Running Fuel: A marvellous mac’n’cheese makeover

Calling all pasta fiends! Today our guest Kathryn Elliott from An Honest Kitchen has a healthy and truly droolworthy mac ‘n’ cheese makeover that’s a perfect post-run dinner. 

Healthy cauliflower cheese / macaroni cheese makeover

Pasta is the classic post-run meal. Amongst old school runners, consuming a huge bowl of the stuff, before going to bed in a drowsy carbohydrate haze, is a tradition.

However, this is not the best strategy for good health or good running. A post-run meal does need to have some low GI carbohydrates,  but the best post-run meals should contain more than that. After running it’s not just your carbohydrate stores which need replenishing, you also need some protein to help repair muscles; vitamins and minerals to assist your recovery; as well as a small amount of good quality fat.

The new issue of An Honest Kitchen
The new issue of An Honest Kitchen

Pasta is a low GI carbohydrate, so there’s nothing wrong with including pasta in your post-run meal. It all depends on how much of it you eat and what you eat it with. A large bowl of pasta with a tiny amount of tomato sauce and some cheese doesn’t have the nutritional complexity your body needs.

Instead, eat a smaller amount of pasta and pair it with some meat, fish, cheese, or legumes and lentils, as these will provide the much needed protein. You’ll also need some vegetables, the best source of many vitamins and minerals, as it’s these all important substances which ensure our bodies work as efficiently as they can. Your recovery will be vastly improved if you include all of these food groups in your post-run meal.

In the latest issue of An Honest Kitchen we’ve taken on the challenge to revamp some of the most popular meals around and our Makeovers include pasta meals. Our Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheesy Bake is a great post-run meal. We’ve cut back on the overall amount of pasta used, while also making sure the meal contains enough protein and at least three of your daily five serves of vegetables. You can make this ahead of time and then quickly reheat once you get home from your run.

Macaroni & Cauliflower Cheesy Bake

Our inspiration for this was of course the traditional macaroni cheese. Family favourite it may be, but any meal based on just pasta and cheese sauce fails the everyday test for us.

Instead, for our Makeover version we’ve added in vegetables – plenty of vegetables – cauliflower and frozen spinach, plus red lentils. As well as fibre, all these vegetables add vitamins and minerals to the meal, while the red lentils also add some protein.  We cook the red lentils in with the pasta, as they take the same amount of time and this saves using (and washing up) another pan.

We’ve also drastically reduced the kilojoule quota (and the cooking fuss) by making a lighter sauce based on yoghurt, ricotta and strong tasting Cheddar. All of this is topped off with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs and parmesan and then baked in the oven. Easier, healthier and still delicious.

Makes 4 serves

1 small – medium head of cauliflower, about 800g
180g macaroni
¼ cup red lentils
90g frozen spinach
10-ish sprigs of fresh thyme
6 pieces sundried tomato
70g strong tasting Cheddar
½ cup natural yoghurt
150g fresh ricotta
1 tablespoon wholegrain or Dijon mustard
1 slice wholegrain bread
1 tablespoon (20g) parmesan
1 large handful of mixed leaves per person

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Chop the cauliflower & cook the pasta: Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. While you are waiting for the water, very roughly chop the cauliflower. Once the water is boiling add the macaroni and red lentils. Cook for about 4 minutes and then add the cauliflower and frozen spinach. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the cauliflower is soft. Drain, making sure you reserve some of the cooking water (see note below).

While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce: Remove the thyme leaves from the stalk (see below) and place these in a large bowl. Roughly chop the sundried tomatoes and grate the Cheddar. Add these to the thyme, together with the yoghurt, ricotta and mustard. Mix well. Once the macaroni and vegetables are cooked, pour these into the cheese sauce. Add ¼ cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Season with lots of black pepper and then gently fold together, so the ingredients are well combined. Don’t worry if it looks a bit sloppy at this stage.

Make the crunchy topping: Place the wholegrain bread and parmesan on a chopping board and run a knife through, chopping until the mixture resembles very rough breadcrumbs.

Bake the pasta: Tip the pasta and cauliflower into a baking dish. Scatter the bread and parmesan mixture over the top. Place in the oven and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the topping is golden brown.

To serve: Place a large handful of salad leaves on each plate and then serve with the Macaroni and Cauliflower Bake.

Cooking & Storage Notes:
The easiest way to remove the thyme leaves is to hold the stalk at the top and then firmly run the thumb and forefinger of your other hand along the stalk. The leaves should break off easily, although don’t worry if some stalk goes in there as well.

You don’t need to save all the pasta water, so put a mug or small bowl in the sink, place your colander over the top and drain the pasta through that.

We used a Vintage Cheddar cheese. The strong taste of this style of cheese means you can use less, which reduces the overall kilojoules of the meal, while still giving a rich flavour.

Keeps really well in the fridge for up to 3 days. However, the combination of pasta and cauliflower means this dish does not freeze very effectively.

Kathryn Elliott and Lucinda Dodds are the authors of An Honest Kitchen, a publication all about real food that’s good for you. Each issue of An Honest Kitchen is full of simple recipes, practical cooking information and healthy eating advice. Their latest edition, Makeovers, in which they revamp popular meals is available in e-format is 

  1. kathryn elliott
    Hi there Shauna and Julia, just wanted to say thank you for letting us guest post on the Up & Running blog.
  2. Philippa
    I'll be making this on Friday in preparation for my next 10k on Saturday! Sounds like an amazing recipe. It also elicited quite a few enthusiastic tweeters to propose a Mac and Cheese Marathon at some point in the near future :D x
  3. Shazam
    I am going to make this tomorrow night!!! Looks delicious. Might halve the recipe though, as I live by myself.