I recently polled my Facebook group full of healthy eaters for Thanksgiving recipes they’d like to see. Unsurprisingly, the dominant winner was the mac and cheese variations option. So, here we go. While this garlic parmesan mac and cheese with chicken may not be traditional Thanksgiving flavors, it’s the first of many to come in response to the poll.
My primary objective with this recipe was to make a higher volume mac and cheese (more food, fewer calories per serving), and chicken is a volume eating superstar. One serving of this garlic parmesan mac and cheese weighs 175 grams (about one cup) and has 21 grams of protein with only 30 grams of carbs. I can put some food away, but I struggled to finish two servings.
How to Make Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese with Chicken
Before you look at the recipe and get overwhelmed (it’s slightly longer than most of my recipes), know that it’s really simple stuff. If you’ve tried my garlic parmesan chicken pasta, this mac and cheese uses a very similar chicken recipe. Other than cutting and pan frying the chicken, the rest of the recipe is simple assembly.
Here’s a quick rundown of the steps:
- Prepare and cook the chicken.
- Microwave pasta. (Yes, microwave.)
- Add the cheese sauce ingredients to a bowl and microwave again.
- Mix the pasta, cheese sauce, and chicken together.
- Top with butter and Italian breadcrumbs before baking.
Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese Ingredients
I’ll quickly run through most of the ingredients and touch on modification notes or things to know.
Barilla Ready Pasta
Since the recipes requires a bit more prep than most, I opted to go with a precooked pasta. This is the same pasta I used for my bacon cheeseburger healthy Hamburger Helper copycat recipe. It tastes great and saves a ton of time boiling water and cooking pasta.
That said, you could certainly reduce the carbs and increase the protein by using something like Banza’s chickpea pasta. Check out my easy taco pasta bake, chipotle ground beef mac and cheese, or Italian sausage pasta bake for examples of their pasta in action.
The recipe calls for shredded mozzarella exclusively, but you can certainly use other cheeses. I used a bit of shredded parmesan in the cheese sauce mixture in my first run and really enjoyed it, though it was a tiny bit salty.
If you’re no cheese whiz (see what I did there?), you could always use an Italian cheese blend.
Thinking about skipping out on the breadcrumb topping? I’d urge you to reconsider, as the crispy topping truly makes the dish.
However, if you wanted to reduce the carbs a tiny bit, you could replace half the breadcrumbs with equal parts shredded parmesan cheese. I used both in recipe testing and was torn between the two. Ultimately, I thought the seasoning on the Italian breadcrumbs really enhances the Italian-ish mac and cheese flavor.
As long as you don’t use cream cheese, you can swap the Greek yogurt with just about any creamy ingredient. I like the protein boost and flavor of Greek yogurt when combined with garlic and other flavors, but other cheeses and creamy ingredients could add their own flare to the mac and cheese.
The macronutrient difference between using regular butter and light butter for this garlic parmesan mac and cheese:
Light butter: 400 calories and 48 grams of fat
Regular butter: 830 calories and 92 grams of fat
If you make the switch, you can divide the difference by the number of servings and add that to each serving.
Final Garlic Parmesan Mac and Cheese Recipe Notes
The full recipe is below. When you make this garlic parmesan mac and cheese with chicken, I’d love to see it. Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram @mason_woodruff or join my free Facebook group I mentioned in the intro and share it with everyone!
Garlic Parmesan Chicken
- 1 lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 Tbsp (15g) Minced Garlic
- 2 Tbsp (15g) Reduced Fat Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper, reduce if you're spice sensitive
Mac and Cheese
- 2 packages (8 oz each) Barilla Ready Pasta Elbows
- 3/4 C (170g) Fat Free Greek Yogurt, plain
- 1/4 C (56g) Light Butter, I used Land O' Lakes
- 1 C (112g) Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 2 Tbsp (30g) Minced Garlic
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/4 C (56g) Light Butter*
- 1/2 C (56g) Italian Breadcrumbs
- Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
- Toss the chicken pieces in the garlic, grated parmesan, black pepper, and red pepper.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with nonstick cooking spray. Once the pan is hot, add the chicken to the pan. Leave untouched for 5 minutes before flipping.
- Cook for an additional 2 minutes before reducing the heat to low and covering for 6 minutes.
- While the chicken cooks, microwave the pasta according to the directions on the package. Set aside.
- Mix the remaining mac and cheese ingredients in a bowl. Microwave in 30-second intervals for 2-3 minutes, stirring at each interval. (The cheese sauce should be smooth but it doesn't have to be 100% homogenous.)
- Once the chicken is finished cooking, add the pasta and cheese sauce to the pan. Stir until everything is evenly mixed. (If the cheese is a little stringy, you can add a few tablespoons of milk, working everything together over low heat.)
- Turn off the heat and set the skillet aside or add everything to a baking dish if your skillet is not oven-safe.
- Microwave the remaining butter for the crispy topping for 5-10 seconds or until it's mostly melted. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until it starts to look like a wet sand. Add to the top of the mac and cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is golden brown and no liquid remains in the bottom of the mac and cheese.
*You can also use 2 Tbsp (32g) of olive oil.
- Each serving has 7 Smart Points.
- Total macros: 2,380 calories, 168 grams of protein, 241 grams of carbs, 94 grams of fat
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 servings Serving Size: 175 g
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 298Total Fat: 12gCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 21g
More Recipes You Might Like
If you like the simple one-pan chicken, you could also make my buffalo chicken bites or reader favorite naked chicken tenders. For baked options, my spicy popcorn chicken and KFC Famous Bowls copycat recipes are worth a look. And if you’re looking for air fryer options, check out my chicken nuggets guide.