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 on teal spoon

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.

(You may also like this Creamy Chicken Pasta, which is similar to this mac and cheese but with the addition of chicken.)

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Ingredients You Need

To make this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients.

ingredients-in-cauliflower-mac-and-cheese
  • 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.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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.

how-to-make-cauliflower-mac-and-cheese-step-by-step
  1. Cut the cauliflower into florets if starting with a whole head.
  2. 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.
  3. Add it to the blender with the milk, cheese, butter, salt, and garlic powder. Blend until smooth.
  4. 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.

healthy cauliflower mac and cheese in blue bowl

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!

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cauliflower mac and cheese on teal spoon

Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (5-Ingredient)

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!)
4.99 from 81 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Cuisine American
Course Dinner
Calories 317kcal
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 1 small head cauliflower (stem discarded and chopped into small pieces; or about 4 cups florets)
  • 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)
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Instructions

  • 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.

Video

Notes

  • 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.
 

Nutrition

Calories: 317kcal, Carbohydrates: 46g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 24mg, Sodium: 213mg, Potassium: 317mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 262IU, Vitamin C: 24mg, Calcium: 149mg, Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Rate in the comments and tag @yummytoddlerfood on IG!

This post was first published November 2018.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Super easy to make, which I’m thankful for.
    My toddler still didn’t eat it but at least I didn’t spend hours on it.

  2. 5 stars
    I just made this mere minutes ago and it’s a huge hit! My daughter was licking the spoon with the sauce on it, haha!
    I used frozen riced cauliflower in place of fresh (steamed) and just defrosted in the microwave until it was thawed.
    I used unexpected cheddar shreds as the cheese and added a splash of chicken broth before blending; served with diced chicken on top.
    Will definitely keep this easy, delicious recipe in our rotation!
    Thank you!

  3. 5 stars
    I just made this mere minutes ago and it’s a huge hit! My daughter was licking the spoon with the sauce on it, haha!
    I used frozen riced cauliflower in place of fresh (steamed) and just defrosted in the microwave until it was thawed.
    I used unexpected cheddar shreds as the cheese and added a splash of chicken broth before blending; served with diced chicken on top.
    Will definitely keep this easy, delicious recipe in our rotation!
    Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    I recently discovered this recipe and it is amazing! So far I made it with cauliflower and butternut squash! So great for my almost 10 month old on pasta using all different veggies and even cheeses! Thank you!

  5. 5 stars
    I took this recipe and ran with it to make a few personal preference tweaks! I put a 12oz bag of frozen cauliflower and 2 shredded carrots in the instant pot and pressure cooked them on high for 1 minute with 10 oz water. Once complete, I vented the IP and stirred in 8oz of freshly shredded cheese, 1/4 tsp of garlic, and 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast flakes. I turned the pot off once melted and stirred in 1/4 cup of whole milk yogurt. I served on top of penne noodles with a sprinkle of salt for the adults. LOVED. I will make a double batch and freeze next time!

    1. 5 stars
      Oops! I forgot to mention that I used an immersion blender to blend up the water and vegetables after I pressure cooked them. THEN I added the cheese and spices 🙂

  6. 5 stars
    This was amazing! I used star pasta (15 month old finds other pasta challenging) and a good amount of garlic powder. Sauteed some chicken strips in cumin & smoked paprika to top with.
    Husband despises cauliflower in all shape and form and he polished it off! 15 month old baby is busy with finishing his second plate 😂 thank you so much for the recipe!!

  7. Very good, tasty light and fluffy, not sticky like “original”. I love it, one of my kids said it’s VERY yummy and even my EPE said – continue doing it… but no, not in the meaning “do it again”, he considered it not finished yet. And he was right because it’s great but not at all Mac and Cheese. Very obvious cauliflower hint, even when I add twice amount of cheese plus extra Parmesan and onion salt to sharp taste a bit and tons of food coloring to make it a bit yellow like “original” junky Kraft. I do not want to feed my kids junk food but unfortunately my oldest is extreme picky eater and he was fed before in daycare with Kraft Mac & Cheese so he knows taste. I tasted it trying to mimic it in healthy way (and I have a few homemade recipes which are more or less similar to it) so I know the taste too. Generally – this recipe for taste and texture can obtain even 6 stars but as “Mac & Cheese substitute I’m not sure if I would give even one star. I enjoyed it, will make it again but definitely it’s not recipe you could use to feed EPE “pretending” it’s Mac & Cheese

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I don’t claim this to be a direct sub for Kraft mac and cheese and the name of it is Cauliflower Mac and Cheese, so I guess I’d hope that is taken under consideration when thinking about the recipe. I am glad that your family enjoyed it and hope it is a yummy option for you to have in the mix. It’s great when kids can learn to like a few variations of a type of food!

  8. 5 stars
    I think this might be my new favorite meal. It is DELICIOUS and sooo quick and easy to make! I actually think this is going to replace my go-to homemade “regular” mac and cheese recipe (that has soooo much more butter, milk, cheese, etc.) because this is actually 100x yummier (and healthier). My son isn’t a big pasta lover, but he devoured this. I made with wagon wheel shaped pasta which definitely contributed to the taste lol

  9. 5 stars
    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!

  10. 5 stars
    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.

  11. 5 stars
    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!

  12. 5 stars
    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 !!!

  13. 5 stars
    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!

  14. 5 stars
    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.

  15. 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.

  16. Do you think I would be able to store small portions of this in the freezer in souped cubes? I was thinking of making a big batch and then just unthawing one cube on pasta night?

    1. I think so, though it’s possible the pasta would be softer the second time around. Should work otherwise though!

  17. 5 stars
    This is my son’s new favorite! So easy to prep, freeze and pull out to serve. 5/5 stars for sure! ⭐️

    1. It should work. It may be harder to remove it with a slotted spoon from the water, so you may want to cook it separately and drain it in a colander.

  18. 5 stars
    I added peas for an extra veg and made dairy free (soy milk and lactose free butter) – this recipe is so delicious and loved by our 17 month old house princess. Thank you Amy – your website, recipes and the love you put into ensuring a variety of cooking options have saved this wee household in Auckland New Zealand

  19. 5 stars
    My picky 20 month old LOVED this! Anything even semi-healthy that he will gobble up will definitely stay in our rotation and I love that this used cauliflower as the thickening agent, so smart! Thank you so much.

  20. Will try it tomorrow! My 17months toddler started to refuse from veggies((( just broccoli
    May be you have some advice how to warm without microwave? Usually a put the meal into pan with a tiny amount of water and stew for some minutes

    1. I have only tried storing it in the fridge (and it works well there!) so I can’t say for sure. It might separate a little when it’s thawed but if you stir it up and maybe sprinkle a little extra cheese on top it’s worth a try!

    1. I wouldn’t freeze it, but you can make the sauce 3-5 days ahead and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. Once ready, prepare the pasta, warm the sauce slightly, and stir it together.

      1. It’s totally fine to freeze this, I’ve frozen quite a few batches. My son loves this stuff ?

  21. Great recipe!!!!….although you might want to suggest an organic, whole grain pasta or shirataki noodles instead of the white pastas you’ve mentioned above. Eating white pasta is like eating a bowl full of sugar, making your cauliflower Mac and cheese very unhealthy. Thanks!!!

    1. For the record, I didn’t see anywhere where she specifically recommended white pastas. The choice is always yours- we use whole wheat or lentil for most dishes and they’ve worked great with her recipes. Thanks Amy, for another great dish!

  22. 5 stars
    Hi there, the whole thing is going fine here and ofcourse every one
    is sharing data, that’s in fact excellent, keep up writing.