TODAY   |  February 03, 2014

Make a healthier mac ’n cheese

Parents magazine’s Jenna Helwig suggests ways to rethink the creamy comfort food by adding robust flavors and more protein, fiber and vitamins. Add barbecue-inspired ingredients for some kick, and frozen mini meatballs to liven up a boxed version.

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>>> mac and cheese .

>> and especially on a day like today, even though it's great on its own, there are ways to make it more nutritious and delicious. and several of these recipes featured in "parents" magazine. jenna, good morning.

>> hi.

>> you couldn't have picked a more perfect recipe for a day like today. making healthier versions. you've got a barbecue version and the greenalicious version.

>> that's right. we've got flour and salt here, you want to add that to the butter in the pan. and whip this up.

>> we're making kind of a roux.

>> exactly. all we have to do is put this together.

>> okay.

>> let this cook for about a minute or so, and then add the milk. my milk here is plain, yours has spinach pureed in it.

>> so green.

>> good for st. patrick's day, right?

>> yeah.

>> we want to whisk, whisk, whisk and let this simmer. and these recipes are great because we've also, you know, made them a little bit healthier.

>> right.

>> we use the light butter and using the cheese, which has a great flavor and is really a little strong. so a little goes a long way.

>> okay. you don't have to pile it on as much.

>> exactly.

>> now we want to take it off the heat.

>> okay. not too hot.

>> ahh!

>> all right. go ahead and add the cheese.

>> you're such a jokester.

>> funny. and i'm going to mix in my barbecue variation.

>> a cup of shredded chicken and two tablespoons of barbecue sauce . and we're going to put our pasta in already, right?

>> that's right. add the pasta. stir it all up. i don't know if my kids would go for green mac & cheese .

>> it's bright enough, they would be intrigued by it.

>> well, you said st. patrick's day, you could say you dyed it green.

>> and add it to the baking dish over here.

>> okay.

>> got it?

>> delicious.

>> and then --

>> what do you like to put on top?

>> it's whole wheat panko, and adds a little extra fiber and nutrition and gives it a great crunch.

>> and you can find this at any grocery store , too?

>> absolutely.

>> how long do you bake that for?

>> 20 minutes. super quick.

>> okay.

>> and back here, the finished version, the barbecue mac, i made this for my family this weekend. they went crazy for it. no kidding. loved it.

>> perfect super bowl food, too.

>> yes. please, have a taste.

>> and you also made with the store bought version, different variations.

>> so we know the store bought, just look for a brand lower in fat and sodium. this is a buffalo chicken version, buffalo wing sauce, shredded chicken, and if you want, add a little blue cheese. optional for the kids. and then the other one is a mini meatball .

>>> kathie lee , hoda.

>> what?

>> what?

>> what's coming up?

>> why are you yelling?

>> i don't know.

>> what happened with the game last night.

>> it was close.

>> it was close to home . chance of a lifetime .

>> what time did you get in last night?

>> i got in there. got in fine. coming home , i