Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese: A lesson in recipe makeovers

When I saw the recipe on BlogHer, there was no question in my mind that I had to make it.


The Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese recipe combined two of Mark's favorite things: all things Buffalo flavored and macaroni and cheese. I knew he would love it ... even if it didn't love my hips.

However, I'm not one to back down from a healthy eating challenge so I set out to make the dish my way.

My recipe makeover tips

1. The recipe calls for whole grain pasta, which seems inherently healthy. Any pasta, though, still packs a caloric punch - 200 calories per 2 ounce serving. I try to do my best to use less pasta than the recipe calls for and use a lower-calorie pasta, such as Ronzoni Smart Taste. I didn't have any on hand, so I used Ronzoni Garden Delight Rotini, which has a full serving of vegetables per 2 ounces.

2. Bulk up with vegetables. While I didn't do it here, I could have easily subbed out some of the pasta (maybe 2-3 ounces) and added grated carrot and sliced celery. After all, those taste fabulous with Buffalo recipes.

3. Use low-fat ingredients. Note: I didn't say fat-free. Fat-free products taste bad and are more processed than I care to know. By using low-fat cream cheese, I saved 480 calories for the recipe (60 calories per serving). I also used low-fat cheese but more on that to come.

4. Go lean. While the recipe doesn't call for a specific part of the chicken, I used shredded chicken breast only. (I like to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they are on sale and cook 5 pounds or so in the slow cooker. I shred it and freeze it in 1-pound sections for such recipes/meals.) If a dish calls for beef, make sure to get ground sirloin and get a tenderloin for pork.

5. Less is less. The recipe called for 3 cups of cheese - on top of a brick of cream cheese. And while I love cheese, it seemed a bit excessive. I used 2 cups - 1.5 cups of 2% cheddar and .5 cup of part-skim mozzarella - and Mark didn't seem to mind.

6. DIY ingredients. I'll admit it: When I saw blue cheese dressing on the ingredient list, I added it to my grocery list without thought. I went to the dressing aisle, grabbed the first bottle I could and went on my merry way. However, had I made my own - like this Guiltless Blue Cheese Dressing - I would have saved 200 calories ... PER SERVING. Talk about awesome.

7. Cut the fat? A bread-crumb topping on mac and cheese is a must have for some but I don't really need it. I cut out 165 calories (20 per serving) by skipping it.

8. Reduce portion sizes. If all else fails, eat less. You could easily make this sans chicken and serve it as a side dish with your lean meat and veggie of choice. Calories are cut in half instantly!

By the way, the nutritionals on what I ate for dinner: 500 calories, 26 grams fat (dang store-bought dressing), 38 grams carbs and 24 grams protein

What are your tips for making over a recipe?


  1. My tips are about the same as yours. I use two ingredients in their fat free form: sour cream and milk. Other than that, I totally agree, the few less calories isn't worth the bad taste!

    I also try to watch sodium so I will use salt substitute and low sodium soy sauce, etc.

    It's really crazy what a few substitutions can save you in calories! I know I was shocked when I started doing it!

  2. Oh I love buffalo chicken mac and cheese! I use the hungry girl recipe which is 267 calories per serving! I love buffalo chicken!

    I also use fat free sour cream, I personally can't remember how full fat tastes!

  3. I've been drooling over a few different buffalo chicken mac and cheese recipes lately. I think now is the time to make it!

    I use 2% greek yogurt in place of sour cream in everything these days. Adds protein and takes away some of the fat. Plus its so thick and delicious...mmm.

  4. We both know how much the Buffalo Chicken Tacos recipe completely changed my life (had one tonight compliments of a McChicken breast). Now . . you're ramping it up with a buffalo mac and cheese and willingly shared your ways to make it healthier - I'm gonna kiss you!!!! Thanks girl - looks ah-maz-ing!

  5. I would love that mac & cheese recipe. Yummy! I usually half the amount of cheese a recipe calls for as well to make it lighter and use a combo of reduced fat/fat free & full fat items in a dish. I find just a little bit of the full fat item goes a long way with the taste. Great tips!