This mac and cheese with carrots from Melissa Clark is not only delish but it’s also kid-friendly. If you’ve been searching for ways to get more veggies into your kiddos, this might help. Shreds of carrot are easily disguised in a rich, creamy Cheddar sauce and their sweetness only adds to the flavor.
Like most little kids, my daughter Dahlia loves macaroni and cheese, and I‘ve made it for her in many guises, running the gamut of techniques. My aim is always the same — to make the dish quickly with a minimum of fuss, and to use a maximum of vegetables that she will tolerate and not pick out.
This is one of both our favorites. It’s creamy, comforting, crusty-topped, soft-centered, and very cheesy – but not at all sophisticated. Just simple, kid-friendly, homemade food with the added grown-up appeal of lots of healthful carrots tossed into the mix. I got the idea from a chef’s recipe in a glossy food magazine. I decided to come up with my own simplified and ultra-Cheddary version. It was a huge hit with the under-three crowd and their parents, too.
This carrot mac and cheese is a straightforward recipe that comes together without much fuss, other than having to grate some carrots. But to make up for that, I’ve eliminated the need to make a cheese sauce on the top of the stove. Instead, I toss the hot pasta with grated cheddar, butter, sour cream for creaminess, and eggs to hold it all together.
The grated carrots get boiled along with the pasta, so cooking them isn’t an extra step. And the tiny orange shreds look so much like the cheddar that your kids might not even notice they are there. Dahlia certainly hasn’t, and while I’ve never lied to her about their inclusion, I might have left out the word carrot in the dish description — accidentally, of course.–Melissa Clark
Mac and Cheese FAQs
How should I serve this carrot mac and cheese?
This is one of those macaroni and cheeses with an eggy custard base that puffs as it cooks and is cut into squares, like a casserole, as opposed to that gooey, creamy, stove-top béchamel sauce version. Feed this dish to the kids as is; grown-ups should indulge with a squirt of fiery Sriracha or other hot sauce all over the top.
Can I use a different type of cheese?
You can vary the cheese to give this dish more personality. Gruyère, aged Cheddar, pecorino, and aged Gouda will all add a sophisticated allure that will raise it above mere kids’ food.
How can I quickly grate the carrots?
Use your food processor. And while you’re at it, grate the Cheddar with it as well. No need to clean it in between.
Mac and Cheese with Carrots
- 2 cups macaroni preferably whole-wheat
- 2 1/2 cups (about 8 smallish carrots) coarsely grated carrot
- 3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter cut into pieces, plus more for the baking dish
- 3/4 cup sour cream (not low-fat or non-fat)
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400° F (204°C). Adjust the oven rack to the top third of the oven. Butter an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking dish.
- Cook the macaroni according to package instructions, adding the grated carrots about 3 minutes before the pasta is due to be done. Drain the pasta and carrots in a colander.
- Dump the hot pasta and carrots back into the pot and stir in 2 1/2 cups of the Cheddar and all of the butter. In another bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, salt, mustard powder, and pepper, and then fold this mixture into the pasta. Scrape the cheesy pasta into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and the Parmesan.
- Bake the carroty mac and cheese casserole until it’s firm to the touch and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes, then slice or scoop it straight from the baking dish.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Like the recipe writer, I am always open to trying different types of mac and cheese — and I liked the idea of “hiding” a vegetable in the dish for kids. But picky children aside, my fiancé and I loved this recipe as well! It was very easy to put together and very tasty.
I always try to use whole-wheat pasta when available, so that is another good thing about the recipe —substituting whole-wheat pasta in a kid-friendly dish. Kids would never know it was better for them! I used a nice baby Swiss cheese instead of sharp Cheddar. I like the suggestion of trying the dish with aged Gouda; I bet that is delicious as well. This was a great recipe that I would like to try next time with a different ‘hidden’ vegetable…maybe peas?
I admit that I was initially skeptical of this carrot mac and cheese recipe, for the simple reason that the idea of grated carrots in mac ‘n’ cheese sounded kind of, well, gross, and I’ve had lackluster experiences in the past with whole-wheat pasta. But! My skepticism started to dissipate when the smell of baking cheese started emanating from the oven, and then vanished completely with my first bite of the finished product. In short, it’s just delicious.
