March is National Nutrition Month, a month designated to focus on making healthier food choices for
better overall health and wellness. I do try to make healthy food choices on a daily basis, but when I heard the California Milk Advisory Board (we know them as "Real California Milk") was challenging bloggers to lighten up some of their favorite recipes this month with California dairy products, I got right on board.
Really for three reasons:
1. Cheese. It's delicious. And we all know I eat the stuff at least once a day.
2. I have to admit the Real California Milk commercials crack me up. Like this one.
3. Since I don't eat meat, dairy is a main component of my diet and I get a lot of my protein from milk and yogurt. I drink smoothies or eat a yogurt parfait in a jar almost every weekday morning to get a calcium and protein boost to last me till lunchtime.
I also always keep organic cheese and yogurt snacks on hand for Riker, which he always asks for when he wants a snack - 9 times out of 10 he will ask me for a string cheese when he's hungry, rather than crackers or other typical kid snacks, which makes me happy. So I'm a firm believer in making dairy a part of a healthy diet - at least in our family. (Note: You can grab some great dairy healthy eating tips, family meal planning guides and recipes from HealthyEating.org, the Dairy Council of California's website.)
So back to this recipe. Mac & cheese is a favorite for pretty much everyone, but I don't make it very often because my traditional version is laden with tons of cheese, whole milk, butter, flour...you get it. It's clearly not very healthy and is reserved for special occasions. So I figured it was the perfect dish to lighten up on this challenge.
I swapped out a bunch of the high calorie ingredients for some really flavor-packed, lower fat dairy products that made the mac & cheese really tasty (zingy you might even say) and also creamy even after baked in the oven.
Since Greek yogurt is already naturally thick, I didn't need to make the traditional roux of butter, flour and milk to thicken the sauce up. And I promise - you don't actually taste yogurt in this. It's just a blank canvas for the cheese and seasonings.
I used California Monterey Jack & Blue Monterey Jack cheeses, which melt incredibly well and give a nice tangy flavor to the sauce, so you don't need as much cheese as usual. I loved using the California Blue Monterey Jack because it had the flavor of blue cheese but was much more mild than your typical blue cheese. That meant in addition to melting well, it was kid-friendly (Riker loved it).
Add whole wheat pasta and a helping of green veggies, and this is one protein, fiber and vitamin packed dinner all in one bowl. It tastes like comfort food but without all the guilt!
**Note: While I was compensated for the ingredients used in this recipe, as always, all opinions are my own.**
Broccoli & Blue Greek Yogurt Mac & Cheese
8 oz. whole wheat pasta
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
5 oz. California Monterey Jack Cheese, grated*
5 oz. California Blue Monterey Jack Cheese, grated*
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (I used 2%)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cook pasta according to package directions. During last two minutes of cooking, add the broccoli florets. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli, reserving 1/4 of the cooking liquid.
Return the pasta and broccoli to the pot, and add the 1/4 cup cooking liquid and grated cheeses. Turn the the heat on low, and stir together until the cheese is melted. Add the yogurt, garlic powder, salt, pepper, mustard and red pepper flakes. Stir until well combined, then remove from the heat and set aside.
In a small dish, microwave the butter for a few seconds until melted. Add the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, and stir to combine.
Grease a 1.5 quart baking dish and pour the pasta mixture in. Top with breadcrumb mixture. Bake in the oven uncovered for about 10 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden brown and cheese is bubbling around the edges.
*I used Sonoma Creamery cheeses. Real California dairy products can be recognized by their seals: