Every time I hear the word “carbo load”, I always think of Michael Scott from The Office. You know, that time where he thought carbo loading meant that you eat a huge bowl of Fettuccine Alfredo immediately before running in the office 5K ‘Race for the Cure for Rabies. Yeah, things didn’t turn out so well for dear Michael. Made me laugh though. So much, I bought the run shirt!
I’m trying to find this balance between working out and eating healthy (yet not starve). It’s tough. When you increase your workouts, you also increase your appetite. With increased appetite, I also find I have increased cravings for all things delicious and terrible for me. Case in point, I decided to do a 2 hour workout this week, and the first thing I wanted to do after I completed it was sit down and have a beer. I’m quite the athlete. Don’t even get me started on my chocolate cravings after dinner. They are off the chart.
Pasta is one of those foods that tends to get a pretty bad rap. For the most part, it’s pretty terrible for you. That is unless you are a little creative and come up with healthy ingredient alternatives that are not only nutritious and full of protein and energy, but also taste great too. That is why I absolutely LOVE this recipe. The only thing terrible for you in it is the cheese – and even then you can use light cheese, or argue (like me most days) that it’s dairy, and dairy is a food group and if it’s a food group, I should eat it. The Greek yogurt is full of protein and creates a nice creamy texture. The key that I want to also mention is that you need to use 2% or full fat Greek Yogurt. I know, I know – fat free is healthier. Sure, maybe. But you still get all the protein with the full fat yogurt and a way better taste. Fat free Greek yogurt tastes very tangy and sour. The full fat version does not. Trust me on this. I also use a higher fibre macaroni (Catelli Smart Pasta) as well. It actually has all the same nutritional content as whole wheat pasta, but has a white pasta texture and taste. It’s pretty fantastic (and no, they are not paying me for this product placement shout-out – but I seriously think they should!)
To add a bit more protein, I threw in some flavorful Cajun Chicken. I find added protein is important for me on hockey game days. You even have some veggies (spinach) in this dish. This is truly an absolutely delicious and guilt-free Mac & Cheese recipe. You really cannot go wrong. Well, unless you are Michael Scott and eat this dish 10 minutes before running your first 5K.
You will need:
For the Creamy Greek Yogurt Mac & Cheese:
2 cups uncooked macaroni (I used Catelli Smart Pasta but you can use regular or whole wheat)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (do not use pre-shredded cheese as it has preservatives and it won’t melt properly)
1/2 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt (must be 2%. Fat free varieties are too tart in taste)
2 cups fresh spinach
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Cajun Chicken:
3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup canola oil
Let’s start by making our delicious Cajun Chicken.
Combine all spices in a small bowl.
In a Ziploc bag, place lemon juice and canola oil.
Add half of the spice mixture to the bag.
Add your chicken breasts, turning to coat them.
Lay them flat on the counter for 30-60 minutes, or overnight in the fridge.
Remove chicken from plastic bag and place on a plate.
Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with the remaining spice mixture.
Place chicken on a slightly oiled hot grill and cook through completely, flipping once.
Remove from grill plan, cover with foil and set aside to rest while you make your Mac & Cheese.
Cook your macaroni according to the package instructions until al dente.
Before you drain, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water for later.
Place spinach in the bottom of a strainer and drain the cooked macaroni and water over top.
This wilts the spinach nicely so you don’t have to cook it separately.
Place cooked macaroni and spinach back in your pot.
Add your 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water.
Next add your shredded cheese and stir until completely melted.
Crazy good. But we are not done yet!
Add the Greek yogurt, onion and garlic powder, salt and pepper to the pot.
Mix until smooth and creamy.
Slice up your Cajun Chicken and place in a bowl with the creamy mac & cheese.
Seriously delicious, and pretty darn healthy!
This dish is perfect for those carb cravings.
Recipe adapted from: Cooking a la Mel