Healthy Mac and Cheese

Healthy Mac and Cheese - feel-good comfort food made with a creamy butternut squash and caramlized onion sauce. 350 calories. | pinchofyum.com

No, really. I mean it. Healthy Mac and Cheeeeeese.

Like mac and cheese that is healthy. Noodles with sauce that will secretly give you vegetables. Creamy sauce without boatloads of butter and flour. Favorite comfort food that packs a little nutrition.

Backing up, though. It’s getting to that time of year when WINTER IS TOO COLD. I say that with a massive amount of guilt as I recall the many times that I begged the weather gods to send a polar vortex to the Philippines last year. But we’ll leave that in the past. This is the now, and right now, I’m done being cold.

Also please add this to the list of things I’m done with: having a cold. The bad news is it will not be done with me. Like, come on already justgetoutofhere. And to make matters all the more winter-dramatic, as I was writing this I just used the last Kleenex in the house and sent Bjork a panicked text to please pick up some Kleenex right now. SOS ASAP OMG haaaalp.

When I have a cold//when it is cold outside//when both happen at the same time//all year round any time no matter what, I like to ease my soul with foods like healthy macaroni and cheese.

Healthy Mac and Cheese - feel-good comfort food made with wholesome ingredients for 350 calories. | pinchofyum.com

I’ve been making variations of this recipe for the last few years, but always with extra stuff in it, because, you know, the whole food blog thing.

For example, Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Caramelized Onions, Apples, and Bacon.

Or White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Squash and Toasted Walnuts.

At the moment, I’m getting sort of annoyed of my toasted-walnuts-in mac-and-cheese ways, so I’m giving it to you straight up, in all it’s plain creamy wonderfulness: Healthy Mac and Cheese. No need to fancify. Especially if you’re sick. Which, if you are, please just come over and we’ll eat this and watch the Cesar Milan being the amazing Dog Whisperer and feel glad that just have colds and not red zone dogs. Truth: Netflix and a cold and me left alone for too long can bring out some weird times.

This healthy mac and cheese is perfect for times when you don’t want anything really far outside of the box. Like, literally, nothing too far from the powdered cheese noodle dinner that comes in a blue box. Just maybe a little healthier and homemade. And more vegetables and less butter. Bonus.

If that’s you (and if you can’t tell, it’s definitely me right now), then this is your stuff.

Healthy Mac and Cheese - feel-good comfort food made with wholesome ingredients. 350 calories. | pinchofyum.com

One of my favorite things about this saucy + healthy mac and cheese is the inclusion of a caramelized onion in the pureed sauce. The flavor gets a warm depth to it without the issue of the caramelized onion pieces floating around in there. Heeey now, don’t look at me like that. Because normally I love things like pieces of caramelized onion and maybe when this cold leaves me alone I’ll be back to that sort of bold, dangerous eating. But this is the day where we’re sticking to plain-Jane. No messing around with texture. Just smooth delicious sauce, creamy melted cheese, and noodles to bring it all together.

Healthy Mac and Cheese - feel-good comfort food made with wholesome ingredients. 350 calories. | pinchofyum.com

So if I were to have a bottom line here, it would be this –> make the sauce, cook some noodles, shred some cheese, and be a happy mac and cheese eating person who still fits into a swimsuit. Because summer is coming. I can feel the sun on my face right now. Ready? Here it comes. One two three now. Three two one summer. Ready set go. Sun. Come. Bam. Snap. Poof.

Just… I’ll work on that.

Healthy Mac and Cheese - feel-good comfort food made with wholesome ingredients. 350 calories. | pinchofyum.com

ONE LAST THING. For all my blended stuff, I always have the best results with my Blendtec Designer Series Blender. If you’re in the market for a new grown up blender, this has your name all over it.

