Kid-friendly Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese Recipe - Sticky Fingers Cooking
over 1,000 kid-approved recipes coming soon! save your flavorites
Recipe: Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

Recipe: Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

by Erin Fletter
Photo by Liliya Kandrashevich/
prep time
40 minutes
cook time
20 minutes
4-6 servings

Fun Food Story

Skip to recipe

Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

I thought we should make a comfort food classic like macaroni and cheese because ... drum roll, please ... Hello! What is more comforting than a bowl of mac and cheese? It's like a big hug for your belly! I am probably one of the few Americans who didn't eat it or even liked it much growing up. I really discovered it (homemade) when I was in my twenties, and it was a revelation. My girls, of course, cannot eat enough of it! You'll be making this American classic with your kid chefs in a healthier way than typical macaroni and cheese, thanks to the cauliflower. Cauliflower is low in calories, contains fiber, is high in antioxidants and nutrients; it's even considered a Super Food because it contains phytochemicals that help prevent cancer. There! I've justified why families should all eat more Cauliflower Mac and Cheese!

Happy & Healthy Cooking,

Chef Erin, Food-Geek-in-Chief

Fun-Da-Mentals Kitchen Skills

  • grate :

    to reduce food, like a carrot, to very small shreds or pieces of the same size by rubbing it on a tool with an outside surface that has holes with cutting edges (a grater).

  • mince :

    to chop into teeny tiny pieces.

  • simmer :

    to cook a food gently, usually in a liquid, until softened.

Equipment Checklist

  • Large pot
  • Colander
  • Cutting board + kid-safe knife
  • Grater
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Large saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Measuring spoons


Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

  • 8 oz dried macaroni (about 4 C cooked) **(for GLUTEN ALLERGY sub gluten-free/nut-free elbow pasta)**
  • 1 1/2 C cauliflower (about 1/4 small head)
  • 2 C cheddar cheese, grated **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub dairy-free/nut-free pre-shredded cheese, like Daiya brand)**
  • 1 C heavy cream **(for DAIRY ALLERGY sub canned white beans, if no legume allergy present, puréed with can liquid + olive oil—more info below)**
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt + more to taste
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper + more to taste

Food Allergen Substitutions

Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

  • Gluten/Wheat: Substitute gluten-free elbow pasta for macaroni.
  • Dairy: Substitute dairy-free/nut-free pre-shredded cheese, like Daiya brand. For 1 C heavy cream, substitute 1 C of canned white beans (if no legume allergies) puréed with can liquid + 2 T olive oil.


Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese

cook + drain

Cook 8 ounces of dried macaroni to al dente, about 1 minute less than the package directions, and then drain and set to the side.

mince + grate

Mince 1 1/2 cups of cauliflower into teeny-tiny pieces. Then, grate 2 cups of cheddar cheese.

simmer + melt + cook

Add 1 cup of heavy cream to a large saucepan on your stovetop and simmer over medium-high heat until it is thick and bubbly and has reduced by half. Next, stir in the grated cheese and minced cauliflower and cook until the cheese has melted and the cauliflower is tender.

measure + taste + adjust

Measure and add 1 pinch of nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 pinch of black pepper. Taste the cheese sauce and adjust any seasonings if more is needed.

add + stir

Turn off the heat under your saucepan and add the cooked macaroni. Stir it all up with one hand—it’s that easy!

Surprise Ingredient: Cauliflower!

back to recipe
Photo by Tetiana Maslovska/

Hi! I’m Cauliflower!

“I'm a vegetable with a head full of flowers—actually, flower buds. I'm a cauliflower, and my florets (also called curds) are a tight bunch! They are often white, but you might see cauliflowers with green, orange, and purple heads. We also have a variety called Romanesco broccoli (they like to be different), which is green with spiral, spiky-looking florets! Cauliflower is a great gluten-free substitute for a pizza crust, and you can make a yummy, low-carbohydrate version of mashed potatoes with me, too!"


  • Cauliflower is a cousin of kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, collard greens, and broccoli. These vegetables (including cauliflower) are descendants of the same wild vegetable called "Brassica oleracea." Brassica oleracea is native to the southern and western coasts of Europe (find these areas on your map!). 
  • Over several generations, farmers have selected different features of the Brassica oleracea. From these selections, each of the original species' modern-day relatives was born: cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, collard greens, and cauliflower. 
  • These modern-day vegetables are called cultivars. They are different varieties of the same original plant bred to have desirable qualities for human purposes—in this case, to eat!
  • Cauliflower is quite a noble vegetable. History tells us that the French King Louis the 14th demanded that cauliflower be present at every feast.
  • China is the largest harvester of cauliflower in the world. China produces an estimated ten million tons of cauliflower and broccoli per year. 

Anatomy & Etymology

  • The head of the cauliflower (what we eat!) is actually undeveloped flowers! It's true! Each flower is bonded to its neighboring flower so that together, they form a tightly-packed head of "curds."
  • Cauliflowers can be purple, green, orange, yellow, or white!
  • Cauliflower develops coarse, green leaves that grow in a rosette shape. The leaves are attached to the stalk, which is centered and sturdy enough to hold the cauliflower's large, heavy white head.
  • These giant leaves grow up and over the cauliflower head to protect it. Cauliflower will stay white if farmers "blanch" it or cover the heads to shield them from the sun. When cauliflowers are the size of tennis balls, farmers cover them with their biggest outer leaves and tie them at the top. Farmers give the cauliflower leaves a haircut at harvest time and trim the huge leaves closer to the cauliflower head. 
  • If cauliflower heads are not covered as they grow, they will turn dull yellow. Yellow cauliflowers actually have MORE vitamins than white cauliflower because the sun has allowed the heads to develop phytonutrients or special plant vitamins. Heirloom varieties of cauliflower are naturally bright purple, green, or orange and are also high in phytonutrients.
  • Cauliflower is a bit of a picky vegetable. It doesn't like to grow in too hot or too cold temperatures. It also prefers a very comfortable environment free from pests like insects (as we imagine, would most veggies and fruits!). Cauliflower is especially prone to insect infestations. 
  • The word "cauliflower" may be from the French "chou-fleur" or from the Italian "cavolfiore," which both mean "cabbage flower." 

