Everyone is always looking for a way to make our favorite dishes more healthy, whether it’s because we are trying to balance out our diets or we are trying to sneak some fruits and veggies into our children’s meals. Trader Joe’s has successfully done this with their take on mac & cheese by adding an interesting choice in butternut squash.
What is Butternut Squash?
Butternut squash (while technically a fruit) is most typically used in savory dishes. It boasts a great deal of fiber, Vitamins A, C, E and B, but it also has calcium, magnesium and zinc. With just 3 tablespoons of cooked butternut squash, you can get your 5 servings of fruit/vegetables into your day.
Here Trader Joe’s adds it to their mac & cheese, which not only elevates the pasta dish, but also makes it a bit healthier.
What’s in it?
Admittedly at first glance, the idea of butternut squash (typically a sweeter squash) mixed with savory and salty cheese, didn’t sound like the best combination of flavors. But, like most of Trader Joe’s quirky meals, we trusted it and gave it a try. This frozen entree was a hit with my family!
The creamy sauce is definitely rich with the 3 cheeses (gouda, cheddar and parmesan), but the butternut squash adds another layer of creaminess. While you won’t get that stringy, melty cheese pull like you might get in other mac & cheese meals, the butternut squash adds a creaminess and gives it a slightly different texture than traditional macaroni and cheese. The rich bechamel sauce with several spices definitely makes it feel less like a freezer meal, and more like a comfort food that’s been elevated.
I have to say that I am used to typical mac & cheese having the elbow macaroni and I actually love that this changes things up and uses a mezzi rigatoni – which is like a shorter rigatoni. The tubular shape helps hold the sauce well and has a nice chewy texture, which isn’t gummy at all.
How do You Prepare it?
Mac and cheese is typically best heated in an oven, but that being said, this one actually holds up well in the microwave. This makes it even more of a great go to since it can quickly be cooked up. If you are looking for something warm for the fall season, the sage and nutmeg make this a nice seasonal lunch and seems like an indulgent quick office microwaveable meal.
Is it Healthy?
While the addition of butternut squash adds a healthier element, this is far from a healthy version of mac and cheese. The butternut squash helps to lower the calorie count compared to some of the other frozen mac & cheese dishes, but this definitely is not a healthy item. Due to 3 different cheeses, it’s still over 500 calories for this dish. So while we wouldn’t recommend this if you’re trying to lose weight, it might be a good option if you were already wanting to serve pasta and wanted to sneak some added nutrients in.
Does it Pass the Kid Test?
As far as my kids go, they are typically able to tell if something strays from the norm. I will say that while they couldn’t detect the butternut squash, my kids were able to note that there was a spicy element to this. The hint of cayenne and black pepper seem to add that spiciness. While not overwhelming at all, their young taste buds did detect something, which is something just to take note of if you want to serve this to someone who is sensitive to spicy foods.
Trader Joe’s has quite a few offerings in the frozen pasta category, but this is definitely one of their better ones, albeit unconventional. Surprisingly the butternut squash enhances the taste of this dish while giving it a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. At just under $3, this is a good deal for a hearty-sized lunch time meal. While it does claim 2 portions, it may not be enough if there aren’t any other sides. We definitely would add this to our freezer for a quick, yet tasty alternative to regular macaroni and cheese.
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