Kid-Friendly, Healthy, Homemade Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
Ready in about 30 minutes, this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe is full of pumpkin flavor and creamy, cheesy goodness, just waiting to make your dinner easy as pie!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: November 1, 2022
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If you have been searching for Fall-inspired recipes, stop right now, and add this Pumpkin Mac & Cheese to your comforting list of autumn dishes to make before pumpkin season is over.
Who knew pumpkin with macaroni and cheese could taste so good?
I’ll admit that at first, I was skeptical about the combination. But being a somewhat adventurous eater, I was all in for giving it a try. And I’m glad I did!
I found a creamy, cheesy easy 30-minute meal full of vitamins and great taste that is simply divine. It will forever be in my collection of must-make autumn foods. I promise you that you’re going to fall in love with just how tasty it is!
And it’s perfect for making when the days and evenings turn chilly, and we’re craving hearty meals.
The Star Ingredient
With its slight hint of sweetness from the recipe’s star ingredient pumpkin and the inclusion of cheddar cheese and salt-free garlic herb blend seasoning, this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe has everything you could want in a dinner.
Of course, if you’re looking for a little more substance, the sweet and savory elements of this dish also lend itself to adding chicken or bacon.
Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
I like using Tinkyada gluten-free, organic brown rice penne pasta for this pumpkin mac and cheese over corn or bean-based gluten-free pasta but feel free to use any pasta you may have in your pantry. You can also use any shape of pasta. I prefer penne pasta because of the large hole in the center to hold the creamy sauce, but standard shells, large elbows, or any other pasta shape will work in this recipe. For gluten-eaters, any wheat-based pasta will work too!
You’ll add two tablespoons of butter to make the pumpkin cheese sauce. My preference is to use unsalted butter so that I have complete control of the overall taste. Without the added salt in the unsalted butter, the butter’s pure sweet cream taste comes through, and I’m able to add the exact amount of salt that I want in the recipe.
A little all-purpose flour will help thicken the cheese sauce. In gluten-free all-purpose flours, my top choices are Gf-Jules or King Arthur gluten-free, measure-for-measure flour. For gluten-eaters, you can use your favorite wheat flour.
I’ve used 2% milk that we always have on hand for the milk, but you could also use unsweetened almond milk, cashew milk, whole milk, or lactose-free milk in this recipe.
The starring role for this cheese sauce is 100% pumpkin puree! You can use your favorite canned pumpkin puree or make it yourself following this step-by-step how-to.
What could be better than the bold flavor of Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese in your Mac & Cheese?
I can’t talk about this recipe without highlighting the Garlic & Herb Blend seasoning that brings this recipe together. This seasoning blend adds a simple, delicious burst of garlicky flavor combined with the fresh good taste of basil, dill, and parsley in an outstanding supporting role to the pumpkin and cheese to finish the dish. With no unhealthy ingredients or additives, it’s a quick way to add robust flavor to this and so many other recipes!
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I touched on this above, talking about unsalted butter. In cooking, there’s a right and wrong way to use this kitchen seasoning staple called salt. And while I can write a whole post just about salt, getting the right amount of salt in a dish can be tricky. For most foods, salt comes down to personal taste, but it has to do with how and when it absorbs the salt. Here are a few tips:
- As all experienced Italian cooks will tell you, it’s key to add the salt to the water before the pasta when cooking it. Then, use a ratio of one box (or bag) of pasta to one gallon of water and between two to three tablespoons of kosher salt unless you’re making homemade pasta, where the salt should go in the dough, not in the water.
- Add salt at the beginning of the cooking process when cooking vegetables and meat so that it has time to penetrate it.
- When making something that will reduce like sauces, soups, or stews, hold off on adding the salt until the liquid reduces to distribute the seasoning throughout it evenly. By holding off, the salt does not become more concentrated as the liquid reduces.
- Sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to wait until the very end to salt your food so that you get the exact flavor profile you like.
- Lastly, here’s a little tip I learned when visiting the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena, CA, a few years back. When you add salt to anything, you’re just not adding saltiness, you’re adding a compound that acts to magnify the other flavors of your dish, and some of those flavors we just wouldn’t be able to taste without salt.
A sprinkle of the slightly nutty umami (pleasant savory) taste of parmesan cheese raises this mac and cheese above amazing for serving!
Just when you thought this recipe couldn’t get any better. Flavorful and delicious Pumpkin Mac & Cheese is a one-saucepan meal option that makes for easy cleanup too!
This recipe is also freezer-friendly for cooks in smaller households or anyone making lunchbox or dinner meals ahead. Cook the full recipe now (or double or triple it). Then divide the amount you’re not eating right away into freezer-safe microwave-safe containers in portion-size servings for an easy ready to heat and eat lunch or dinner. Before you want to eat it, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight, and heat in the microwave for 2-3 minutes!
Picture the recipe step-by-step...
Do you LOVE Mac & Cheese?
Try these other macaroni and cheese options:
Learn how to adjust the serving size, CLICK HERE
Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
- Can Opener
- Utensils (Measuring cups and spoons, whisk, rubber spatula)
- 1 pound gluten-free Rigatoni or other gluten-free pasta
- 2 tablespoons Butter
- 2 tablespoon gluten-free All-Purpose Flour
- 2 cups Milk 2% or low-fat
- 1 can Pumpkin Puree (15-ounce) about 2 cups
- 2 cups Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese grated
- 1 tablespoon Garlic & Herb Blend
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ teaspoon Parmesan cheese grated
- Prepare pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer (do not boil).
- Whisk in pumpkin puree, cheddar cheese, and the garlic and herb blend. Stir frequently until the cheese is completely melted.
- Gently fold in the cooked pasta — season with salt.
- Serve with Parmesan cheese.
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(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)
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