4.5 from 24 reviews
Healthy Mac and Cheese
Author: 
Serves: 4 - 1 heaping cup per serving
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni - whole wheat, low glycemic, gluten free... any will work!
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 small butternut squash (4-5 cups cubed)
  • 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup shredded cheese - I like Gruyère but any kind will work
  • parsley for topping
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook the macaroni according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Cut the onion into thin rings and add to the butter in the pan, sauteing over low heat until fragrant and golden, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, remove the skin and the seeds from the squash. Cut the flesh into small cubes. Bring the broth to a boil and add the squash. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, reserving ½ cup broth, and transfer squash to the blender. Add the onions, milk, salt, and reserved broth and puree until completely smooth and creamy. This should yield about 4 cups sauce.
  3. Pour the pureed sauce over the cooked noodles and add the shredded cheese. Stir to melt the cheese; add water or milk to adjust consistency as needed. Serve with parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
Notes
When caramelizing the onions, keep the heat low to prevent burning. The deeper the golden color, the more flavorful they will be.

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Comments

  1. I love the fact that healthy and mac and cheese are in the same sentence! So brilliant to add caramelized onions right into the pureed sauce! I still haven’t tried the whole squash in sauce thang…but this means it’s gotta happen!

  2. I put butter nut in sauces for the natural colour booster and for its sweet taste with out the addition of sugar; this is my fave trick for adding creamy textures to coconut cream free curries too. Fully rooting for this mac and cheese to be at my kitchen table.

  3. Send Out Sissues!!!!!!
    Be well. I’m coughing very healthily ;-)
    No no no. No healthy mac and cheese. Mo nothing except pasta and cheese please. I bought…..looks around to see if anybody’s around..whispers..1lb of cheese..ssshhh…….
    Any case I’ve never caramelised anything and I don’t want onions in my mac and cheese which I’ve only made once in my life.

  4. Oh my gosh Lindsay! Love this! I am so excited that the sauce is made with squash and it look amazing. Where did you find your cute white bowls?

    And so sorry about your cold, hope you get feeling better soon. I’m ready for winter to be done too :)

  5. Who doesn’t want a healthier version of the all time American classic mac and cheese? Looks amazing!

  6. What a great idea, the sauce looks smooth and creamy, this should lift your spirits, hope your cold gets better quickly. Have Bjork pick up the LOTION infused kleenex. Your nose will thank you.

    • OH MY GOSH so funny you would say that – he bought these extremely posh aloe-infused Kleenex for me and they are like silk on my face. I love them so much.

  7. Healthy Mac & Cheese, yes please! I’ve made healthy-ish Mac and Cheese cups before so I know it’s possible to make them healthy. This looks delicious and I’m loving this sauce!

  8. Beautiful pictures, as always! I’m obsessed with butternut squash right now, I’ll definitely have to try this recipe!

  9. I love this healthy mac and cheese – I have a butternut version posted, but it doesn’t have the carmelized onion. Genius! Must add. When my kids were younger, I used to sneak in carrots and they seemed to like it better than plain old mac and cheese! Gotta love it.

    Polar vortex in the Phillipines..lol! Here in the Philly region the snow is bad too. I’ve had enough!

  10. Can you believe I’ve never actually made a proper mac and cheese? Or proper cookies, or a proper layer cake … I have to fix these things! Love the look of this version of m & c with its hidden veggies all pureed into it. Very tempted to give it a try! ‘Perastika!’ as they say here in Greece (get well soon!)

  11. Whoa! This about stopped me in my tracks. Can’t wait to try! I love all the “creamy” sauces you are coming up with from vegetables. Cauliflower, butternut squash… mmm, what’s next? :)

  12. You must have read my mind! I just bought a butternut squash and was trying to figure out what to do with it! Thanks so much.

  13. This is the 3rd post in a row I’ve read where the blogger is sick! Hope it’s not contagious through the inter-webs :) Regardless, I’m going to be making this soon! Delicious, and such a wonderful and healthy idea!

