Healthy Comfort Foods: Macaroni And Not Cheese

butternut-squash-bacon-mac-cheese-3-550I bet your favorite comfort food can be traced back to your childhood! A lunch of thick potato soup. Savory roasts emitting mouth-watering aromas. Mom’s tuna noodle casserole laden with cream and topped with French fried onions. These recipes are typical of dishes family members crave when temperatures drop, but calorie-laden foods paired with a drop in activity that usually marks the end of summer can pack on the pounds by spring.

My way of offering healthy comfort foods to my family has lots to do with my experiences gaining weight over long Chicago winters. The problem grew so serious, I started to panic – until I came up a shopping and meal preparation system that substitutes healthy ingredients for those that pack on the pounds. I feature winter comfort food recipes in my book “Okay, So I Got Fat,” on my website and during my public appearances where I share “cook with the seasons” tips that stress healthy, seasonal ingredient substitutions that also save a bundle on the family budget.

For example, winter squash is the secret ingredient in a family favorite, Macaroni and Not Cheese. Sure, there’s some dairy in the recipe, but it’s not the main ingredient that packs on the pounds. The sunny yellow casserole looks just like the high calorie version. When I prepare it, I never tell my son Benny that squash is the main ingredient, ‘cause he hates squash and I don’t want him to stop cleaning his plate when I serve Macaroni and Not Cheese.

A little fib? It’s worth it: my comforting recipe is loaded with vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system all winter long and this appetizing recipe looks very cheesy. The following recipe for Macaroni and Not Cheese serves between eight and 10 people. Add cooked, chopped chicken to the recipe for an extra winter protein punch and/or to feed a larger crowd. Whether you decide to fess up to your family that they’re not getting “the real thing” is entirely up to you!


  • 2 8-oz boxes quinoa elbow macaroni
  • 1 15-oz can pureed squash
  • 2 cups (8oz package) mozzarella shreds
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 large, minced garlic clove
  • ½-tsp sea salt
  • Black pepper to taste



  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. While the oven heats, cook the squash, milk, minced garlic, salt and pepper over medium heat and stir until smooth.
  3. Turn off the burner and stir mixture until it’s smooth. Pour the mozzarella shreds into the mixture and stir well.
  4. Add the yogurt and mix well.
  5. Set aside the squash/cheese mixture.
  6. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and cook the quinoa macaroni for 5 minutes until it’s eldente (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven).
  7. While the macaroni cooks, lightly coat a casserole dish with the cooking oil of your choice.
  8. Drain the macaroni using a colander, shake off excess water and pour the elbows back into the pot.
  9. Add the squash mixture and mix well.
  10. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes until bubbly. Remove from oven, stir and serve.
  11. Top this surprisingly light casserole with caramelized onions if you like.

Gigi Verrey is an author at “Wilson House publishing”


About The Author: GIGI VERREY is a self-professed nutrition and weight-loss guru and Author of Okay, So I Got Fat, a book about bringing sanity back into the kitchen and available at and Gigi’s lifelong passion for food has led her to try many diets, most of which were impossible to maintain or ridiculously expensive. Friends and family have sought Gigi’s advice on many nutrition-related topics. Her wisdom, organization, and no BS approach to meal planning have helped frustrated people in her universe successfully lose weight and keep it off. Gigi lives in Lake Forest, IL with her husband, their three boys, and two Shih Tzu’s.

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