In the (Lunch) Bag: Mac & Cheese, Please

It’s back to school week which means I need recipes that are as easy to eat as they are to cook. Mac and cheese fits the bill perfectly; it’s easy to make (especially using my shortcut), pretty high in calories (even with my tweaks) and can easily be inhaled even during the craziest of days (which is pretty much every day during the first week of school!). Plus, it is a perfect comfort food when you’re feeling frazzled.

This mac and cheese benefits from the addition of butternut squash. The vegetable adds fiber, vitamin A and a great earthy flavor all while reducing the calories. Here is the “real” recipe which calls for the dish to be bakes in the oven, giving it that awesome crispy brown edge.

Squash Mac & Cheese

2 packages frozen butternut squash, fully thawed

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 tbsp butter, softened (optional)

1 1⁄2 tbsp flour (I use gluten free)

salt, pepper, garlic to taste

3⁄4 cup skim milk

2 cups reduced fat extra sharp cheddar shredded cheese

10 oz pasta, cooked according to package (I use gluten free)

Place thawed squash, broth, butter, flour, and spices into a food processer or blender until smooth. Mix in milk, cheese, and cooked pasta by hand and place in a 13 x 9 pan. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes. 

Easy, right?

Well, not easy enough for me this week. There is a quick and dirty method of preparing this that tastes just as awesome even though it doesn’t have the crunchy brown bits. 

Wanna know the secret?

1) Spray a large slow cooker with cooking spray. Put all of the ingredients in the pot (you don’t even have to thaw the squash or cook the pasta first!). You will need to increase the liquid so that it fully covers the pasta. I usually end up using 14 oz of broth and 16 oz of milk.

I used Cabot's 50% sharp cheddar this time. I just broke it into chunks by hand.

I used Cabot’s 50% sharp cheddar this time. I just broke it into chunks by hand.

2) Turn the slow cooker on “high” and walk away.

3) Stir the pot every 30 minutes or so until everything is melty and soft.

Melty and soft:) Notice that the squash gives it that nice orange color even those I used white cheese!

Melty and soft:) Notice that the squash gives it that nice orange color even those I used white cheese!

4) Unplug and unwind:) 

All packed and ready for action!

All packed and ready for action!

I paired the mac and cheese with some sliced tomatoes and a nectarine (both in season and on sale). It’s rare that I don’t have any greens in my lunch, but I’ll make up for that with breakfast and dinner. Also, since this meal is high in dairy products, I won’t eat much else in the way of dairy over the week. It’s all about balance, baby.

Let the crazies begin. I got this!

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