Mac n Chicken

Just Mac n Cheese with Chicken, Just Mac n Cheese with Protein.


Take your best recipe for mac n cheese, then add chicken. That's it. Instant heartiness. Instant protein. Often I take it one step further and add cooked sweet potato – though not for the obvious reason (you know, nutrition) but instead for familiarity (it mimics the color of Kraft Dinner).

One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep.
Mac n Chicken, just your best Mac n Cheese with chicken, with protein ♥ KitchenParade.com. One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep. Recipe, insider tips, nutrition and Weight Watchers points included.

"That Was No Party. There Was No Cake!"

When my nephew Alex was four or five, we bundled up in coats and mittens to head home after a lovely Christmas Eve gathering with dear friends. Alex was dismayed. No cake! What kind of party has no cake? In his mind, a party without cake was no party at all and he felt deceived, I think, at getting all dressed up and then no cake!

What's it like in your family? Does every family dinner include a big dish of Mac n Cheese? It is a family dinner without Mac n Cheese?!

Mac n Chicken:
Just Mac n Cheese With Chicken.
Just Mac n Cheese With Protein.

Mac n Chicken, just your best Mac n Cheese with chicken, with protein ♥ KitchenParade.com. One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep. Recipe, insider tips, nutrition and Weight Watchers points included.

For family dinners here, I use this same recipe, no chicken, just to make sure that the picky-eater kids have something to eat.

It gets "two thumbs up" from the bigger kids and one food-curious 10-year old.

It gets "1-1/2 thumbs up" from the other 10-year old. With that lovely candor of children, he says, "My mom's is better." Smart kid, this one, he knows who butters his bread!

But really, I'm surprised when the grown-ups load up on Mac n Cheese too.

So for family dinners, it's Mac n Cheese not Mac n Chicken.

But for casual meals? I love substituting a full pound of chicken for half the pasta. The noodle and chicken combination remains entirely Mac n Cheese, just with some chicken. It's not trying to be something it's not, it's still Mac n Cheese. And ... nobody misses all that pasta.

Can You Make Mac n Chicken In Advance?

Mac n Chicken, just your best Mac n Cheese with chicken, with protein ♥ KitchenParade.com. One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep. Recipe, insider tips, nutrition and Weight Watchers points included.

Mac n Chicken is just as convenient as Mac n Cheese. Eat it straight away or make it ahead of time, either way. In fact, these tips apply to your own favorite recipe for mac n cheese. Here's how I like to serve this recipe, either made as Mac n Chicken or Mac n Cheese.


  • STRAIGHT from the POT That's our favorite way, one and done, it's dinner time. Or a midnight snack, no judging.

  • FINISH in the OVEN Love those crusty bits on top? This one's for you. As soon as the Mac n Chicken is done, transfer it to an oven-safe dish (cast iron, ceramic, etc) and bake at 400F/200C until extra hot 'n' bubbly, about 15 - 20 minutes. The timing will vary based on the pot size so keep an eye on the oven, no burning dinner, okay?

  • MAKE-AHEAD #1 This is great for family dinners or when the actual eating time is uncertain. Make the Mac n Chicken, then refrigerate right in the pot. When it's time to serve, move the pot back to the stove. As it warms up, add some milk to loosen the sauce again and to compensate for the sauce that the pasta has soaked up. As soon as it's hot and bubbly, serve it!

  • MAKE-AHEAD #2 This version is the closest to Straight from the Pot and the way I take Mac n Chicken to a dinner somewhere else. Cook the noodles and sauce ahead of time but, this is key, don't combine the two quite yet. Bag them up separately; I use freezer bags for both but any refrigerator container will be fine. (To prevent sticking, toss the warm pasta with a tablespoon of vegetable oil or butter before bagging it.) Once ready to serve, combine the pasta and sauce in a large pot, heat until hot and bubbly!

What's In Mac n Chicken? Pantry Ingredients!

Mac n Chicken, just your best Mac n Cheese with chicken, with protein ♥ KitchenParade.com. One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep. Recipe, insider tips, nutrition and Weight Watchers points included.

  • Pasta – Kids love elbow macaroni (that's the "mac" in Mac n Cheese) but other shapes work well too, just avoid flat noodles that tend to clump together into dense layers
  • Cheesy Sauce – Just a little butter, flour, milk and cheese
  • Cooked Chicken – Yep, a rotisserie chicken works here.
  • Cooked Sweet Potato – This is an optional ingredient but definitely serves a purpose.

Is Sweet Potato Necessary?

Mac n Chicken, just your best Mac n Cheese with chicken, with protein ♥ KitchenParade.com. One-Pot Comfort Food. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Long-Time Family Favorite. High Protein. Great for Meal Prep. Recipe, insider tips, nutrition and Weight Watchers points included.

My Mac n Chicken includes some cooked sweet potato. At first, it happened by accident, just using up some leftover sweet potato. But I ended up loving the addition and now include sweet potato on purpose.

So leave the sweet potato out if you like. That said, it's not without purpose. Here's how:

  • COLOR Sweet potato adds color that looks a lot like cheddar cheese! Even a half cup of sweet potato makes a difference color-wise, giving the Mac n Chicken the familiar appearance of a box of ordinary KD, aka Kraft Dinner. A full cup of sweet potato gives a super-cheesy appearance.
  • SWEETNESS Sweet potato also adds a slight sweetness that kinda-sorta replaces that cloying sweetness in processed cheese like Velveeta.
  • BULK Sweet potato adds bulk to the sauce, that means you need less milk and less cheese.