  14. This looks divine! Unfortunately I had to remove all dairy from my diet this year but I will be surprising my hubby with this treat for sure. Great pictures as well (although they are always great on this site), makes me want to dive right in.

  15. Okay, clearly you knew I was craving mac and cheese but also feeling guilty about said craving and refusing to give in. :P

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I may need to use acorn squash (there are three slooooowly ripening in my pantry), but this will definitely appear on my table this week!

  16. Hey Lindsay, have I told you you are a genius? Well, you are a genius… Oh, and hilarious too! ;)

  17. Feel better soon!!!

    This looks soooo yummy – and totally kid friendly! Love that the caramelized onion is in the sauce. My littlest one will truly pick out every single little tiny speck of onion. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s delicious! :) But now … now my kids will never know! Mwahahahaha!

  18. Healthy mac and cheese?!?! YES PLEASE!

  19. Great write up, I was happily entertained. Hope you feel better! Healthy Mac and Cheese, who would’ve thunk?

  20. Yay for healthy mac and cheese, but not for you being sick :( Hope you get better soon and before you know it, it actually WILL be summer. And I will probably still be eating this mac and cheese ;)

  21. Mac and cheese is the ONLY comfort food I want when I’m sick. This looks perfect. (I love that it will help me still fit into my swimsuit too!)

  22. I’ve always been intrigued by butternut squash mac and cheese and this one looks amazing, definitely pinning!

  23. I have a weird obsession with butternut squash, so I’m thinking I need to try this asap. Looks so good!!

  24. I’ve never really been much of a fan of Mac and Cheese, but this actually appeals to me a million times more. I love butternut squash.
    My favourite pasta dish I’ve been making for yonks is actually Macaroni Peas! Where I whizz Peas up in the food processor. It’s . amazing. I’m looking forward to trying yours (minus the butter and cheese. . it’s the whole vegan thing!)

  25. GIRL. I’m in the unpleasant first trimester of pregnancy and food has been tricky. I just made this and OH MAN. Pregnancy gold mine. I don’t want to let myself go, but the only things that seem apetizing to me right now are carbs. I made this recipe with qunioa noodles and hid a heaping serving of sauteed spinach in the bottom of the bowl and it was delicious. Healthy comfort food. Boom.

    • Aw, that makes me so happy. I was actually thinking of all you sicky preg moms out there.. my sister is pregnant and during her first tri she could only stomach cheese and carbs. :) glad you enjoyed it Katy! And congrats!

  26. That looks amazing! I want to eat some right now!

  27. Now this is really looking good, and it has squash in it, genius!

  28. Looks great! And for my vegan readers, this is especially easy to modify. Thanks for the fresh ideas!!

    https://www.facebook.com/TheValleyVegan/posts/10202431225995610?stream_ref=10

  29. This is going to sound so dumb…ready? When do you caramelize the onions? Is that what the butter is for? thanks! can you tell I don’t cook a whole lot?

  30. I hope you feel better. I am living off of soup and pasta lately with all the snow and cold weather. I need spring to arrive soon.

  31. This looks amazing, defo need to give this sauce a try!

  32. I have got to try the squash as a cheese sauce. Mac and cheese has never looked so good!

  33. I read this after coming home from work today (sick with the cold as well) and just HAD to make this for supper. Only, I didn’t have squash on hand – just half a head of cauliflower. I am not sure if you maybe have a cauliflower mac n cheese in your ebook but it sure works out fantastic!! I loved the caramelized onion taste.
    I assembled this in a baking dish, sprinkled with Italian bread crumbs and broiled the whole thing for a bit.
    Even my KD hating husband devoured this mac n cheese.

    • Yes I do have something similar in the ecookbook! It’s less like a mac and cheese and more like a Velveeta shells and cheese, if we’re getting technical… :) Glad you guys liked it!

  34. Love trying to make this more healthy. My family loves my mac ‘n cheese and I use coconut milk as a substitute. I will have to try this version. thx for sharing.

