This chicken broccoli pasta recipe is rich and creamy, but still light and healthy. It only takes 30 minutes to make, and it’s so much better than any boxed mac and cheese.
Chicken Broccoli Pasta
There’s a reason that boxed mac and cheese is so popular. You can’t beat pasta shells coated in a cheesy sauce. But as delicious as boxed mac and cheese is, it’s usually pretty simple and very unhealthy. That’s why I love this chicken broccoli pasta recipe. It has everything you love about boxed mac and cheese, but it’s much healthier because it’s packed with lean protein and vegetables. And it has a lot of flavors, too, so it’s far more interesting. And best of all? It’s almost as easy to make as the kind that comes in a box!
Why You’ll Love This Mac and Cheese with Chicken and Broccoli
- Quick. This recipe only takes 30 minutes to make, and it’s a complete meal.
- Healthier. Your body and your taste buds will feel good after you eat this dish. Even though it’s healthier than the boxed version, this mac and cheese recipe is still incredibly creamy.
- Irresistibly flavorful. The cheese sauce is rich and luxurious, the chicken is tender and juicy, and the broccoli adds the perfect element of freshness.
So the next time you’re craving mac and cheese, skip the box and make this recipe instead!
What You’ll Need
Here’s everything you need to make this creamy broccoli pasta. Check out the recipe card at the bottom of the article to see the exact quantities for the ingredients.
- Pasta shells: Medium size is best.
- Broccoli florets
- Olive oil
- Chicken breasts: Use boneless and skinless breasts.
- Pepper: Make sure to use freshly cracked black pepper.
- Milk: I recommend skim milk because it’s the healthiest option, but still tastes rich.
- Chicken broth: Try to use a low-sodium broth/stock.
- All-purpose flour
- Garlic paste: You can also use minced garlic.
- Chili powder
- Cheddar cheese: Pre-shredded cheese works fine for this recipe, though you’ll always get the best results if you shred your own.
How to Make Chicken Broccoli Pasta
Here’s how to make this 30-minute weeknight pasta.
- Cook the pasta. Follow the directions on the box to cook the pasta shells.
- Add the broccoli. When there are 2 minutes left on the pasta shells, add the broccoli to the boiling water. Drain the pasta and broccoli when they’re done cooking.
- Heat a skillet. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Season the chicken. Coat the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
- Cook the chicken. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until browned, which should take about 4-6 minutes.
- Make the sauce base. Add the milk, chicken broth, and flour to a mixing bowl, and whisk to combine.
- Season the sauce. Add the garlic, chili powder, salt, and pepper to the bowl, and whisk until combined.
- Add the sauce. Pour the sauce into the pan with the chicken.
- Cook the sauce. Keep cooking the chicken and the sauce until the sauce is thickened. This should take 2-3 minutes.
- Add the pasta and cheese. Put the pasta, broccoli, and cheddar cheese in the skillet. Cook while stirring until the cheese is melted and the broccoli is heated through. This should take 2-3 minutes.
- Rest. Remove the pasta from the heat, let it sit for 2-3 minutes, then stir and serve.
Tips for Success
Here are some of my favorite tricks and tips for when you make this homemade chicken mac and cheese recipe.
- Salt the water. Anytime you cook pasta, you should always salt the water that you cook it in. This guarantees that your pasta will absorb some seasoning, instead of just being coated in sauce.
- Really brown the chicken. It’s important to really brown the chicken when you cook it. If chicken isn’t thoroughly browned, it won’t have a lot of flavor. Cook your chicken long enough to get a golden brown color on a few sides of each piece. If your chicken isn’t browning, turn up the heat.
- No lumps. Before adding the sauce to the skillet, give it a thorough whisking to make sure there are no lumps. It will be nearly impossible to get the lumps out of the sauce once it starts heating up in the pan, so make sure it’s very smooth before you cook it.
- Add the sauce slowly. When you pour the sauce into the skillet, do so slowly, while whisking. That will keep the sauce from seizing up, clumping, or breaking apart.
Here are some common questions that people have about this recipe.
You can use the broccoli stems for this recipe, but I don’t recommend it. The texture isn’t as good, and I don’t think it works very well with the pasta shells.
I really like the chili powder in this recipe, but it’s optional. If you don’t like spice, you can omit the chili powder from the dish. Or, if you’re a big fan of heat, you can add extra!
I usually make this recipe with just cheddar cheese, but you can use any meltable cheeses that you like. If you want this dish to be a little more like a traditional Italian recipe, add a little bit of parmesan to the cheddar. If you want a super melty and stringy mac and cheese, add some jack. And if you want to make your broccoli pasta taste fancy, add a little gruyere.
My favorite way to eat this chicken mac and cheese is with some traditional Italian side dishes. Here are a few of my favorites.
How to Store Leftovers
- Leftover pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Reheat in the microwave in 20-second increments until the pasta is heated all the way through.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
I love to freeze this recipe because it makes for super easy meals anytime you want them. All you have to do is let the chicken and broccoli pasta cool completely, then store it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost or thaw the mac and cheese fully before you reheat it.
More Quick and Easy Pasta Recipes
I love pasta, and I eat it all the time. If you are also a fan of pasta, then check out some of my favorite quick and easy pasta recipes.
- Creamy Garlic Butter Pasta with Spinach
- Alfredo Pasta with Steak
- Mediterranean Baked Feta Pasta
- Chicken Pasta Primavera
- Shrimp Alfredo Linguine
Chicken Broccoli Pasta
- 8 ounces medium shells pasta, uncooked
- 3 cups broccoli florets
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste, or 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- Cook pasta according to the directions on the box.
- Add broccoli florets to the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside.
- In the meantime, prepare the chicken.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add in the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes or until browned.
- Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, chicken broth, and flour.
- Add garlic, salt, pepper, and chili powder; whisk until well combined.
- Stir the milk mixture into the pan with the chicken.
- Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
- Add in the pasta, broccoli, and cheddar cheese; stir until cheese is melted and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through.
- Remove from heat and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir and Serve.
- Chicken: I use chicken breasts in this recipe, but you can also use chicken thighs. Most importantly, brown the chicken when you cook it. If chicken isn’t thoroughly browned, it won’t have a lot of flavor.
- Shredded Cheese: Shredded cheddar cheese is almost always my choice for this recipe, but this will taste great with any melty cheese you want.
- Before adding the sauce to the skillet, whisk it well and make sure there are no lumps. When you pour the sauce into the skillet, do it slowly while whisking. That will keep the sauce from seizing up, clumping, or breaking apart.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container and keep them in the fridge for 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months.
- Reheat leftovers in the microwave in 20-second increments until warm.
Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.