Macaroni and cheese gets a skinny makeover with a creamy butternut squash infused cheese sauce! This healthy mac and cheese is thick and creamy, easy to prepare and the perfect way to satisfy your cheesy cravings without all the guilt!!
Updated: This post was originally published in February 2015. I took new photos and updated the post below to include more information about stovetop macaroni cheese. I also tweaked the recipe to perfection, and added step by step photos to show you how quick and easy this healthy macaroni recipe is to make!
Hi, friends! Totally random, but kind of relevant, question for you – if you could go back in time, would you?
I would most definitely hop into that time machine and be whisked backwards in time. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking, but just the thought of no responsibilities, bills or deadlines is enticing enough. Add on recess, daily nap time, plus a youthful appearance and a metabolism as fast as lightning? I’m totally sold!
I’m not sure I would do a whole lot differently though, other than stop trying to grow up so fast. And, I would certainly be more adventurous and open minded when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Because, as it turns out, adding vegetables (specifically butternut squash) to your macaroni and cheese is the best decision you will ever make in life!
Healthy Mac and Cheese
If you have been on the hunt for a healthier macaroni and cheese recipe, I have the perfect one for you! Not only does this mac have the same great cheesy taste as traditional macaroni, but it also has less calories and fat, plus it sneaks in a full serving of vegetables!
Tender elbow macaroni smothered and covered in an ultra creamy, super smooth, ridiculously cheesy sauce. It is the ultimate comfort food that you can actually feel good about eating! No weird ingredients, preservatives or powdered cheese here!! Just cozy, comforting, mac n’ cheese with a healthy dose of vegetables, nutrients and flavor!
The secret – this mac n’ cheese is made healthy and extra creamy, without the added fat of a traditional cheese sauce, thanks to a super simple, creamy-dreamy butternut squash puree. In case you are thinking ‘squash in my cheese sauce??!’, you are just going to have to try it to believe it! But, get prepared to be blown away, because this sauce is so downright delicious I have a naughty habit of eating it straight from the saucepot with a serving-sized spoon!
Rich, decadent and nutritious, this mac n’ cheese will have you dancing around the kitchen singing “all that jazz”. It’s just that good.
What is the best cheese for macaroni?
For the best tasting macaroni, you should use a blend of at least two different cheeses. However, the more types of cheese you add, the more flavor!
While this recipe uses a combination of sharp white cheddar and parmesan, feel free to get creative and use any mix of cheeses you have on hand or prefer!
- Sharp Cheddar – Cheddar is a staple in American-style mac n’ cheese. It melts easily and produces an appealing cheese pull.
- Parmesan – Freshly grated parmesan is another staple in most macaroni recipes. It adds a delicious slightly nutty and salty flavor.
- Smoked Gouda – Extremely creamy in texture. It’s perfect if you are looking for a more “adult” flavored macaroni.
- Fontina – Semi-soft and creamy in texture with a buttery flavor.
- Gruyere – Melts smoothly with a nutty flavor.
- Mozzarella – Melts great and pairs well with all cheeses.
- Pepper Jack – Semi-soft cheese with a spicy kick.
- Colby Jack – This mild, semi-soft cheese is a classic combination of Colby and Monterey Jack cheese.
- Brie – Soft cheese that adds an incredibly creamy texture and rich taste.
- Goat Cheese – Also known as chèvre, goat cheese is creamy with a unique, slightly tangy taste.
Pro-tip #1: Make sure you purchase a good quality cheese and freshly grate or shred the cheese yourself! Do not purchase pre-shredded cheese as it has a white coating and preservatives that prevents it from melting properly.
Pro-tip #2: Use at least one cheese with a good melting property (low protein and high moisture content). This will ensure your macaroni is creamy with plenty of ooey-gooey glory!
What pasta can I use for mac and cheese?
For the best macaroni cheese, select a pasta shape with plenty of crevices, nooks and crannies to catch and hold as much of the cheese sauce as possible. While long, thin pasta shapes such as angel hair, spaghetti or fettuccine are delicious, they don’t produce the best cheesy mac.
The best kinds of pasta for macaroni and cheese:
- Elbow Macaroni
- Conchiglie (mini shells)
- Radiatore (nugget pasta)
- Farfalle (bowtie pasta)
Healthy-tip: Looking to make this healthy macaroni even healthier? Use whole grain elbow macaroni!
What vegetables can I add to mac n’ cheese?
This recipe already has a full pound of butternut squash. However, you can definitely add more vegetables if desired! To add vegetables, stir them right into the sauce at the same time you add the pasta.
- Broccoli – steamed, blanched or roasted
- Cauliflower – steamed, blanched or roasted
- Frozen Peas – thawed
- Cooked Corn
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Diced Tomatoes
- Caramelized Onions
- Roasted Mushrooms
Can I bake stovetop macaroni?
Absolutely! It only requires two extra steps to transform this stovetop version into baked macaroni!
- Follow the recipe according to instructions:
- Boil the pasta, but slightly undercook it, and reserve pasta water.
- Make the cheese sauce.
- Stop once you have completed step six (do not add the cooked pasta).
- Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the cheese sauce. Stir well to combine. Add in the cooked pasta and stir again.
- Transfer the macaroni and cheese to a greased baking dish. Top with toasted breadcrumbs if desired.
- Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees fahrenheit for 15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. Enjoy!
How to make healthy macaroni n’ cheese?
This creamy stovetop macaroni is incredibly simple to make! With just eight ingredients plus a few pantry seasonings you can create healthier macaroni and cheese right in your very own kitchen!
- Boil water for pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Sauté onions and squash: While water is coming to a boil, heat the butter in a separate large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the squash and season with nutmeg, thyme, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minute.
