beer and butternut squash mac and cheese

I think some foods are sacred.

I’m a big fan of health-ifying recipes, but some foods are just not meant to be touched by the hand of a calorie counter. Chili dogs. Shamrock shakes. Bisquick biscuits. And yes, the perfect grilled cheese. I think healthy eating is all about moderation and part of that moderation is honoring the perfectness that is the unhealthy, fat-filled, caloric glory of certain comfort foods on occasion.

Macaroni and cheese used to be one of those foods.

The only previous BTHR macaroni and cheese recipe is a traditional one that includes both bacon and brie. It’s amazing, but definitely not the kind of macaroni and cheese you eat everyday. Which was fine by me. I’d much rather indulge in a brie-filled mac and cheese dish occasionally instead of suffering through the sacrilege that is most of the “healthy” mac and cheese recipes out there.

That is, until Babyface read me the new menu at one of our favorite restaurants. One of the menu items was a macaroni and cheese made with my favorite beer in the whole wide world, Upland Wheat. The light bulb went on and for the first time, I thought I might be able to make a healthy mac and cheese recipe and balance out the healthiness thanks to the addition of booze. Win!

So I got to Googling for healthy mac and cheese recipes, and it seemed that using butternut squash as the base for the cheese sauce was the way to go. The boiled squash turns creamy and smooth once it is run through the blender (much like it does in soup) and serves as a mild and nutty base for a small amount of cheese. Plus, it’s the right color. And we all eat with our eyes, so having the brightly yellow, creamy mac was important.

We were totally bowled over by how decadent and interesting the end result was. Instead of tasting healthy, it tasted creamy, comforting and cheesy. The beer was a light, but noticeable, flavor in the background that made it more addictive with each bite. And at only 300 calories per serving, we will be making it over and over again. It’s a great feeling knowing that with each serving of mac and cheese, you area also getting a ton of Vitamin A thanks to the butternut squash. Vitamin A is vital to keeping our vision healthy and helps us see better in low-light situations.

Beer and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

by Cassie Johnston

Total Time: 60 minutes

Makes: 16 servings

Inspired by: Upland Brewpub

Adapted from: Cooking Light


  • 2-12 ounce packages whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 bottle wheat beer
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup 0% Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups shredded gruyère cheese
  • 1 cup shredded pecorino romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare two 9 x 9 baking dishes by spraying them liberally with cooking spray.
  2. Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions, omitting fat and salt. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, combine squash, beer, garlic, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is very tender, about 25 minutes. The mixture may begin to separate, this is fine.
  4. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, or a standard blender with the steam vent removed, blend squash mixture together until very smooth and creamy. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and stir in yogurt, gruyère, pecorino romano, and butter until cheeses are melted. Add in elbow macaroni and stir until well-coated. The mixture will be very soupy. Divide the mixture evenly between the two prepared baking dishes. Set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, mix together panko and parmesan. Sprinkle evenly over top of both dishes.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until top is browned and crunchy and sauce is thickened.



What foods are sacred in your book?


  1. says

    A mac and cheese that my husband might actually like? You can never go wrong with beer; )

    I’ve made mac and cheese using canned pumpkin and it turned out pretty good as well. Like the squash, it gives it a creamy rich flavor.

    • Cassie says

      What!? Your husband doesn’t like mac and cheese? That’s crazy! It’s one of my husband’s favorite foods.

  2. says

    This sounds delicious! I also agree, that some foods are not meant to be touched by the calorie counter. And that healthy eating is all about moderation!

    • Cassie says

      I get so frustrated when all I see is “fat free” in light recipes. Use some butter! It’s good for ya. :)

  3. Julie says

    Ha! I was curious about the pub, so I clicked the link you provided – the page presented me with a form asking if I was over 21. I sighed and clicked “no,” and was subsequently redirected to Justin Bieber’s home page. Lol.
    I tried pumpkin macaroni and cheese last Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t horrible or anything, but it left much to be desired :(
    I do, however, love Hungry Girl’s healthy renditions of mac and cheese. I know with her stuff it can often be a hit or a miss, and lots of people don’t like the heavy focus on cutting calories (I felt the same way when I saw a recipe calling for fat free sour cream, which sounded terrible), but I urge you to try her BLT-rific Mac and Cheese – so gooooood and around 200 calories a serving. I think it’s something I would eat for dinner every other week. The Cheeseburger Mac Attack is also pretty great, but I recommend to bake everything in the oven for that one instead of using the slow cooker 😉

    • Cassie says

      Hahahaha! I had no idea that redirected to Justin Beiber. That’s awesome.

      OOOH! The BLT mac and cheese sounds AWESOME. Thanks for the rec!

  4. says

    Risotto. I will use brown or wild rice in just about any other rice dish, but don’t take away my arborio for risotto! It’s just not the same.

    What a good lookin’ recipe! This definitely needs to be tried at our house. :)

  5. Rebecca says

    This looks delicious, I admit I don’t know a whole lot about beer though. More of a wine drinker – so when you say “wheat” I am not sure what to use, do you think I can use a Corona?

    • Cassie says

      Corona would work, but the beer flavor would be a lot less pronounced. Wheat beer is a pretty common type of beer. Most of the bigger names have a version. I know Leinenkugel, Bell, and Shock Top are all available at my grocery store. Just look for “wheat” on the label. :) And drink some, too! It’s goooooood!

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