Healthy Mac and Cheese may sound like an oxymoron but it is possible. Our Clean version of this childhood classic is not only gluten and dairy free, it’s an approved meal for the 21-Day Clean Program. We often feel deprived while cleansing or following special diets so what can be better than a comfort-food fix to keep you motivated while actually maintaining your results?
Healthy Mac and Cheese Breakdown
We encourage you to avoid processed foods (even gluten free ones) but rice, buckwheat, or quinoa noodles in moderation are completely acceptable for your daily meals whether you are on a cleanse or not. In this recipe, we are using quinoa pasta -- it’s fast to cook and has a similar texture to classic pasta. Although it tastes like a starch, quinoa is technically a nutrient-dense seed. It’s a complete vegan protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids for maintaining healthy muscles.
The “cheese” in this healthy Mac and Cheese isn’t cheese at all...sigh. We know, one of the hardest foods to give up on the cleanse is deliciously creamy cheese. While cheese is delicious, it commonly causes inflammation and bloating in our bodies -- not exactly Clean eats. Finding a substitute that hits the spot for this umami craving can help curb the emotional cravings that crop up when we’re deprived of this crowd favorite. Cheese cravings are often cravings for fat and umami flavor.
Our Healthy Mac and Cheese is rich in healthy fats from cashew milk, subtle sweetness from butternut squash, and umami “cheese” flavor from nutritional yeast and nutrient dense dulse seaweed. Combined with mineral-rich sea salt, these ingredients can (almost) trick our tongues into thinking we are eating a cheesy satisfying dish.
Why Choosing A Healthy Mac and Cheese Is Best
While you may feel nostalgic for not-so-healthy Mac and Cheese from your childhood days, many of the boxed versions contain a bevy of unpronounceable processed ingredients and often times, you are not even eating real cheese just a clever combination of thickeners, stabilizers, colorings, and milk by-products. This can cause inflammation, acidity in the body, and leave you with cravings for more unhealthy foods.
In our version of Healthy Mac and Cheese, we’re not promising a Velveeta-flavored replica, but we are delivering a deliciously satisfying dish to support our energy, digestion, and cravings that we can feel good about while we’re eating it as well as after we’ve cleaned our plates.
Healthy Mac and Cheese
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1 (8 ounce) box quinoa elbows (or your favorite Clean-approved pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
1 bunch Lacinato kale, stems removed, leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup chopped finely chopped butternut squash
2 cups cashew or almond milk
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon dulse flakes
2 teaspoons sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bring 6 cups of salted water to a boil. Stir in the elbows and cook until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water until completely cooled.
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat then add the onions. Saute until golden brown, stirring occasionally for 6-7 minutes.
Once the onions are ready, stir in the kale, cover and steam until tender.
Meanwhile, peel the butternut squash then combine the butternut and milk in a small pot and cook until tender then transfer to a blender and blend until creamy.
Place the elbows in a bowl then combine with the kale mixture, dulse, and nutritional yeast.
Add enough of the butternut cream to coat all the ingredients well.
Scoop out the mixture into a 9x9 pan then place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then place under the broiler to lightly brown.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Recipe by Frank Giglio
Photography by Lynn Karlin