These Cheesy Shells Are as Easy as They Are Delicious

  • By Jackie Sun
  • February 22, 2015

Cheddary Shells with Chicken and Broccoli | Weeknight Meal #recipe via @CookSmarts

Of all the good things in the world, mac and cheese is up there on the top of the list. Well, in our opinion at least. Although. . .we’re pretty sure many would agree with us!

Unfortunately, it’s also one of those things that, if you eat too much of, you kinda start to feel a little guilty. How is it that pasta and cheese – two amazing foods – can make you feel so good but so bad at the same time?!

After all, it’s so easy to eat a huge bowl in one sitting!

We suppose that’s why people started to add things to plain ol’ mac and cheese, like chicken and broccoli or peas. (Don’t get us started on adding bacon; we won’t go there just yet!) Instead of eating a heaping pile of pasta and cheese, you’re eating half of that in addition to some protein and veggies. That’s a great way to feel better about eating an otherwise carb-heavy dish – cut back on the pasta and cheese, and bulk it up with the healthier stuff.

“This was pretty amazing comfort food. I thought using dijon and sharp cheddar made it a step above normal mac and cheese. What a great way to eat your broccoli.”

Cheddary Shells with Chicken and Broccoli | Weeknight Meal #recipe via @CookSmartsWhich brings us to our version of the classic mac and cheese with chicken and broccoli. You can enjoy all the goodness of a super cheesy mac and cheese, but with half the guilt!

Of course, we’d prefer if you didn’t have any guilt at all. It’s like our Kitchen Hero Aishah says, ”Don’t completely eliminate family favorites. The occasional comfort foods, even if they’re not so healthy, make for a happy family.” [Tweet this quote!]

And you can bet that this dish will make for one big happy family!

“I thought this was going to be boring but, man, it was really good. The mustard is a nice change and even my 16-month-old loved it.”

Leftover Ideas:

  • If you have leftovers and want to add some crunch, put the mac and cheese into a baking dish and sprinkle with some breadcrumbs and parmesan. Bake at 350 F (or 177 C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Use leftovers as a filling for a cheesy frittata.

CookING Smarts:

  • Cook the broccoli and pasta in the same pot for less clean up!
  • Skeptical about nutmeg? If you find the flavor a little strong, always start off with less than the recipe calls for. You can always add more to taste in the end.

Prepping Smarts:

This dish is so incredibly easy to make, with minimal prep work. Here are our videos on how to chop broccoli and tenderize meat for maximum flavor absorption:


How to Chop Broccoli

Watch this video to learn how to chop broccoli for a variety of tasty uses.


How to Season & Tenderize Proteins with a Fork

Maximize flavor and tenderize proteins with this little trick.

Equipment Smarts:

Make sure to use a saucepan that will fit both the pasta and broccoli.

All-Clad 4Qt Saucepan via
Saute the chicken and combine everything together in a handy saute pan.

Buy this 5 quart saute pan from Cuisinart on Amazon
For more kitchen and equipment and tool smarts, visit our ‘Essential Kitchen Cookware and Tools’


1 4

Cheddar Cheesy Shells Recipe with Chicken & Broccoli

Mac 'n cheese with broccoli and chicken is a comforting classic. We promise that the kids will be asking for seconds and the adults are not going to mind this nostalgic dish.

Prep time: 10 min

Cook time: 25 min

Total time: 35 min

Serves: 4


  • Garlic - 2 cloves, minced
  • Broccoli - 1 1/3 lb, chopped
  • Cheddar cheese - 4 oz, grated (~1 cup)
  • Skinless, boneless chicken breasts - 2, chopped
  • Milk (any type) - 1 cup
  • Dijon mustard - 2 tsp
  • Nutmeg - 1/4 tsp
  • Salt - 1/2 tsp
  • Flour - 2 tbsp
  • Pasta, shells - 8 oz
  • Cooking oil - 1 1/2 tbsp



  1. Garlic / Broccoli / Cheese – Prep as directed. (Can be done up to 3 days ahead)
  2. Chicken breasts – Chop into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper and tenderize with a fork. (Can be done up to 1 day ahead)
  3. Make sauce base – Mix minced garlic with milk, Dijon mustard, nutmeg, salt, and flour.


  1. Bring a large saucepan (saucepan should be able to accommodate pasta and broccoli) of water to boil. Salt generously and add pasta. Cook until al dente, tender but not soggy. Add broccoli in the last 1 1/2 minutes of cooking.
  2. When pasta is done, reserve ~1 cup (or 235 ml) of pasta water and drain pasta and broccoli.
  3. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add oil and then chicken to heated oil. Saute for ~4 minutes, until the outside gets a bit golden. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  4. Return pan to heat and pour in sauce base, scraping up any chicken bits that may have been left behind in the pan. Once it starts to thicken from the flour, add in pasta, broccoli, chicken, and cheese. Stir until cheese melts and everything is mixed through.
  5. If the mixture is too thick, pour in some of your reserved pasta water. Keep on adding the pasta water until you get the consistency you want.
  6. Cook until chicken is done and broccoli is cooked to your liking.
  7. TASTE and then season with salt and pepper or a pinch of cayenne or hot sauce. Enjoy!


Our Podcast: Strategies to become a smarter cook


Try our award winning meal plan service for free

Share the love!

Join our community

Enjoy free tips in your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How can we help you in the kitchen?

Join our community

Enjoy free tips in your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign up for the Cook Smarts Newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Privacy Policy: We hate SPAM & promise to keep your email address safe.

Skip to content