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This surprising ingredient adds fiber and creamy texture to macaroni and cheese

When cold weather sparks the craving for comfort food, it’s time to nourish and nurture — and to remember that comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthful.

In fact, today’s recipe for Macaroni and Cheese with Winter Squash provides good nutrition. The creamy texture and stay-full-longer effect make it one of my favorite meals.

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Using whole-grain pasta increases the dish's fiber content. Fiber keeps you full longer, and it’s important for maintaining healthy gut bacteria and moving food through your digestive system. In addition, we’ve cut back on the cheese and added pureed winter squash. I'm amazed at how much this adds to the creaminess of the dish without affecting overall flavor. Best of all, winter squash is loaded with vitamin A, which is important for boosting vision and the immune system. It’s also a good source of fiber and vitamin C.

If you have trouble finding frozen pureed winter squash, it's easy to bake and puree your own. Just cut a squash (I like butternut) in half. Seed it and place it cut side down in a 9-by-13-inch pan with a little water. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 90 minutes until it is tender and easily pierced by a fork. Remove the skin and place the flesh in a food processor. Blend well.

Recipes for mac and cheese have been around for centuries. Over the years, pasta and cheese dishes have been topped or merged with everything from veggies to apples to jalapenos, so feel free to experiment. Broccoli makes a tasty and nutritious addition.

I like to prepare a double batch of today's mac and cheese. It freezes well, reheats well and travels well. You can put it in a thermos and take it to work or pack it in the kids’ lunch boxes. It’s cozy food on the go. 

Bethany Thayer is a registered dietitian nutritionist with Henry Ford Health System. For more recipes and health information, visit and for questions about today’s recipe email

Mac and Cheese with Winter Squash

Serves:  8 servings / Prep time:  15 minutes / Total time: 45 minutes

1 (16 ounce) box whole-wheat pasta (penne, shells, spirals)

2 tablespoons butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons flour

2 cups nonfat milk

7 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

¼ cup light cream cheese

2 (10 ounces each) boxes frozen pureed winter squash, thawed

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

Cook pasta according to package directions. While the noodles are cooking, prepare the sauce.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and add garlic and flour. Stirring constantly, heat over medium-high until butter is melted, garlic is fragrant and flour is incorporated.

Slowly whisk in the milk. Continue to stir constantly while cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Slowly stir in small portions of the grated cheese until it is fully incorporated. Slowly stir in the cream cheese until incorporated, then add the squash. The entire process should take about 20 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and, if desired, cayenne. Combine sauce with cooked noodles and serve.

From Henry Ford LiveWell. 

407 calories (30% from fat), 13 grams fat (8 grams sat. fat), 56 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, 380 mg sodium, 35 mg cholesterol, 285 mg calcium, 6 grams fiber. Food exchanges: 2 ½ breads, 2 vegetable, 1 milk, 2 fat.

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