Mac and cheese with spinach is a delicious and healthier twist on classic comfort food. It’s a dish that combines creamy, cheesy macaroni with the added health benefits of spinach.
I love making this mac n cheese with spinach ahead of time and baking it right before serving. Recipes like this are a lifesaver for busy moms!
This post was originally published in 2014 and updated in 2023 with new text, images, and an adjusted recipe to make the make and cheese even creamier!
My classic homemade mac and cheese recipe is amazing as is. It’s loaded with 3 different kinds of cheese, is incredibly creamy, and is simply delicious!
But, I can’t wait for you to indulge in this mouth-watering spin on my classic recipe. It’s loaded with spinach for extra nutrition and diced ham to make it a hearty main dish!
Spinach mac goes perfectly with a green salad with made-from-scratch French dressing, homemade croutons, and garlic parmesan rolls. It actually goes really well with any veggie. Some of my favorites are roasted parmesan green beans, green peas with bacon, or tomato herb salad.
Table of contents
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
There is so much to love about this recipe! I mean really, who doesn’t love pasta dishes?
- Nutritious and Delicious: It’s surprising how much fresh or frozen spinach you can squeeze into mac and cheese without anyone complaining! It’s an easy way to add extra nutrition to your meals!
- Quick and Easy: It only takes about 20 minutes to make the mac n cheese and then about 20 minutes to bake it.
- Make Ahead: Being able to make this casserole ahead of time makes it even easier than opening a box of Kraft mac and cheese and making it! I make it earlier in the day, or even the day before and bake it right before serving. It makes meal times smooth!
Ingredients Needed for Spinach Mac and Cheese
Although this recipe calls for quite a few ingredients they are pretty simple. Let’s go over some options for substitutions just in case you don’t have everything on hand.
For the mac and cheese and spinach
- Elbow Macaroni: You really can use any kind of noodles you like. My favorites are the ones that have grooves to hold all the cheese sauce!
- Half and Half: Whole milk also works great.
- Butter: Use real butter. It’s so much better than other options!
- All Purpose Flour
- Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and mustard powder.
- Cream Cheese: Use full-fat cream cheese. I mean, we’re obviously not trying to keep the fat content down in this recipe!
- Shredded Cheese: Use a combination of cheddar cheese, mozzarella, and gouda. Any good melting cheese will work. Just use what you have on hand.
- Spinach: I like using fresh, raw baby spinach. You can also use frozen spinach. I prefer frozen spinach from the bag instead of from the box because it’s loose and doesn’t take as long to thaw.
- Diced Ham: Any kind of diced ham will work. I love freezing ham and then pulling it from the freezer to use in recipes like this.
For the panko topping
- Panko Crumbs: If you don’t have panko crumbs you can use crushed butter crackers (like Ritz) or other kinds of crackers.
- Parmesan Cheese: Fresh grated or the kind from the bottle.
- Butter: Use real butter.
- Italian Seasoning: If you don’t have it use dried parsley.
Don’t let the number of steps scare you! This recipe is pretty darn easy to make! Let’s walk through how to make it!
Step 1 – Chop spinach. Use a knife to chop the spinach into little pieces. Or, if using frozen spinach go to step 2. Set aside.
Step 2 – Cook pasta to al dente (the noodles will still be a little bit chewy) according to package instructions. Drain and rinse. The macaroni will get softer when it bakes.
Step 3 – Make the white sauce. Melt butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to make a paste. Add seasonings and whisk. Gradually add half and half and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer until the mixture is thickened.
Step 4 – Add cheeses. Add cream cheese and stir to combine. Add grated cheese. Stir until combined.
Step 5 – Add spinach, noodles, and ham. Remove from the heat and add cooked macaroni noodles, diced ham, and spinach. Stir to coat. Add spinach macaroni and cheese into a greased baking pan. Set aside.
Step 6 – Make the crumb topping. Melt butter in the microwave. Add bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Stir. Sprinkle over mac n cheese casserole.
Step 7: Bake the mac and cheese at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. The topping will be crispy and golden brown and the cheeses will be gooey and melted! Let cool for about 5 minute. Serve.
Tips for Success
I’ve made this recipe a million times and it ALWAYS turns out! Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way!