How to Pick, Buy, and Eat

  • Cauliflowers are picked when they have reached the expected size and texture.
  • When buying cauliflower, look for compact heads where the curds (individual florets) are not separated but tightly packed together. Avoid heads that have blemishes or spots on them.
  • Store raw cauliflower in a paper or plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.
  • Cauliflowers can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled. (They're delicious pickled!)
  • You can sauté cauliflower leaves in butter (just ask Nigella Lawson!).
  • You can also rice cauliflower florets or curds by pulsing them in a food processor for a great low-carb alternative to white rice.


  • One cup of raw cauliflower has more vitamin C than an orange!
  • Cauliflower has quercetin, a pigment that helps protect our veins and arteries, the tubes that transport our blood!
  • Cauliflower is high in fiber, which helps us digest our food. 
  • Our bodies are basically giant collections of cells. Every organ, every inch of skin, every body part is made up of millions of invisible cells that each have their own job in keeping us healthy. 
  • Antioxidants are nutrients that clean our body's house to keep our cells happy and healthy. Fruits and vegetables provide these antioxidants, and cauliflower is an excellent source, keeping our internal house clean and healthy

History of Mac 'n Cheese!

Photo by Elena Shashkina/
  • Pasta and cheese recipes were first in 14th century Italian and medieval English cookbooks. A more modern recipe was found in a 1769 English housekeeping book. So how did macaroni and cheese become such a popular American dish? The prevailing story involves Thomas Jefferson, the third US president. Is it way too gouda to be true?! 
  • The story says that Thomas encountered macaroni and cheese when he traveled to Paris and northern Italy in the 1700s. He sketched the pasta and took detailed notes on how to make it. Then, in 1793, he sent an American ambassador all the way to Paris just to purchase a pasta machine so he could make his own macaroni. After a year of waiting, the device was finally brought back to Jefferson, and guess what?  It didn't work!
  • But Jefferson did not give up. He started importing dried macaroni pasta and Parmesan cheese from Italy to serve at his dinner parties at his home in Virginia. In 1802, Jefferson served the very first macaroni and cheese dish at a state dinner, which he named "a pie called macaroni." It was considered an exotic and fancy meal. As far as we know, this was the first time anyone in North America ate mac 'n cheese.
  • At that time, mac 'n cheese was considered a cuisine of the upper-class. However, Thomas Jefferson had slaves who cooked for him and his family. These slaves made this "fancy" dish their own, and mac 'n cheese became and remains a staple southern "soul food" dish. 
  • About two decades (20 years) after Jefferson served the first cheese pasta dish at his dinner party, a recipe called "macaroni and cheese" was published in the 1824 cookbook called The Virginia Housewife. A distant cousin of Jefferson's, Mary Randolph, wrote it. 
  • During the Great Depression in the USA in the 1930s, Kraft Foods created a boxed version: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. As a result, mac' n cheese became affordable and accessible to all Americans, and it has been one of America's most popular comfort foods ever since.
  • July 14 is "National Mac and Cheese Day!"

Let's Learn About Soul Food!

Photo by Antwon McMullen/
  • Soul food is a cuisine developed by people from Africa who had been forcibly brought to the Southern United States to work as slaves for wealthy plantation owners. These enslaved people took some of the foods and recipes they cooked for their masters, like macaroni and cheese, and made them their own. They also took the provisions they were provided for their own meals, such as cornmeal, turnip, beet, and dandelion greens, and unwanted, leftover cuts of meat, and elevated them with seasoning and cooking methods learned in Africa.
  • Soul food has African, European, and Native American influences. 
  • Some of the other staple soul foods are black-eyed peas, sweet potatoes, fried catfish, and in Southern Louisiana, red beans and rice. 
  • The expression "soul food" originated in the 1960s when the word "soul" was also used to describe African American music and culture.

Lettuce Joke Around

How does a cucumber become a pickle? 

It goes through a jarring experience!

That's Berry Funny

What do you get if you cross a sheepdog with a rose? 

A Collie-Flower!

That's Berry Funny

What kind of flowers should you NEVER give to your Mom on Mother’s Day? 


Lettuce Joke Around

Customer: "Excuse me, waiter, is there Mac 'n Cheese on the menu?" 

Waiter: "No, madam, I wiped it off."

Shop Our Cookbooks

Now available on Amazon! Our cookbooks feature kid-tested recipes that build confidence in the kitchen. Expand your child's palate and spark a love of healthy foods with a Sticky Fingers Cooking cookbook.

Subscribe to the Sticky Fingers Cooking mailing list

Subscribe to our newsletter, The Turnip, to receive exclusive discounts and updates, insider tips + tricks from our awesome team, and instant access to the Sticky Fingers Cooking Starter Kit for free!

Simply the zest!
Katie from Denver just joined a class