Barilla Protein + which has 10 grams of protein per 2 ounce serving. There are other protein pastas out there, such as Banza chickpea noodles, so you could trial different ones to find what works best for your family.

Lastly, the shredded cheese adds some additional grams to this dish. This recipe contains 28 grams of protein per serving!


  • Cottage Cheese (1 cup): I chose a low-fat, small curd from Kroger. I have heard great things about Good Culture and will try that next. Full fat might make the dish even more decadent. Large curd cottage cheese is another option, which is less acidic.  It’s also lower in moisture so you may need to add more liquid to get the sauce consistency you want.
  • Chicken Broth or Milk (1/2 cup): I used a little chicken broth for the hidden vegetable puree sauce but you could easily use water or milk.
  • Butternut Squash or Sweet Potatoes (about 2 cups): To make it super simple for myself, I just bought some frozen butternut squash and heated it in the bag in the microwave. Cutting and roasting butternut squash would probably be even more delicious if you have the time for it. Feel free to try any other roasted vegetables you like, or you think your kids would eat. Just be aware that some vegetables might change the color of the sauce which may turn your kids off from eating it.
  • Barilla Protein Plus Rotini Pasta (3 cups, dry): Out of all the pasta noodles I have tried, I have found these are the most palatable while being higher in protein. I’m Italian, so I am picky about my noodles. You could easily substitute these for your favorite pasta noodles. I just know my kids love the rotini shape too but this is where you can get even more creative with different types of pasta.
  • Butter (2 tablespoons): Just two tablespoons are needed to make a roux for the cheese sauce. Olive oil would be a good substitute.
  • Shredded Cheese (1 1/2 cups): Honestly, I just used what I had in the fridge – which was a Mexican style blend. I think that sharp cheddar would’ve been a better option. Maybe add in some parmesan as well.
  • Flour (2 tablespoons): Used to make the roux, which is equal parts flour and fat (from the butter). Cooked on low to medium heat, it helps thicken the sauce. Cornstarch or arrowroot powder will also get similar results.
  • Pasta Water (1/2 cup): Incorporating pasta water into the cheese sauce helps to thin it out. For additional creaminess, you could also use milk. 

Cottage Cheese Mac & Cheese iNSTRUCTIONS

It is very mild in flavor, so if you or your kids are a little more adventurous when it comes to their food – this dish would be even better with some extra additions. Maybe garlic, habanero peppers, hot sauce, buffalo chicken sauce – the sky is the limit. 

1. Assemble the Ingredients and Start Boiling Water

Start with gathering all the ingredients. Get your blender or Nutri-bullet out to puree the hidden veggie/cottage cheese mixture. 

Put a pot of salted water on the stove on medium heat so it can reach boiling while you’re making the puree mixture.

If you have fresh butternut squash, sweet potatoes or cauliflower, start roasting it in the oven or steaming it on the stove. For frozen vegetables, steam in the microwave. 

2. Make the Puree Mixture

Add the chicken broth to your blender, then add the vegetables. Measure out 1 cup of cottage cheese and add that as well. Blend until smooth.

Additional chicken broth (or water) could be added if the mixture seems to thick. It should be a smoothie like consistency and easy to pour. 

Cottage cheese and roasted sweet potatoes pureed in a blender cup.

3. Add the Pasta to Boiling Water

Before you get started on the cheese sauce, add the pasta to the boiling water and set a timer. If your pasta takes less than 7 minutes to cook, you might want to cook it and strain it prior to making the cheese sauce! Reserve a 1/2 cup of the salted pasta water.

4. Make a Roux and Put Together the Cheese Sauce

Making a roux of flour and butter in a pan with a whisk.

This will be the most complicated step in the recipe – but no worries, it’s hard to mess this up.

Start by putting a pan on medium-low heat, and melting the butter. Once the butter has melted, add 2 tablespoons of floor and incorporate with a spoon or whisk. Stir constantly for about 3 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low or simmer, and add the hidden veggie/cottage cheese mixture and mix with the roux. 

Lastly – the cheese! Sprinkle it in and mix the sauce together. Add some pasta water to get a nice, thick, creamy cheese sauce – but not too thick. If it’s not thick enough, add a little more cheese and cook it on low heat for a few more minutes.

Season with salt, garlic powder and pepper to taste, and turn off the heat.

5. Strain the Pasta and Add to the Cheese Sauce

Strain the pasta, then add it to the cheese sauce! Incorporate all that delicious cheesy goodness with the noodles. If it seems too thick, add more chicken broth to thin it out – but you may need to reseason.