Once out of the oven, its lifespan was about 20 minutes. The pasta’s wholesomeness is a welcome contrast to the decadence of the cheese, and the slight nuttiness of the whole wheat works well with the saltiness of the cheese and slight sweetness of the carrots. I’m also now a big fan of using this egg/sour cream-based sauce instead of a béchamel — it’s lighter but still creamy.
As a side note, I didn’t have any sour cream, so I substituted some plain goat’s milk yogurt, which worked very well. I also used about one cup more pasta than called for, because the given amount seemed a bit skimpy. Everything still fit into my eight-inch pan, and there was plenty of cheese and sauce to go around. Cheese-wise, I used a blend of raclette, Parmesan, and a bit of Gruyère I had lying around and needed to finish.
Not only is this mac and cheese with carrots an easy-to-follow recipe, but it is also delicious! The carrots added just a hint of sweetness that was perfectly balanced with the mustard and black pepper. It was just delicious. Go feed your inner child some nutritious cheesy goodness and make this recipe now!!
More like a baked pasta rather than a traditional creamy mac & cheese, this is still terrific. The carrots don’t overwhelm the dish, but they add a bit of color and sweetness. There’s just the right amount of cheese, and I really liked the sliceable texture.
This is a good basic mac and cheese recipe, and it’s pretty easy to make, since the traditional step of making a white sauce is eliminated. The carrots blend nearly invisibly into the extra-sharp cheddar I used, and I wouldn’t have noticed them at all if I hadn’t been looking.
I did detect a slightly distracting wheat taste in the casserole from the whole-wheat macaroni, so I think I’d prefer try a different brand next time, but it wouldn’t stop me from making this again. Despite the healthier additions of carrots and whole-wheat macaroni, this is still a pretty rich dish with all the eggs and sour cream and cheese, and I found the serving size to be just a little too large for me. I’ll probably more comfortably get eight servings out of it.
The prep for this carrot mac and cheese dish was so easy. I have not always had success with whole-wheat pasta, but this recipe is a keeper. The instructions are easy to follow and work as written. The resulting macaroni and cheese comes out of the oven bubbly, golden brown, and smelling delicious.
Even though this is the type of mac and cheese meant to be sliced, it’s not at all dry, but creamy. It has a rich flavor, but it’s not heavy. The sharp cheddar adds some tang, but it is not overpowering. It was so good I had three servings myself. No added hot sauce was required. This is a great weeknight go-to you can feel good about making.
I usually avoid recipes for kids that try to hide “good for you” vegetables, as they tend to mask the taste of the vegetables too much for my liking. The color, texture and flavor of the carrots really enhance this version of mac & cheese. This is an incredibly user-friendly recipe, with helpful tips included in the instructions.
This mac and cheese with carrots recipe works well just as it is, but my suggestions help make it a little bit more grown-up. I went for using Gruyere instead of Cheddar; any favorite cheese would also work.
Brilliant advice about using a food processor to shred the carrots, then the Cheddar, without having to clean the bowl in between. I’m imagining any other dairy product similar to sour cream can be used, if need be, like drained yogurt, creme fraiche, or mascarpone.
Next time I’ll skip the butter, use a grainy mustard, and substitute breadcrumbs for some of the Parmesan. It comes out of the oven in a molten state, so make sure to let it rest a bit before serving, especially with children!
This Carroty Mac and Cheese is a great diversion from the regular mono-colored varieties out there. I’ve never been averse to adding vegetables to my mac & cheese. This version has a nice color and great flavor. We had some pretty fussy eaters over this past weekend, and this stuff did not last! The sriracha sauce is a very good recommendation for those who like a bit of a kick. Try the Sriracha. One note, if you’re going to serve six with this, four of them should probably be children — better yet, double the recipe!
Loved the idea of the carroty mac and cheese, especially for getting veggies into the kids. The custard-like mac and cheese is the basic form of mac & cheese with a nice crunchy top. It had a very buttery top, and I ended up sopping up some of the excess butter with a paper towel before serving.
This mac & cheese was enjoyed by all ages, and I have to say, no one was fazed by the carrots. The adults enjoyed it with the Sriracha sauce on top.
Originally published January 2, 2012