This kid-friendly recipe for hidden veggie mac and cheese is a great meal for the whole family! Made using one pot and frozen vegetables, it’s ideal for busy parents who want something homemade and healthy on the table without lots of prep time and clean-up. Learn how to hide vegetables like cauliflower, squash, peppers, and corn in a thick and creamy cheese sauce that will even have toddlers asking for seconds!
Kid-friendly mac and cheese has been on my mind lately! That’s because my sweet daughter Sydney is currently 8 months old, which means she’s starting to eat more and more solid foods. Even though she’s not quite ready to gobble up everything that Will and I eat, I’m already brainstorming meal ideas for when she’s older!
Every January, I plan out my content for the year and typically browse my site to see which posts could use a refresh. During this process, I realized that my one pot veggie mac and cheese barely got any views! I decided it was the perfect time to revamp this recipe and transform it into a “hidden” veggie mac and cheese that was better suited for a family meal.
The final result is VERY tasty! I used four vegetables, including butternut squash like you’ll find in my Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese and red bell peppers that appear in my Italian Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. There’s also cauliflower and sweet corn. But don’t worry, I’m not asking you to cut up four different veggies! I used frozen vegetables to make your life easier.
Plus, I kept the one pot aspect of my original recipe. You’ll use the same pot to steam the veggies and simmer the pasta in a combo of blended vegetables and milk. The only other dishes that will get dirty are a blender and a measuring cup. Amazing, right?! I hope you enjoy this one!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Frozen vegetables: I used frozen butternut squash, sweet corn, bell peppers, and cauliflower. The colors of these vegetables make them perfect for a hidden veggie mac and cheese. If you want to substitute other vegetables, stick with pumpkin or other winter squashes, yellow summer squash, and/or sweet potato, so that the color stays similar to that of cheese. You can of course use fresh vegetables in this recipe, but it’s VERY easy to use frozen ones! The combo of vegetables I used also contributes a slightly sweet flavor to the cheese sauce, which will help the dish be more appealing to kiddos.
- Pasta: I used bowtie (farfalle) pasta, since kids love the shape and can easily pick up this kind of noodle. However, this recipe would be great with any short cut pasta, such as elbows, shells, penne, or fusilli. You can also use chickpea or another legume-based pasta if you want a higher protein and/or gluten free option.
- Milk: I used whole milk because it’s what I had on hand. If you want to make a lower fat version, substitute skim or 2% cows milk or a plant-based option like almond or soy.
- Butter: This helps make the sauce creamy. You can omit it if desired.
- Cheese: Sharp cheddar cheese is going to provide the best kid-approved flavor here. However, you can substitute a different kind of cheese for all or part of the cheddar, such as gruyere, gouda, fontina, or parmesan.
- Onion and garlic powders: Add these for additional flavor. You can also add spices such as paprika or black pepper if your family likes those flavors.
A vegetable steamer basket and a high-powered blender make this recipe very easy. If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can boil the vegetables instead. If you don’t have an upright blender but do have an immersion blender, blend the cooked vegetables with some milk in the pot.
For the full recipe card, scroll to the bottom of the post. The card includes ingredient quantities. The following section is an overview of the steps for making hidden veggie mac and cheese with step-by-step photos.
Steam the vegetables for 8 to 10 minutes in a steamer basket inserted in a pot with an inch of boiling water.
Transfer the cooked vegetables to a blender with ½ cup milk.
Blend until smooth.
Drain the water from the pot you used to steam the vegetables. To the same pot, add the blended vegetables, the rest of the milk, butter, and garlic and onion powders. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce heat.
Add the pasta. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is soft. Add splashes of milk or water as needed if there isn’t enough liquid in the pot. You always want enough liquid to maintain a gentle simmer.
Remove the pot from heat. Stir in the cheddar cheese.
Storage and Reheating
Hidden veggie mac and cheese is best eaten right away. Leftovers may get mushy. If you don’t mind that, you can store it for a few days in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes before eating.
More Veggie Pasta Recipes
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Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese
- 1 cup frozen cauliflower florets
- 1 cup frozen bell peppers
- 1 cup frozen sweet corn
- 1 cup frozen butternut squash
- 3 cups milk - of choice; divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 cups dried macaroni - can use elbow, bowtie, or other short pastas
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese - freshly grated or pre-shredded
- In a large pot, bring 1 inch of water to a boil. Insert a vegetable steamer basket and place the frozen cauliflower, bell peppers, corn, and butternut squash in the basket. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are fork-tender.
- Transfer the cooked vegetables to a blender. Pour in ½ cup of the milk. Blend until smooth, adding splashes of water or milk as needed to promote blending.
- Drain the water you used for steaming the vegetables from the pot. Pour the vegetable mixture into the pot. Add the rest of the milk, butter, onion powder, and garlic powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, then quickly reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer (you don't want to scorch the milk). Add the pasta to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, for 15 to 20 minutes until the pasta is tender. You may need to add some splashes of milk or water throughout the cooking process if you think the liquid is getting too low in the pot. Cooking time will vary based on the type of pasta you use, so check for doneness at 15 minutes and go from there.
- When the noodles are cooked to you liking, remove the pot from heat. Stir in the cheddar cheese. The sauce should be thick and creamy. If you want to thin the sauce, add some splashes of water and stir until it's your desired consistency. Serve and enjoy!
- Leave a rating or review by tapping the stars on this recipe card (above) or in the comments section (at the end of the post)!
- Cooking modifications: If you don’t have a steamer basket, you can boil the vegetables in a pot of water for 5 to 6 minutes instead. If you don’t want to use an upright blender, you can also drain the pot of the water you used for steaming the vegetables, put the cooked vegetables in there, add the milk, and use an immersion blender to puree.
- Substitutions: If you are going to substitute vegetables, stick with pumpkin or other winter squash, yellow summer squash, or sweet potatoes to keep the color of the sauce similar to cheese. You can use any milk of choice, including cows or plant-based options. You can sub half or all of the cheese with gruyere, gouda, fontina, or parmesan depending on your preferences. Elbow macaroni, bowtie pasta, shells, fusilli, and other short pastas all work well. You can also use chickpea or legume-based pasta for a gluten free option.
- Leftovers: This dish is best enjoyed right away but can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Reheat in the microwave.
Enjoy your big bowl of veggies (and cheese)! – Lizzie
This post was originally published in November 2019. It was updated with different ingredients and new photos in January 2023.
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