Ha! But apparently adding vegetables to Mac n Cheese is a habit around here. At A Veggie Venture, I have two mac 'n' cheese recipes that also include vegetables, Butternut Mac 'n' Cheese and Cauliflower Mac n Cheese!



MAC N CHICKEN

Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Time-to-table: 35 minutes
Makes 7-1/2 cups

Just making Mac n Cheese? Skip the chicken but double the noodles. Usually 16 ounces (454g) of pasta noodles uses up the whole box but check the label to be sure.
    NOODLES, THE "MAC"
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (225g) elbow macaroni, small penne or another sauce-friendly pasta
    SAUCE & CHICKEN
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Cooked and mashed sweet potato (1/2 cup for color or 1 cup for a slight sweetness), optional
  • Freshly ground pepper, be generous
  • 4 ounces (112g) grated cheese (kids prefer cheddar)
  • 1 pound cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces (hello, breast meat from a rotisserie chicken or leftover Thanksgiving turkey)
  • Cooked Noodles

COOK THE NOODLES Choose a large, heavy pot that's large enough to hold the whole shebang. Bring the water and salt to a boil on medium high. Add the noodles and give the pot a quick stir to pull the noodles off the bottom. Cover, adjust the heat to maintain a low boil (you may need to adjust the heat a time or two to avoid the water boiling over) and cook for the time specified on the noodle package. Check for doneness, the noodles should be soft, definitely not that abomination that is al dente, and drain in a colander.

While the noodles cook, it helps to gather the rest of the ingredients: measure the milk, grate the cheese, cut up the chicken. Once the noodles are cooked, it's all going to come together super fast.

COOK THE SAUCE Return the empty but still-hot pot to the stove and add the butter. Set the heat to medium-low, once the butter is melted, stir in the flour with a wooden spoon or a spatula. The butter will absorb the flour and appear all seized up, not to worry, this is expected. Let this mixture cook for just a minute, this cooks off the floury taste, actually cooks what is essentially raw flour.

Now add the milk but not all at once! Instead, add the milk a tablespoon at a time at first, stirring each tablespoon into the flour mixture, letting the flour absorb that tablespoon, before adding another. After a few tablespoons, you can start adding a little more at a time, by the end, you'll dump in whatever's left. How to know? That "flour mixture" is going to become an increasingly milky sauce, once you can add more milk without creating floury lumps, go ahead, add what's left.

Stir in the sweet potato, pepper, cheese and chicken. Increase the heat to medium and let the sauce get really hot, then stir in the Cooked Noodles. Taste and adjust the pepper.

Serve on the spot!

OPTIONAL OVEN If you like, finish the Mac n Chicken in the oven. Transfer the still-hot mixture into a casserole dish that's been sprayed. Bake in a 400F/200C oven until hot and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

OPTIONAL CRUMB TOPPING While the Mac n Chicken is in the oven, brown a cup or so of dried bread crumbs (I use panko) with a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet until golden. Sprinkle these across the top and finish in the oven for another 5 minutes.

MAKE-AHEAD TIPS Yes! There's at least two ways to do this. First, cook both the noodles and the sauce ahead of time but don't combine them until ready to serve. Second, make the sauce ahead of time but cook the noodles just before serving, then stir in the hot sauce. Third, cook both the noodles and the sauce ahead of time and go ahead and combine them; when reheating, you'll need to add extra milk to loosen.

LEFTOVERS heat up beautifully in the microwave but may need additional milk stirred in.

ALANNA's TIPS I cook noodles for Mac n Cheese or Mac n Chicken with way less but quite salty water on purpose, the water comes to a boil faster, the pasta gets lets wet and floppy, it just works. We love the De Cecco brand of pasta and rarely deviate. For Mac n Chicken, I'm partial to the mini penne shape but kids definitely love elbows, that's for sure. Except in a pinch, avoid flat noodles, they just clump together into a cheesy glomp that strikes me as too heavy and dense. For sweet potatoes, my preference is to use Baked Sweet Potatoes, they're moister, sweeter, just lovely. If you're a plan-ahead kind of Mac n Cheese person, bake a few sweet potatoes for dinner the night before. But for the rest of us, you can also throw a sweet potato or two into the microwave, see Delicious Microwave Sweet Potato, just be sure to mash the flesh really well so that it disappears into the sauce, especially with kids around. Believe it or not, a jar or two of sweet potato baby food also works great! For cheese, kids prefer cheddar and definitely appreciate the creaminess of up to maybe 25% Velveeta. For adults, I use something more grown-up-y, a mix of Romano and cheddar, or gruyere. For one especially memorable pot, I used up some odd bits/bobs of cheese in the refrigerator leftover from Christmas; everybody came back for seconds!
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Cup (assumes 1/2 cup sweet potato): 380 Calories; 14g Tot Fat; 8g Sat Fat; 85mg Cholesterol; 204mg Sodium; 32g Carb; 2g Fiber; 5g Sugar; 29g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 8 & PointsPlus 10 & SmartPoints 12 & Freestyle 10

MAKE IT FREESTYLE FRIENDLIER This Mac n Chicken is about as good as it gets, points-wise, for mac n cheese. That said, I do have a few ideas on simple changes that would bring down the points. Substitute 2% or skim milk instead of whole milk. Substitute low-fat cheese. Either skip the sweet potato entirely (since sweet potato doesn't qualify for Freestyle) or substitute cooked butternut squash (which does). Another tactic is to eat a half serving but supplement with healthy steamed vegetables, that way you get that mac n cheese fix (with good protein) but don't go overboard. For portion control, use individual serving dishes. If Mac n Cheese is a trigger food, sorry, Mac n Chicken is so Mac n Cheese-y that it will likely trigger too. Life choices!

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2019

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.

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