Recipe: Butternut Carrot Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese needs only three things to be great: creamy sauce, toothy noodles and melty cheese. But even though the math is simple, those few ingredients, especially when they come from a box, can quickly add up to over 800 milligrams of sodium per 1 cup serving, depending on brand. And depending on how many servings you actually eat.

So that’s the bad news. But here’s the great news: You can still make amazing macaroni and cheese without the box, the processed ingredients or the massive amounts of sodium. Better yet, you can enjoy this rich dish without any guilt and with a hefty amount of fresh vegetables instead. And best of all, you can achieve it with one pot and very little effort or mess. Take that, microwave dinner.

The solution starts with a magical blend of butternut squash and carrots that creates a creamy, cheddar-colored sauce in minutes. Then, because you cook the noodles right in the sauce, the starch from the pasta creates a lazy roux to thicken things up. And finally, a couple of slices of low-sodium Swiss get dropped right in the pot to melt and ooze, and make the whole thing officially cheesy. All adding up to one super macaroni ‘n’ cheese recipe that hits the high notes while staying low in sodium.

Butternut Carrot Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese

Total Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

2 cups cubed butternut squash

1 carrot, ends trimmed and chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons salt-free garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

3 cups uncooked elbow or cavatelli noodles (regular or gluten-free)

1 to 2 slices of low-sodium Swiss cheese

Place the butternut squash, carrots, spices and 4 cups of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and cook until the squash and carrots are soft, about 8 to10 minutes.

Then, use a stand-up or immersion blender to puree the squash and carrots until smooth. Place the mixture back on the stove over medium heat.

Add the noodles directly to the sauce and cook until al dente, another 8 to 10 minutes. Add the cheese and then stir continuously until melted and incorporated, another 3 to 5 minutes. Serve while warm.

Sodium Content: Butternut Squash: 5mg per 1 cup, cubed; Carrot: 42 mg per medium carrot; Low-Sodium Swiss Cheese: 30 to 60mg per slice, depending on brand.

All sodium counts based on the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference release 26 and common marketplace products.

Jessica Goldman Foung began the blog SodiumGirl.com to capture her adventures in a low-sodium life. She regularly writes about salt-free flavor tips and ingredient swaps. Her first cookbook was Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook, and she is currently working on her second, Low-So Good, to be released in 2016.

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