A big part of my job as a nutritionist is finding healthy alternatives to classic (not-so-healthy) favourites, like mac and cheese for example. There’s something comforting about the warm, creamy, salty cheese sauce with noodles. Unfortunately, classic mac and cheese is either from a box and full of preservatives, fake powdered cheese, artificial dyes and preservatives, or made with a homemade cheese sauce, which is high in fat and calories.
My healthy version is made primarily of vegetables and no cheese. Sounds gross, but it’s actually a satisfying, nutritious and delicious alternative to the classic mac and cheese. The sauce is naturally orange from the roasted butternut squash (a great source of fibre and beta-carotene), organic chicken stock and nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, nutty, creamy flavour making it a popular cheese alternative for vegans or those with a dairy sensitivity. It’s a complete protein source (8g per 1/4 cup – more than 1 egg!) and a good source of B vitamins (most are fortified with B12) and iron. This type of yeast is safe for those on a candida diet or who are prone to yeast infections because it’s made from a deactivated yeast; therefore does not promote yeast growth in the intestines. It’s available in the organic section of most major grocery stores and health food stores.
I used to shy away from recipes with butternut squash because the thought of cutting, peeling and dicing it was a major deterrent – it’s a lot of work! Never fear, I’ve found an amazing shortcut that you can use for any recipe that calls for butternut squash…pre-cut and frozen! The roasting instructions are the same, and it tastes just as good as fresh. A lot of people feel that frozen produce is an unhealthy choice because it’s packaged, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I buy organic, frozen veggies (ie. corn, peas, broccoli) all the time! It saves times, and the veggies are fresh when frozen and just as nutritious!
Squash Mac and “Cheese”
3 cups frozen, diced butternut squash
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
1¼ cups unsweetened almond milk
½ – 1 cup organic chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
3 cups or half package gluten-free brown rice or whole-wheat elbow pasta, dry
1 cup organic frozen peas, thawed
1 cup chopped vegetable of choice (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, caramelized onion), optional
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium-size bowl, toss squash with oil and minced garlic. Spread squash evenly on the baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. The squash will shrink a bit, and you should have about 2 cups once it is cooked.
If you’re including veggies, chop them up. Depending on what you’re using, you can steam the veggies or leave them raw.
While the squash is cooking, boil your pasta, drain it in a colander, and set it aside (stir in 1 tsp. of organic extra virgin olive oil to prevent it from sticking).
Allow the squash to cool, then add it to a food processor along with the almond milk, stock, yeast, mustard, turmeric and salt. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add more stock for desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pour the sauce from the food processor into a large pot and heat it gently. When the sauce is hot, stir in the peas, cooked pasta and veggies. Cook until everything is heated through.
Serve in bowls and top with grated parmesan cheese, enjoy!