  35. Oh noooo!! Go away cold, leave Lindsay alone!!! It’s enough you has to suffer through the Minnesota arctic cold snow, but giving you a cold bug on top of that? Not fair!! :( But the bright sunshiny color of your mac ‘n cheese is amazing. So pretty and warm. And caramelized onions are basically my favorite thing ever (well, amongst others), and the fact that you added them AND butternut squash to the cheesy sauce so I practically get a double serving of veggies? Brilliant. Totally brilliant. Pinning for sure!

  36. Hope you feel better! I’ve had a cough that won’t quit… hoping the weather turns warm soon so everyone’s sniffles hit the road.

    I made mac and cheese tonight (before reading this)… it was super basic and super cheesy. But I love it with roasted butternut squash, yum!

  37. Being pregnant I crave mac and cheese daily. So finding a healthier recipe is right up my alley especially after the baby is born! :)

  38. What a fantastic idea to add some caramelized onions. I can only imagine what it does to the taste of this. Cause you know, caramelized onions are da bomb! YUM!

  39. I love the caramelized onion idea, too. There’s nothing better than that! Thanks!

  40. Your right! I could not even tell it was made without a boat load of butter!

    Have you ever thought of using a Kombocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin?) They tend to be really starchy in texture as well as sweet in taste!

  41. So…it’s 369 calories for the ENTIRE recipe? That is AMAZING!! I made your Mac and Cheese with Apples and Bacon and loved it. Loved! I was really afraid of it, because I do not like squash (scarred for life as a child), but I think it’s the only way I’ll make it anymore. It’s a BOWLFUL of yum! ;)

  42. I wanted to like this recipe, really I did. I’m always trying to get my family to eat more vegetables. I couldn’t get most of my kids to even try it and my husband and I added balsamic to ours to give it more depth. I felt like the butternut way overpowered the cheese and I couldn’t even taste it in there.

  43. Delish. My 4 and 2 year old sons scarfed it down and they don’t like squash. Great recipe!

  44. I am so going to make this for my younger daughter who, like most kids, runs when she hears the words “healthy” or “vegetable” She loves mac and cheese – maybe I can slip another veg in without her noticing.

  45. Allison Harpring says:

    You should enter this in the “Mac and Cheese Mania” event that Rachel (from Rachel Cooks) and Brandy (From Nutmeg Nanny) are doing.

  46. Stephanie says:

    Please tell me where you got those bowls? They are so cute!

    I can’t wait to make my own healthy Mac and cheese.

  47. Jennifer says:

    Made this last night – yum! My daughters (11 and 10) also thought it was great, but they told me not to call it Mac-n-Cheese. :)

    I also cheated and used frozen butternut squash as I has some on hand. It was super easy and super delicious! I’ll definitely make it again!

  48. Lindsay, this is the second recipe from POY that I tried and it was fantastic! My husband and I flipped for the flavor of the sauce and my picky preschooler too scarfed it down. I would probably add some veggies to it next time. Maybe some broccoli and peas. Thanks and do please keep posting healthy vegetarian recipes :)

  49. Hi! Sounds amazing! Do you think it’ll work with sweet potato instead of butternut squash?

  50. Tried this recipe this evening. Awesome meal meal! Thanks for sharing.

  51. I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and I may be a tiny bit obsessed with it! I love how conversational you are in your writing. I have made a list of stuff that I want to try and I cant wait!

    I made this a week or so ago and I still can’t get over how delicious it was, even as leftovers! I cant wait to make this again! I do have a question though, can I substitute prepackaged/pureed squash instead of pureeing my own? Any thoughts??

    • Thank you Ally! I think you could. I used to make it all the time with canned squash, which sounds nasty but it was a great organic brand that did vegetable purees. I think it was Farmer’s Market. Good luck!

  52. I was surprised by how good this recipe is! I made this last night, and even the pickest of my kids ate it with no complaints. I served it in individual little crocks with toasted panko on top, and it was delicious. Will make again!

