Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe with 2 Servings of Veggies and 9 Grams of Fiber

Butternut squash.

Cheese sauce from blended cheese and cooked butternut squash.

A Favorite Among America Children (And Their Parents Too!)
I would venture to guess most kids in America eat lots of mac and cheese. I know mine did when they were young. It's one of the greatest comfort foods of all times. Unfortunately it doesn't provide the fiber and nutrients that we all need nor does it contribute to the 5 required servings of vegetables per day. I am extremely excited about this recipe because after much experimentation, I figured out a way to make a delicious mac and cheese that provides lots of fiber, protein, vitamin A, calcium AND 2 servings of veggies that your kids will happily eat!
Making a Healthy Mac and Cheese- Step 1
Regular macaroni and cheese is basically pasta made from white processed wheat covered with lots of high fat cheese, butter and cream. It's extremely high in fat and has almost no fiber content or beneficial plant chemicals. The first thing you can do to make it healthier is to use whole grain pasta. Today, there are more and more whole grain brands and shapes to choose from on the market. For this dish, I use whole grain Fusilli but you can use the traditional elbow, shells or whatever whole grain product appeals to you or your children. A serving of whole grain pasta typically provides 5 grams of fiber.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Veggies and Not Know It - Step 2
The next thing you can do to make mac and cheese healthier is to reduce the cheese while still maintaining a creamy, cheesy sauce. This can be achieved by blending a single ounce of a good quality, full fat, sharp cheddar with some low fat cottage cheese and 2 cups of cooked butternut squash. Adding the squash provides 2 full servings of veggies and 3 times the daily requirement of vitamin A per serving. Its bright orange color, an indication of its high carotenoid content, blends well with the color of the cheddar making it a great way to “slip” this important veggie into your kids’ favorite dish!

You Can Go One Step Further
If you are really trying to restrict your fat intake, you can lower the fat content even more by using fat reduced cheddar and 1% low fat cottage cheese. This only reduces the calorie content by 4% but it decreases the total fat an additional 22%, saturated fat by 39% and cholesterol by 33%. But even if you use full fat cheddar and 2% cottage cheese, the recipe still only has a total of 3.8 g of saturated fat and only 20 mg of cholesterol. A small price to pay and it tastes like “the real thing”.


Healthy Mac and Cheese [2 large servings]
4 oz. dry whole wheat Fusilli or other shaped pasta
1/2 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup reserved cooking water from butternut squash
1 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 cup low fat 2% organic cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt plus salt for pasta water
fresh ground black pepper to taste (optional)

If you are going to bake the final dish before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cover the butternut squash with an inch and a half of water and gently boil it, covered, until soft - about 10 minutes. While the squash is cooking, prepare the pasta according to directions. In a small pan, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Drain the squash reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Put the drained squash and reserved cooking water in a blender with the cheddar cheese, cottage cheese and salt and blend until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the drained pasta, the cheese sauce and the cooked onions and gently mix until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce. If warm enough, you may serve it now. Or, you can put it in a lightly greased casserole dish and warm it in the oven for 15 minutes. Serve with freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Per serving using whole fat cheddar cheese and 2% low fat cottage cheese: 404 calories, 9.3 g fat, 3.8 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 18.5 g protein, 63.8 g carbohydrates, 8.8 g of fiber and 250 mg of calcium.

Per serving using reduced fat cheddar cheese and 1% low fat cottage cheese: 387 calories, 7.3 g fat, 2.3 g saturated fat, 13.5 mg cholesterol, 19 g of protein, 64.3 g carbohydrates, 8.8 g fiber and 258 mg of calcium.


Shanti said...

This sounds great except that I'm usually making mac-n-cheese early in the morning to pack for a school lunch ! Do you know if one can cook and freeze butternut squash in small quantities ? Or even better maybe make the whole sauce and freeze?

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Yes, you can cook the butternut squash and freeze it in small quantities. I've never tried freezing the whole sauce but since saving time in the morning is so important, it's worth a try.

Marcia said...

This looks great! I've made mac-and-cheese with butternut squash before, but this cheese sauce looks better.

janet said...

I love squash and this dish looks amazing, thanks for sharing it!

Anonymous said...

I made this tonight for my fussy adult son (does not like squash) and he really liked it. I used no fat Cttg chse and extra old regular cheddar. But the big plus was the elbow pasta - it was Catelli Smart - which has 9 g fiber in 3/4 cup - a significant fiber boost. BTW, he knew about the squash, and was pleased he couldn't taste it!
Great Canadian lover of Cheddar

Shanti said...

I've been making this butternut squash sauce for awhile now. Recently I made sweet potato muffins and had some pureed sweet potato leftover. I used it instead and my daughter just loved the mac-n-cheese. She said it was better than the squash version.
Sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin A and fiber as well.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Great idea! I can't wait to try it.