A healthier mac and cheese recipe using antioxidant-rich butternut squash, super creamy and delicious! The ultimate comfort food, upgraded with good for you ingredients. Ready in 30 minutes!
This recipe was originally published in 2012, the recipe, photos, and text have all been updated and upgraded!
I don't want to live in a world without mac and cheese, therefore, I am more than happy to step up and be the person to test 8 billion variations of mac and cheese, to be of service. to you.
I am such an angel 🙂
How to make mac and cheese a little bit healthier:
Let's be clear, I don't find anything wrong with mac and cheese. I would prefer for you to make homemade rather than the boxed variety because it is real food and truly only takes about 5 minutes longer. Here are some tips to make it healthier:
- Switch up the pasta – There are so many amazing kinds of pasta on the market now, bean pasta loaded with protein, lentil pasta, gluten-free pasta, whole grain pasta. Use whatever you like.
- Upgrade the quality of cheese – I am looking for good quality cheese here. Cheese that comes (ideally) from grass-fed cows, organic if you can find it. I love imported pecorino romano cheese, I've visited the small town in Italy where it hails from and witnessed the cows grazing. Also, it is one of the world's best cheese.
- Add something super nutrient-dense – like butternut squash!
- Reduce the dairy load by replacing the typical milk or cream with a plant-based milk – I used oat milk in this recipe but coconut or almond milk would also work.
- Eat in a relaxed state – Yes, HOW you eat is just as important as what you eat.
INGREDIENTS FOR HEALTHIER MAC AND CHEESE:
- Pasta – any shape and/or type that you like
- Butternut squash – I used fresh but canned or frozen will also work (see notes section in the recipe)
- Cheddar cheese – I used Tillamook sharp cheddar in this recipe and recommend grating your own cheese. Pre-grated cheese is often tossed with de-clumping agents that prevent the cheese from melting properly.
- Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Oat milk – or any milk you like
- Arrowroot starch – or white flour
TOOLS YOU'LL NEED FOR THIS RECIPE:
NUTRITION NERD CORNER 🤓
HEALTH BENEFITS OF BUTTERNUT SQUASH
All meals are made better with the addition of butternut squash, I am a huge fan! Nutty, sweet, creamy, and truly a staple in my kitchen.
Butternut squash is also loaded with good for you nutrients!
- The bright orange flesh is due to the high concentration of carotenoids. Carotenoids can be converted into active forms of vitamin A, a potent anti-oxidant essential for good immune function. Butternut squash contains over four times the recommended daily value of vitamin A in just one serving!
- Carotenoids are fat-soluble antioxidants, meaning they are most efficiently absorbed into the body when accompanied by fat sources, make sure to always consume good healthy fat with your butternut squash, like avocado, avocado oil, or olive oil.
- Butternut squash is also high in vitamin C, also supportive for the immune system!
- All winter squash, butternut squash included, is low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measurement of how a certain food impacts your blood sugar levels. Although squash is a starchy vegetable with higher carbohydrate content it actually helps steady the release of sugar in our digestive system and lessens our glycemic response to meals.
- A good source of fiber, specifically from a unique form of pectin found in winter squash. Ingestion of pectin rich foods has been associated with a greater feeling of satiety.
- Butternut squash contains omega-3 fatty acids – This is not easy to find in the plant world. Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory fats that are essential, i.e. we must get them from food.
This recipe only contains 1/2 cup of butternut squash, I tested it with more and found it to be a bit too sweet for my liking. If a sweeter mac and cheese appeals to you try the recipe with 1 cup.
MORE BUTTERNUT SQUASH RECIPES YOU WILL LOVE!
MAC AND CHEESE MASH UP – ALL THE VARIATIONS:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with just eating this exactly as is, but if you want to spruce it up a little here are some great variations.
- Add more veggies – I LOVE adding cauliflower and/or broccoli to mac + cheese, it's also great with a big handful of spinach, sauteed kale, or sauteed zucchini
- Add protein – crumbled tofu (don't knock it till ya try it!), ground beef, rotisserie chicken, leftover steak, sauteed shrimp, or poached lobster (so fancy!) these are all great protein add in's.
- Add hot sauce – Franks red hot and mac + cheese is potentially one of my favorite combos in the world. Sriracha, garlic chili paste or gochujang are all delicious spicy additions.
- Add fresh herbs – freshly chopped basil on top, fresh thyme swirled into the butternut squash cheese sauce, a scant teaspoon of chopped rosemary – YUM!
- Switch up the cheese – smoked gouda or smoked mozzarella are excellent additions to mac + cheese! Goat cheese, cream cheese, or nutty gruyere, I want all of them!
This recipe is naturally vegetarian and easily modified to gluten-free.
- Gluten-Free – The sauce is gluten-free, just use gluten-free pasta.
- Keto – Replace the pasta with cauliflower florets, you may also need to eliminate the butternut squash.
- Vegan – You could easily replace the butter with coconut oil, replace 1/4 cup of pecorino romano with 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast. The cheddar cheese is a whole other story, I don't eat vegan cheese but if you have one you love give it a try and let me know in the comments if it works.
- Low Fodmap – If you tolerate dairy this recipe is low fodmap.
BEST SIDE DISHES TO SERVE WITH MAC AND CHEESE
To be clear… mac + cheese can absolutely be a complete meal especially if you add in some veggies! But here are some other ideas regardless.
A side of healthy veggies is always a good idea, roasted broccoli or cauliflower or maple bacon dandelion greens would be the perfect side dish for mac + cheese.
I hope you love this recipe healthier mac and cheese recipe! If you make it be sure to tag me, @abrapappa on Instagram so I can see your masterpiece!
Healthier Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- 16 ounces macaroni or any pasta you like
- 2 tablespoon butter ideally grass fed organic butter
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch
- 1 cup oat milk
- 1/2 cup butternut squash puree
- 1 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated or parmigianno regianno cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
- Cook pasta according to directions.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add arrowroot to melted butter and whisk well for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in oat milk and continue whisking until all lumps are gone and oat milk begins to thicken (about 4-6 minutes).
- Add butternut squash puree, cheddar and Pecorino Romano cheese. Whisk well until combined.
- Toss cooked pasta into cheese, squash mixture and stir until all pasta is coated with sauce.
- Taste for seasoning, add salt if needed and finish with freshly ground black pepper.
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