  53. Sounds yummy! My toddler is obsessed with mac and cheese and not so much with veggies. Go figure huh!? Would this sauce freeze well? Maybe without the shredded cheese?

  54. Another great dish my boyfriend and I are lovin it up!!

  55. How crucial is the cheese to this recipe? Obviously it’s not mac and cheese without cheese, but is the sauce still good without it, or does leaving out the cheese have a negative impact on its deliciousness?

  56. Just tried this one – another winner!! As an RD I am always looking for healthier ways to make recipes (although I was happy this was not another “dry” healthy mac & cheese rendition especially for my hubbies sake!). So I was expecting my 4 1/2 yo non-noodle loving daughter to hate it, and she did at first, but only because I put pepper on it (who knew??), the second try was a great success:) I especially love the onion in it and think I might add a smidge more cheese for my lil picky eater. My “eats just about everything” 2 1/2 yo asked for 3rds, My skeptical hubs also went for more and I after not being well or eating much for 2 days thoroughly enjoyed it!!! For the next recipe I cannot wait to try the new salad you posted – right up my alley of a busy full-of-flavor salad!!! Thanks:)

  57. Machelle says:

    My daughter asked me to find a healthier version of my Mac and cheese that used a ton of butter and processed Velveeta cheese for her son who will be two in July. I found your recipe and I will never make Mac and cheese any other way. It is delicious and there is no way a child would know how healthy it is! KUDOS! I will be using and recommending your blog to everyone,

  58. My fiance has been craving mac & cheese, but we’re trying to eat healthy and drop some pounds before the wedding. This sounded like the perfect solution…and it most definitely was! The caramelized onions are what make it so delicious. I modified it just a little bit…I used whole wheat shell pasta, a vidalia onion, a bag of frozen butternut squash, and almond milk for the milk. I also added some nutritional yeast to give it a little bit of extra cheesy taste. Fabulous! Really great idea!

  59. This mac and cheese recipe looks amazing! I will absolutely have to give it a try. I have a recipe on my blog that is a different variation but I am always looking for new ways to spice it up! Thanks!

  60. Lindsay, this recipe is AMAZING! I made a batch for dinner tonight (and saved the leftovers for lunch the rest of the week :p) and it totally surpassed my expectations. I am officially hooked on Pinch of Yum!

  61. Made this recipe for the 3rd time tonight. I love love love it. So tasty and creamy and simple.

  62. Loved this recipe, thank you! I took a few variation liberties to make it Gluten free… And although I used cheese, I used Almond milk for more flavour, and coconut oil instead of butter. I also added a third of raw garlic bulb diced, and some paprika.

    Also, after I stirred in the cheese, I topped it with another thin layer and gluten free cracker crumbles, then broiled it for a few minutes.

    Thank you for creating such a nutritious version of a favourite! Next time I’ll use Daiya cheese and make it gluten and dairy free!

  63. Michaela says:

    I had to tweak this recipe because my shop didn’t have squash. Instead, I used half a can of pureed pumpkin. I skipped the whole butter and onion step because I didn’t know how the onion would mesh with the pumpkin flavor. Then, because the pumpkin was already pureed, it was just a matter of adding half a cup of chicken broth to a saucepan of pumpkin, milk, salt, a big pinch of nutmeg, a normal pinch of garlic powder, and then adding the shredded cheese as it warmed, to melt the cheese. Added the pasta at the last minute and voila! Thanks for this recipe, looking forward to trying it your way once I can track down some squash!! :)

  64. I loved this recipe. I was craving Mac n cheese but really trying to eat healthy. I added a little crushed garlic to the onions and used almond milk. This was simply amazing. It was also my first time trying butternut squash.

    Thank you for the recipe.

  65. HOLY DELICIOUS! I made this recipe for my family and even my 11 month old loved it. It’s so silky and indulgent but doesn’t make you feel heavy afterwards. It’s totally worth taking the time to caramelize the onions for the amazing sweetness it adds. A total win!