- Add liquid and simmer: Add in the half-and-half and stock. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Immediately reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the squash is extremely tender, about 20-22 minutes. Turn off heat.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta: Generously season boiling water with salt. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water, and set aside.
- Puree sauce: Once the squash is tender, use an immersion blender to puree the squash and stock mixture until smooth and creamy. Alternatively, transfer the squash mixture to a stand blender in batches and puree until smooth. Return the squash puree to the pot.
- Add seasoning and cheese: Turn heat to low and add both cheeses gradually, 1 handful at a time, whisking until smooth between each addition. Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Add pasta: Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the pasta is coated and combined with the sauce. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
- Serve: Ladle the mac and cheese into individual serving bowls and garnish with fresh herbs and more parmesan if desired. Enjoy!
How to make stovetop healthy macaroni step by step photos:
How long will healthy mac and cheese last?
Leftover macaroni should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Properly stored, it will keep for 4-5 days.
How to reheat healthy mac?
You can either reheat leftover macaroni on the stovetop or in the microwave.
- Microwave (easiest method): Place macaroni in a microwave safe bowl. Add a couple splashes of milk, broth, stock or water. Microwave at 60% power for 3 minutes, stirring halfway through. If macaroni is not completely heated, continue microwaving at 1 minute intervals until heated throughout. The exact cook time will depend on the quantity you are reheating.
- Stovetop: Place the macaroni in a small saucepan. Add a few splashes of milk, broth, stock or water. Reheat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until heated throughout. Add more liquid if macaroni seems too thick.
Can butternut squash macaroni and cheese be made in advance?
While I do not recommend completely making the macaroni n’ cheese ahead of time, you can make the sauce up to three days in advance! Alternatively, you can make the macaroni and cheese completely in advance and freeze it (see instructions below)!
To make cheese sauce ahead of time:
- Make the cheese sauce according to the recipe instructions – puree the squash and stir in the cheese.
- Store the sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- When ready to use, reheat the sauce in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until completely warmed throughout.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the pasta is coated and combined. Serve and enjoy!
Can macaroni n’ cheese be frozen?
This butternut squash mac n’ cheese can be frozen for up to 3 months!
To freeze, prepare macaroni according to recipe instructions and let it stand on the counter until cooled to room temperature. Transfer macaroni to a greased baking dish . Wrap the dish in a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of aluminum foil.
When ready to eat, remove the plastic wrap. Cover the top of the baking dish with aluminum foil and transfer to an oven preheated to 400 degrees fahrenheit. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until heated throughout.
What to eat with macaroni and cheese?
Looking for a healthy side to transform your mac n’ cheese into a full blown meal?
Below are easy and delicious sides to serve alongside macaroni:
- Salad – garden salad, chopped salad, caesar salad or kale salad
- Tomato Salad
- Oven Roasted Mushrooms
- Roasted Vegetables
- Easy Caramelized Onions
- Sauteed Spinach
How many calories in macaroni and cheese?
Traditional mac and cheese can contain up to 700 calories per serving. This healthy stovetop mac and cheese recipe serves eight and has 325 calories per serving.
What are you waiting for? Get into the kitchen and eat yourself skinny with this healthy macaroni and cheese!
Until next week, friends, cheers – to macaroni with a healthy makeover!
The best Healthy Mac and Cheese recipe👇
Macaroni and cheese gets a skinny makeover with a creamy butternut squash infused cheesy sauce! This healthy mac and cheese is thick and creamy, easy to prepare and the perfect way to satisfy all your cheesy cravings without all the guilt!!
Recipe can be scaled up or down by using the slider if you hover your mouse over the number of Servings.
- 1 Pound Elbow Macaroni (or small dry pasta of choice)
- 2 TBS Unsalted Butter
- 1 small Yellow Onion - grated (about heaping 1/2 cup)
- 1 Pound Butternut Squash - peeled and 1/2-inch dice (about 3 1/2 to 4 cups)
- 1/2 scant tsp EACH: Ground Nutmeg, Dried Thyme & Smoked Paprika
- 1 ½ Cups Half-and-Half
- 1/2 Cup Low-Sodium Vegetable or Chicken Stock
- Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper , to taste
- 1 ½ heaping Cups Grated Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (about 3 ½-4 oz.) (SEE NOTES)
- 1/3 heaping Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese - plus more for serving
Boil water for pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Sauté onions and squash: While water is coming to a boil, heat the butter in a separate large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the squash and season with nutmeg, thyme, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, for 2 minute.
Add liquid and simmer: Add in the half-and-half and stock. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Immediately reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook until the squash is extremely tender, about 20-22 minutes. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta: Generously season boiling water with salt. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water, and set aside.
Puree sauce: Once the squash is tender, use an immersion blender to puree the squash and stock mixture until smooth and creamy. Alternatively, transfer the squash mixture to a stand blender in batches and puree until smooth. Return the squash puree to the pot.
Add seasoning and cheese: Turn heat to low and add both cheeses gradually, 1 handful at a time, whisking until smooth between each addition. Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add pasta: Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the pasta is coated and combined with the sauce. Add some of the pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
Serve: Ladle the mac and cheese into individual serving bowls and garnish with fresh herbs and more parmesan if desired. Enjoy!
- To save time on prep, purchase already peeled and cubed butternut squash from the grocery store. (It can be found in the produce section of most major grocers.)
- Make sure you purchase a good quality, sharp cheddar cheese for this recipe. And, shred the cheddar yourself! Pre-shredded cheese has a white coating and additives that prevent the cheese from smoothly melting. I used a sharp aged cheddar.
- Use the small holes on a box grater to finely shred the cheese.
- The butternut squash cheese sauce can be prepared a day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Nutritional information is an approximation and based upon 8 servings.
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