For the last 9 months, I have been trying to feed my family fewer processed foods. I haven't given them up entirely, because quite honestly I can't be that extreme. But we've made strides towards doing better. With three small boys, macaroni and cheese (the ubiquitous boxed variety) had been a staple of our diet, and this seemed like a logical place to start.
I spent a fair amount of time trying different recipes for cheese sauce, some were pretty good, some were pretty horrible or very complicated to make. And while these didn't have crazy ingredient lists filled with strange chemicals that you can't pronounce, I wouldn't necessarily have called them nutritious.
Then I happened upon what I consider to be my biggest less processed success... Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese. This is a fairly simple recipe and has the bonus of not only being orange (which was huge for my middle boy who didn't trust the paler less processed mac and cheese recipes), and containing a good helping of vitamin loaded squash. And the kids like it!
Butternut Squash Cheese Sauce
1 small butternut squash
3 cups 2% milk
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I shred my own to avoid the fillers)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp white pepper (can also use black pepper if your kids don't mind it)
1 tsp onion powder
Cut the squash in half and remove seeds. Place the halves on a cookie sheet skin side down and drizzle olive oil over cut sides. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour in a 350 degree over until very tender. Let the squash cool and then cut off the skin or scoop out the cooked squash. Place squash in food processor along with the milk. Puree until you get it as smooth as you possibly can (the smoother you get the squash, the more your kids will be none the wiser). Place pureed mixture in a sauce pan along with cheese and spices and cook over medium heat just until the cheese is melted. If you prefer your macaroni and cheese to be saltier, you may want to adjust the salt, keeping in mind that the sauce may be saltier than you would like on its own because once you add it to pasta the salt is cut considerably.
Use about a cup and a half of the cheese sauce to 1/2 box of whole wheat pasta (shells, elbows, rotini and penne all work well). I then freeze the rest of the sauce in 1 1/2 cup portions in ziplock bags, smoothed flat. The next time I need mac and cheese, I take out a bag of cheese sauce while the noodles are cooking and let sit in a bowl of water. Once the pasta is draining, I add the sauce to the pan and heat up and then add the noodles back in, taking hardly any more time than the boxed variety would have taken. I usually make a double batch of sauce at a time so that I have a stock of sauce on hand in the freezer.
So there you have it... a replacement for that blue box, that my kids love and that has some added veggies snuck in. Give it a try and let me know if your kids like it as well!