  66. Lindsay, this was absolutely AMAZINGGG!

    You have no idea how scared I was trying this LOL! But, I was sooooo happily surprised by the squash (first time cooking with it). I think this version of mac and cheese compared to traditional mac and cheese is more flavorful!

    Thank you for the recipe!! This definitely going into my usual rotation!

  67. Christy Hoffman says:

    Made this for dinner tonight and it was a great success with husband and twin 2 year olds. We had a little laugh though because as I was putting in the cheese I said to my husband – there’s no way this 2/3 cup is correct, that is not enough cheese! (Can you say cheese lover?) well in went another third cup and then another freely tossed handful. So we are sitting there turning our forks as if we are eating spaghetti because of the strings of melted cheese and my husband says ” sooooo, I think she may have been right about the cheese” … It was delicious, but I think I will be following your measure more closely next time!

  68. Hello from Scotland, where mac n cheese has been adopted as a national dish! I have two daughters, 8 & 4 and the eldest is vegetarian. They adore mac n cheese but also love my butternut squash risotto so I’m going to have to try this on them. Thank you x

  69. Rebecca | FoodFlav says:

    OMG! Totally Delicious and Mouth Watering, Easy Recipe.. Thanks for share.

  70. Just tried this! Awesome! Never had butter but squash and now I’m a fan. Added a little sriracha to cut the sweetness :)

  71. Personally, I love squash as sauce and have made it before. My husband on the other hand, hated this! Refused to eat it =/ My review is that there is too much onion and not enough cheese. Next time I make it, I will do about 1/2 as much onion and a full cup of cheese. Maybe kills the “healthy” bit, but let’s not kid ourselves, this is mac and cheese ;) Thanks for the recipe!

  72. This would taste just as yummy made vegan. I almost didn’t add the cheese. Super yum. I made the sauce earlier in the day and it reheated really well when I added it to the noodles later. Cracked peppercorn is a nice addition also.

  73. Is there a way to delete my email I accidentally posted as my name. I don’t want spammers to use it. Ha ha.

  74. Delicious!! The sauce was a delicious and a perfect consistency. It was nice not to feel quilty about eating a much loved dish. Thanks!

  75. I am not a big macaroni cheese person, I have no nostalgia for it, I don’t get the hype- it tends to be bland and cloying. This was lovely. Now I get why people call it comfort food. And it was so easy to make!

    I did somewhat cheat and add oregano, mustard, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Only tiny bits though. Well, a lot of nutmeg. And mustard. And double the cheese. The point is it was absolutely delicious, really tasty, and it was so cool to see the orange colour. All the macaroni cheese I’ve ever had was white.

    I expected to eat a reasonable portion of this and then freeze the rest. Instead I have a saucepan, a spoon, and it is not going to last another twenty minutes.

  76. This was amazing!!! I absolutely love mac and cheese, but always feel so heavy and blah and regret eating it. Maybe because I eat so much…!

    When I took the lid of the blender and smelled the squash sauce, I wanted to drink it right out of the blender. Seriously. It was so good! I think caramelizing the onions really makes it.

    My bf can’t handle much cheese so I always held off trying it until he wasn’t home for dinner – so last night. But later he tried a bit and really liked it. Because the squash sauce alone is so good, I think I can use almond milk, split a batch in two and put cheese just in one. That should satisfy us both!

  77. As a mom of a macaroni & cheese obsessed toddler, this recipe is a god send! He approves, I’ll be making it for two thanksgiving dinners this year.

  78. had something like this at a pot luck dinner tonight…. looking for recipes… I am not a fan of squash, but this dish was delicious….will try your recipe; I think the version I ate was close to this….it did have home made bread crumbs on top …very crunchy …

  79. Loved the idea but the butternut squash purée was a little bland, trying to think of something to add to it. Any suggestions?

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