- Spinach: Chop raw spinach before adding it to the macaroni so that kids can’t pick it out. You can also add the spinach to the pasta during the last few minutes of boiling if you want to cook it before baking. Some people like to sauté the spinach first, but that’s too much hassle for me!
- Baking: This recipe is perfectly fine to eat straight from the stovetop. You can leave off the crumb topping and completely skip the baking step if you are in a hurry. Kids really love this dish that way. I prefer it baked.
- Parchment Paper: Line the baking dish with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
Make Ahead Instructions
- Make the mac and cheese and put it in the baking dish.
- Cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for up to two days.
- Increase the baking time to 30 minutes. Bake when you’re ready to serve
How to Store Leftovers
- Refrigerator: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freezer: Freeze unbaked mac and cheese for up to two months. Line the baking dish with parchment paper. Add the mac and cheese. Freeze. Once the casserole is frozen remove it from the baking dish and store it in an airtight container or zip top freezer bag. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking. Or, if baking straight from the freezer increase the baking time to about one hour. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the dish and the thickness of the mac and cheese.
- To reheat: Microwave individual portions is the best way to reheat because it keeps the mac and cheese creamy and saucy without drying it out. You can bake it if needed.
I really do love this mac and cheese the way it is! I’m sure you will too! But, if I don’t have all the ingredients, or if you don’t like certain things, it’s fun to switch it up. If you’re looking for good additions to mac and macaroni and cheese be sure to try these out!
- Chicken: Add diced cooked chicken, or rotisserie chicken to keep is quick and easy
- Broccoli: Swap steamed broccoli for the spinach, or use both!
- Spicy: Use pepper jack cheese and add hot sauce.
- Onions: Add sauteed onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.
- White: Use all white cheeses to keep the sauce white. It’s pretty when it’s all white, but I always have cheddar on hand and I love it!
More Spinach Recipes
I’m crazy about adding spinach in mac and cheese and just about everything else too! It makes me feel like a healthy and responsible parent!
- Spinach Grilled Cheese
- Spinach Mashed Potatoes
- Spinach and Lemon Orzo
- Chicken Spinach Tortellini Soup
- Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Spinach Pull-Apart Bread
Cheddar is the best cheese to add to mac and cheese because it melts well and has great flavor. Mozzarella cheese melts well. Gruyere melts like cheddar but has a nutty flavor.
It’s worth spending a little extra time to grate your own cheese because pre-grated cheeses have an anti-caking agent to keep them from clumping. It prevents the cheese from melting well.
Adding a layer of grated cheese or breadcrumbs to the top of the mac and cheese helps keep it from drying out.
You can cook the spinach before adding it to the mac and cheese to ensure that it’s fully wilted and won’t release too much moisture into the dish. You can sauté it in a little bit of olive oil or steam it until wilted. I do not cook the spinach before adding it to the mac and cheese because it’s chopped finely and wilts as it bakes.
Mac and Cheese with Spinach
For the Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces elbow macaroni noodles
- 1/2 cup butter
- 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups half and half
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1 cup cheddar cheese shredded
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1 cup gouda cheese shredded
- 2 cups finely chopped fresh spinach
- 1 1/2 cups chopped ham
Panko Bread Crumb Topping
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
To Make the Mac and Cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta. Reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook pasta until al dente, or until the pasta is still a little bit chewy. The pasta will get softer as it bakes.
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and continue cooking and whisking until it forms a paste. Add mustard powder, garlic powder, and salt. Whisk.
- Gradually add half and half while whisking the flour mixture. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the mixture is thickened. Add cream cheese. Whisk until combined.
- Add grated cheese and whisk until smooth.
- Remove from the heat and add macaroni, chopped spinach, and diced ham. Stir to coat.
- Pour in a greased 3 quart dish.
To Make the Crumb Topping
- Melt butter in the microwave. Add panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Stir to coat. Sprinkle evenly over the mac and cheese.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
- Add broccoli, asparagus, or other veggies instead of spinach.
- Use different kinds of cheese.
- Add grilled chicken or bacon instead of diced ham.
- Other types of pasta are fun to use.
- Refrigerator: Store leftover mac and cheese in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freezer: Freeze mac and cheese in and airtight container for up to 2 months. The mac and cheese can be assembled, frozen, and then baked later. Or, freeze leftovers.
- Reheat: Microwave individual portions until heated through. Or, bake mac and cheese until warmed through.