How to Make Healthy Comfort Food Like Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

healthy mac and cheese

I think one of the biggest ways we set ourselves up for failure when it comes to healthy eating is by focusing on the things we can’t have. Cut out processed sugar. Don’t eat as many carbs. No packaged foods. Cut back on the meat. Cookies are the devil. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Instead, I’ve found that a much more successful mindset is trying to figure out how to add health to our diet. I call it the abundance mindset, and it’s how I approach every meal I make. When you focus on the fact that you get to eat all these veggies and whole grains and fruits and other good-for-you things, healthy eating suddenly doesn’t feel at all restrictive.

So let’s apply the abundance mindset to a classic winter comfort food—mac and cheese. Instead of removing stuff from it, how can we “boost” it to be a healthier, better-for-you version that still satisfies that need for something cozy and comforting? There are lots of ways to hack mac and cheese into a healthy dish, but this version is my personal favorite because it still looks exactly like the “real” stuff—thanks to a bright-orange sauce made from puréed butternut squash.

The squash adds in a ton of healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals, thickens the sauce without cream, and makes the color bright orange, just like the stuff from the box. (Which, trust me, as the mom of a toddler, I can tell you is pretty darn important.) Combine the butternut squash with a few other healthy swaps (whole grain pasta, milk instead of cream, and just a touch less cheese), and you’ve got yourself some healthy comfort food! Serve it with a giant salad (abundance mindset, remember!), and maybe some lean protein, and that’s a winter dinner that everyone will be happy about. Enjoy!

Stovetop Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Makes 6 servings

butternut squash mac and cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree (see notes)
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded Colby cheese
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 pound whole grain elbow macaroni or shell pasta, cooked and drained

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add in the squash puree and milk, and heat until hot, being careful not to boil, about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, stir in the cheeses until melted. Season to taste.
  3. Add in the cooked pasta, and stir until all pasta is well coated. Serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes

  • Either make your own squash puree by roasting a whole squash and smashing it, or take the easy shortcut and buy frozen squash puree from the frozen vegetable section at your supermarket.
  • Reserve a little bit of the pasta cooking water to help loosen up the sauce if it gets too dry; the starch in the cooking water keeps it from going liquidity.

Nutrition Per Serving

441 calories, 13.2g fat, 61.7g carbs, 18.4g protein

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Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends!