With a simple cheese sauce—no standing and stirring over the stove here!—a solid dose of veggies, and a super creamy final result, this Cauliflower Mac and Cheese is a fast lunch or dinner option for toddlers. (And the rest of the family, too!)
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
This mac and cheese is a family favorite and is one of our go-to comfort food recipes. By adding the cauliflower right to the cheese sauce, we’re able to tuck a veggie right into the sauce without having to make a side dish to go with dinner.
I love using cauliflower in the cheese sauce since it acts as a thickener without the need to use a flour-based roux…which can be tricky to make with a little one underfoot. And the vegetable has such a mellow taste that you still get to enjoy the flavor of the classic dish. (I tell the kids what’s in the mix since I want them to know that they like cauliflower.)
This is one of our favorite kids pasta recipes because it’s both yummy and easy. And it works with just about any shape of pasta or macaroni your kids like, so you can let them pick a shape or use one you’re in the mood for.
Ingredients You Need
To make this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients.
- Pasta: You can use any kind of pasta you prefer, though we like this with smaller shapes such as elbow macaroni or ditalini.
- Cauliflower: You can start with a head of cauliflower, precut cauliflower florets, or even cauliflower rice. We cook it until tender, so all are possible to use.
- Cheddar cheese: I use shredded cheddar cheese, in white or yellow according to what the kids prefer, in this cheese mixture.
- Milk: We use whole milk in our house, but any type will work if you use another. If using nondairy milk, just be sure it’s unsweetened and plain.
- Butter: Butter adds richness and flavor and melts right into the cheese sauce.
- Pinch of garlic powder: This is optional to add extra flavor to the mac and cheese.
Here’s a look at the process involved in how to make this quick Cauliflower Mac and Cheese recipe. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to the recipe to see the full details.
- Cut the cauliflower into florets if starting with a whole head.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook over medium heat in a saucepan until soft. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower.
- Add it to the blender with the milk, cheese, butter, salt, and garlic powder. Blend until smooth.
- Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water from Step 1 and cook. Drain and return to the pot with the cheese sauce.
TIP: You can stir in some of the sauce and save the rest for later if you want to make it less cheesy/saucy to please the kids.
How to Store
You can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead of time if you store it in an airtight container. Warm the sauce for 15-30 seconds in the microwave and stir into the cooked and drained warm pasta.
If you want to make this Cauliflower Mac and Cheese ahead, I’d recommend making the cheese sauce and storing it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the pasta.
Best Tips for Success
- We prefer short shapes of pasta such as elbow macaroni, ditalini, pastina, or small shells.
- Omit the garlic powder if you’re at all worried the kids may not like it. Or use onion powder or black pepper as you like.
- To make this dairy-free, use plain nondairy milk and dairy-free cheese.
- Stir the sauce into the pasta right before serving.
- Swap in another cheese if you prefer, such as gouda, pepper-jack, or gruyere. (We always stick with sharp cheddar cheese!)
I’d love to hear your feedback if you make this recipe, so please comment below!
Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (5-Ingredient)
- 1 small head cauliflower (stem discarded and chopped into small pieces; or about 4 cups florets)
- ⅔ cup milk (warmed slightly)
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
- pinch garlic powder (optional)
- 1 pound pasta (such as elbow or other mini pasta shape)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and cook for about 8-10 minutes or until soft when poked with a fork.
- Use a fine-mesh strainer or slotted spoon to remove the cauliflower and add to a blender. Add the milk, cheese, butter, salt, and garlic powder if using. Blend until smooth.
- Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water from Step 1 and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to the pot.
- Stir the cheese sauce into the pasta and serve warm.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days. Warm for 30-60 seconds in the microwave to serve.
- You can make the cheese sauce up to 3 days ahead and store it in an airtight container. Warm for 15-30 seconds in the microwave before stirring into the pasta.
- Use whichever kind of pasta your family likes best.
- I usually buy blocks of cheese and grate the cheese since it tends to be less expensive, but you can use purchased grated cheese if you prefer.
- Omit the garlic powder if you’re at all worried that the kids may not like it.
- Stir the sauce into the pasta right before serving.
This post was first published November 2018.
This is amazing!!! I threw in some extra roasted carrots to blend along with the cauliflower and added a random boxed mac and cheese powder packet we had in the pantry. I’ll make this again and again!
Love!!! I just made it for the first time with whatever I had in the fridge: frozen riced cauliflower and shredded Mexican cheese blend (?). It’s lovely!! Now to see if my 2 yo old tries it… and excited to do it again with fresh cauliflower and cheeses that I know she loves.
what measurement did you use for the riced cauliflower?
Very easy and very tasty! We added more cheese to ours as a preference and I sprinkled my portion with black pepper for a bit more flavor. My toddler refused to eat it on principle (it’s not Annie’s) but I do think she’ll come around as it’s a similar flavor/texture to what she’s used to. Will be making again for sure!
I make it and she liked it , I wouldn’t say she loveeeed it , but it worked and was easy to make good flavour , my only question is if I can freeze it ??? cuz it’s a good amount of it !!!
So easy and super delicious- my favourite way to enjoy mac and cheese now as it leaves me feeling satisfied and nourished! Kids and hubby approved too! Would never guess there is cauliflower in there!
Can you freeze the sauce?
Update (an hour later haha)
I just used leftover sauce still in the blender to dip some thin, salty blue corn chips. Totally like a healthified nacho queso and it’s gooooood.
I thought it was pretty good, but it didn’t fool my four-year-old. 😉 Definitely has some cauliflower undertones/smell. Toddler opted for plain pasta. Helped a lot when I added a generous portion of Trader Joes Cheese Seasoning on top. I kept gobbling it up! Still happy I tried it. Thanks for the creative idea.
Have you ever used frozen cauliflower rice?
It works the same, just cook it for less time
Delicious and so easy to make, we love this sauce
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