Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Panko Topping

4.58 stars average

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With over 14 grams of protein per serving this cauliflower mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food, you can feel good about enjoying regularly!

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

What is it about cold, snowy weather that just makes us want to curl up by the fire with a warm bowl of comfort food? Before you rush to the cupboard to whip of a blue box of the orange stuff, I urge you to give this dish a try. As a busy working from home mother of a 5 month old, I can tell you that this dish only took 20 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to bake. If I hadn’t been interrupted by my son at the end of the meal, I could have easily eaten the entire pan. It is just that good.

The only thing more comforting than a bowl of creamy mac and cheese is a bowl of creamy mac and cheese that won’t land on your hips. Don’t worry, where this dish lacks in fat and calories it far than makes up for in flavor. My secret? An entire head of cauliflower is steamed then pureed with tangy dijon, fresh garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Before you ask, let me calm your fears: no, you do not taste the cauliflower. Trust me, my husband would have been the first to tell me. In fact, he doesn’t even like mac and cheese but he loved this version.

The best part? Each serving is only 300 calories and is loaded in protein, fiber, calcium and over a day’s worth of Vitamin C! Here are some of the perks of this dish:

  • Freebie Flavor Boosters: Garlic and Dijon mustard have very minimal calories but add a ton of extra flavor.
  • Cauliflower: By adding a head of cauliflower to the cheese sauce, you gain tons of nutrients and bulk without many calories and zero fat.
  • Skim Milk: Who said you need whole milk to make a cheese sauce?
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese - The Lemon Bowl

By using whole wheat shells, the dish gets an added dose of protein and fiber that will help keep you satisfied on a smaller portion. In fact, with over 14 grams of protein per serving this pasta would be a perfect meatless entree served with a side salad.

Your fork is waiting.

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese - The Lemon Bowl

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Panko Topping

4.58 stars average
With over 14 grams of protein per serving this cauliflower mac and cheese is the perfect comfort food, you can feel good about enjoying regularly!
PREP: 20 minutes
COOK: 20 minutes
TOTAL: 40 minutes


  • 4 cups cooked whole wheat pasta shells (or short pasta of choice)
  • 1 head cauliflower (cut into florets)
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2.5 ounces sharp cheddar
  • 1 clove garlic (grated)
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese


  • Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Steam cauliflower until tender, about 8-10 minutes then remove from pan and set aside.
  • Whisk together milk and flour in a sauce pot over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Add grated cheddar, garlic, dijon, nutmeg, salt and cayenne and whisk until cheese is melted. Stir in the steamed cauliflower and yogurt then puree until smooth with an immersion blender or pulse until smooth in a blender or food processor.
  • Add noodles and check for seasoning before pouring into a casserole baking dish.
  • In a small bowl, mix together panko, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the noodles then bake for 15-20 minutes or until topping turns golden brown.

Last Step:

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Calories: 300kcalCarbohydrates: 42.5gProtein: 14.6gFat: 7.8gSaturated Fat: 2.8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 464mgFiber: 5.3gSugar: 8.5g
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74 responses to “Cauliflower Mac and Cheese with Panko Topping”

  1. Millican Pecan Avatar
    Millican Pecan

    I think this recipe has all the ingredients for the ultimate comfort food, plus better for you! I’ve been looking for more recipes with cauliflower and this is perfect. I could do this and a nice baby greens salad.

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      Yes great idea!

  2. Robyn Wright Avatar
    Robyn Wright

    I made this for my twin granddaughters on Saturday. They were staying the night with me and I always try to get more veggies in their meals (they are 19 months). Now mac & cheese is not my personal favorite side dish but I know the girls love it generally as well as my husband. When I first put everything in the casserole it was very creamy and yummy, but after baking it the pasta seemed to soak up all the moisture and it was not nearly as creamy. Did I do something wrong? Is there a fix for this? I do still love that I got in that cauliflower in their dinner.

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      You didn’t do anything wrong – pasta will always absorb the moisture over time. I would say just add a bit more of the liquid ingredients next time? Sometimes certain brands of pasta absorb a bit more of the liquid. Either way I hope it still tasted delicious!

  3. Susan Avatar

    I love mac & cheese, and it’s nice that this one has a veggie in it, so the meal is complete. If you are like me and want more protein, you can use Barilla Plus pasta, which is a high protein version.

  4. Judie Avatar

    Hubby and I both need low sodium. How would this be without adding the sea salt? or any salt? Any other suggetions for lowering the sodium content? Love the cauliflower and would love to try this. Please help!! Thanks.

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      Your best bet to lower the sodium would be to pick a lower sodium cheese or to skip the sea salt. The flavor will be lacking, however, especially if you’re looking to mimic the classic flavor of mac and cheese.

  5. Joyce Avatar

    Made this for dinner tonight. It took our leftover pork tenderloin to new heights! The sauce was wonderfully creamy and the addition of the mustard and nutmeg gave great flaver. The panko, Parmesan crumbs were delicious!
    Thanks! Found you through Pinterest.

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      Oh I’m so thrilled to hear it!! Thank you so much Joyce!

  6. Lindsay Parks Avatar
    Lindsay Parks

    This looks delicious! Would greek yogurt work in place of regular plain yogurt?

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      Yes absolutely!!

  7. Erin @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts Avatar
    Erin @ Dinners, Dishes and Desserts

    Love the healthy version of this with cauliflower. I might have to try this with my husband. He can’t stand cauliflower, but I would love to trick him :)

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      I tricked mine! I bet you could trick yours!

  8. Kim Beaulieu Avatar
    Kim Beaulieu

    This is stunning. I love cauliflower so I can’t wait to try this. Plus there’s panko and that’s never a bad thing. xx

    1. Liz DellaCroce Avatar
      Liz DellaCroce

      Exactly!! Panko is cauliflowers bff. ;-)