Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken

A steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese is pure comfort food. Mix in some cooked chicken and broccoli, and you have a complete meal. These Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken are creamy, cheesy pasta at its best.

Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken - Mac and cheese with a nutrition boost! | Kristine's Kitchen

Macaroni and Cheese. The ultimate comfort food. When it’s cold outside, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a bowl full of warm, cheesy pasta. The only problem is that on it’s own, mac and cheese doesn’t make much of a balanced meal. Sure, you can roast some broccoli or make a salad to go alongside, but how about instead boosting the nutrition of the mac and cheese itself?

Enter these Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken. Here we have four food groups all rolled into one cheesy plate of deliciousness. There’s lean protein (from chicken breast), vegetables (broccoli), whole grains (whole-wheat pasta), and dairy (I was tempted to classify cheese as a food group all its own, because to me, it kind of is!). And how amazing are cheese-smothered broccoli and chicken?

Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken - Mac and cheese with a nutrition boost! | Kristine's Kitchen

I made this recipe for six because leftover mac and cheese makes a perfect second-day dinner or lunch. Yes, I intentionally make more food than we need for dinner just so I can have the next night off from cooking!

These Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken work well as a make-ahead meal. If you happen to have time in the afternoon (naptime, moms?), you can prep the casserole and then bake it until hot and bubbly in the evening when you’re ready to serve it. Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken - Mac and cheese with a nutrition boost! | Kristine's Kitchen

This would be a great dish to serve when entertaining families with young kids as well. All you’d need to add is a green salad for the adults and some fruit for the kids. The entire meal could be prepped ahead of time, leaving you to visit with your guests.

Finally, might I suggest that these Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken would be a great way to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey?  Cooked turkey breast would be a great substitute for the chicken in the recipe.  Enjoy!

Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken - Mac and cheese with a nutrition boost! | Kristine's Kitchen

Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken
 
A steaming bowl of macaroni and cheese is pure comfort food. Mix in some cooked chicken and broccoli, and you have a complete meal. These Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken are creamy, cheesy pasta at its best.
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 6
Ingredients
For the casserole:
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 10 oz. (dry) whole-wheat shell pasta
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 ½ cups milk (lowfat or a combination of lowfat and whole)
  • ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. dijon
  • 2 ½ cups (about 10 oz.) grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 ½ cups chopped cooked chicken breast
For the topping:
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs*
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
Directions
Make the casserole:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and boil for 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli to a colander, keeping the water in the pot boiling. Rinse broccoli under cold water and drain.
  3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. Drain and return to the empty pot.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and then the minced garlic. Cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Whisk in the milk. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until it comes to a low boil and thickens, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper, and dijon. Then stir in the cheddar cheese, a little bit at a time, until it melts into the sauce. Stir in the Greek yogurt.
  5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta in the pot. Add the cooked broccoli and the cooked chicken and stir to combine. Pour into a baking dish.
Make the topping:
  1. Stir together the breadcrumbs and melted butter and sprinkle over the top of the casserole. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Check after 12 minutes and cover with foil if needed to prevent the crumbs from over-browning.
*To make homemade breadcrumbs:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a food processor, process 4 slices whole-wheat bread until you have fine crumbs. Lay crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the preheated oven until dry and very lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes to help crumbs brown evenly. Extra breadcrumbs can be stored in the freezer.

Source: Kristine's Kitchen.

Cheesy Shells with Broccoli and Chicken

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