For a little more texture, transfer the macaroni and cheese to a baking dish and sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs and parmesan or additional shredded cheese and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes.


A small bowl of cottage cheese mac and cheese on a counter next to a large pan with a wooden spoon in it.

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A bowl of cottage cheese mac and cheese on a yellow towel next to a fork.

Cottage Cheese Mac and Cheese {High Protein & Hidden Veggies}

Alex Evink, MS, RD
A healthy spin on the traditional mac and cheese – it's creamy, high in protein, with added nutrients from vegetables you won't even notice are there! It's an easy dish the whole family could eat.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4 servings
Calories 500 kcal


  • 1 cup low-fat, small curd cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth, or more
  • 2 cups frozen butternut squash (or fresh, roasted squash)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups dry Barilla Protein Plus Rotini Noodles, or preferred pasta
  • 1/2 cup pasta water or milk
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder (optional – to taste)


  • Assemble all ingredients. Fill a pan with water and cook on medium high heat. Salt the water.

Make the Veggie and Cottage Cheese Puree

  • Add chicken broth then cottage cheese to a blender.
    Microwave the frozen squash, add to blender, and blend until smooth.

Making the Cheese Sauce

  • Add pasta to water once it's boiling.
  • While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in a pan on medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, incorporate flour into the pan and stir constantly for 3 minutes – making a roux.
  • Once the flour and butter are combined, change to low heat or simmer and add the cottage cheese/veggie mixture and stir.
  • Incorporate the cheese into the mixture.
  • Drain the noodles and add to the cheese sauce. Mix the cheese sauce and pasta together. Add salt and pepper to taste. If it seems too thick, add more chicken broth to thin it out – but you may need to re-season. Enjoy!


If I were making this for dinner, I might bake some chicken to either eat on the side or  add bite-sized pieces to the dish – but with 28 grams of protein per serving you don’t need to!
Customize or personalize this dish however you want! I know my kids would not eat anything too crazy, so I kept it simple. It is very mild in flavor, so if you or your kids are a little more adventurous when it comes to their food – this dish would be even better with some extra additions. Maybe garlic, habanero peppers, hot sauce, buffalo chicken sauce – the sky is the limit. You could top with more cheese or Panko breadcrumbs and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes.
Freeze any extras you have to make a quick dinner for your kids (or yourself) on other busy nights. 
Nutritional Information: 500 calories, 28 grams of protein per serving for 4 people. However, this recipe makes a large portion and could feed 5-6 people – especially if you add an additional protein source. 
Keyword hidden veggie pasta, meals for picky kids


So here we are – the taste test. Did they eat it?

I trialed this with three kids – my two daughters (Sage, age 2; Olive, age 4), and my niece Taylor (age 3).

My two year old (shown here) loved it! She actually ate two bowls – which I wasn’t too surprised about. Sage has definitely gotten more picky than she was when she was 1, but not so much when it comes to macaroni and cheese.

healthy cottage cheese mac and cheese

Here’s where things took a turn. You can see my 4-year-old’s face after she tried a noodle (pictured on the left). She clearly was not a fan (insert laughing emoji).

healthy mac and cheese taste test

In fact, Olive decided to spit out the noodles – and Taylor saw this and followed suit.


To be honest, I was not surprised that Olive didn’t like it. She is probably the pickiest kid I know, which makes me a little sad- but what can you do? If it’s not from a box, she’s not going to like it. 

Taylor had a couple more noodles after the initial try, but I think Olive saying “ew, yucky” played into her disgust. I do wonder if Taylor would have kept eating it without Olive’s reaction! 

Give It a Try!

I have made this recipe multiple times, and we have really enjoyed it. My youngest has become very picky and she continues to enjoy it! It would be ideal for kids who don’t have high food aversions (unlike my 4-year-old Olive). 

It is very mild in flavor, so if you or your kids are a little more adventurous when it comes to their food – this dish would be even better with some extra additions. Maybe garlic, habanero peppers, hot sauce, buffalo chicken sauce – the sky is the limit. 

In conclusion, this is an easy dinner that elevates a classic kids’ staple without completely transforming it from a traditional macaroni and cheese. It could make a busy mom’s night a little less stressful – but might not work for every kid or every family. 

If you try it, please let me know what you and your children thought! I’m very curious – did they eat it? Or did they pull an Olive and spit it out? 

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