Healthy Butternut Squash Mac n Cheese

Well it’s January, which means we all eat healthy about 50% of the week but with better intentions. To kick off the new year, I was searching for something crave-able and satisfying that didn’t feel like diet food. I’ve been reading about and this butternut squash mac n cheese for a while now and decided to give it a try. It’s a clever riff on a classic comfort food that’s low on calories and high on fiber, and completely guilt-free!

I learned a few things on my first go here. I cut out the butter and flour from the original recipe and substituted fat free cream and low fat shredded cheese. My sauce to pasta ratio was a bit off and it came out a bit dry so I would add pasta slowly until you have a thick base, almost like a stew-like consistency. I also used a whole wheat rotini instead of the traditional macaroni. Big mistake! Everybody asked “Where’s the mac?!” Finally, I added a vegetarian spicy sausage which I have to say is a DEFINITE KEEPER. The puréed squash provides a surprisingly sweet and luxurious sauce paired with sage flavors of the sausage.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large butternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup fat free cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup aged low fat cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 package Lightlife vegetarian sausage
  • 2 TBs olive oil (for frying and roasting)

Pan fry the entire package of sausage until the chunks are nice and browned. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and drizzle butternut squash chunks with olive oil on baking sheet. Roast for 20-30 minutes or until tender. While the squash is roasting, cook the macaroni according to package directions then drain well and set aside. In a medium sauce pot, add the cooked squash, cream, nutmeg and vegetable broth then use a hand blender to purée to a smooth texture, like a thick soup. Add the sausage, cheese and pasta to mixture and fold together. Pour into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.

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Burn The Needle

I sit here, sewing a broken string from my blue linen blouse with the same needle I used to dig out a nasty splinter that had gorged into my right hand the other day. The thought of this doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m reusing this tool for another necessary purpose. I burned the needle. I sanitized it. And I started again on a new task. It actually feels good.

The multi-tasking of objects and time is nothing new in our household. If it’s not utilitarian or joyful for more than one occasion, then I’m done with it. If it hasn’t seen the light of day in 6 months, or it’s a one trick pony, it goes in the garbage or donation bag. If it doesn’t have a place on the shelf or space in the day as an activity, then I’m not buying it. This is all in an effort to simplify and multi-task. In retrospect, I think this has had both a positive and negative impact on my family. That may not surprise you. I find myself cleaning up too often after the children’s messes, and I am certainly not teaching my son who lacks executive functioning the tools to organize. While my husband’s habits for collecting and accumulating piles has greatly diminished over the last 10 years, sometimes I still find his secret stash. A little shelf hidden in the laundry room or a drawer filled with useless receipts, lollipop wrappers and printed coupons for Malax which you inevitably get when you pick up a prescription at Walgreens. I always toss them. I don’t think he’s noticed yet. Does he just fear my need for organization or does he appreciate a clean desk space like I do??

Let’s cut to the chase. Life with kids is messy. You lose yourself in it. You disconnect from your spouse. You run yourself ragged. You set yourself on a path and when you come back together as a family you really just throw all expectations out the window. You learn flexibility.

I didn’t so much raise the white flag in 2018 as much as I hit the pedal hard when the racing flag was raised. My husband and I focused on our careers which included an often hectic travel schedule for me and “on call” nighttime work hours for him – meaning we’re both always exhausted. Sometimes I miss things, like my birthday. Or his birthday. And I work extra hard to attend kids activities like lunch with mommy in the cafeteria so they don’t feel the burden of that. They still think I sit at home all day dreaming up that night’s dinner. But I’m also learning to balance all of this, and to say NO when I can.

2018 also saw the end of preschool days in our family, and the start of Kindergarten and 2nd Grade. Baby toys got tossed or donated to make room for action figures and a computer for playing Fortnite. Our youngest son broke his arm and was rushed into surgery followed by three days in the hospital. Our eldest went through months of neuropsych evaluations for his IEP at school. The last two months alone have included countless visits to doctors, schools support team meetings, family therapy on the weekends, and even a brief stint with marriage counseling before our therapist moved to Arizona and we realized we didn’t have time for it anyway. My only goal through all of this was quality family time.

Yesterday I burst into tears because I didn’t plan a special New Year’s Eve for the kids. I just wanted to go to bed. I was exhausted. December included two busy work trips for me, hosting a kids party for 60 people at our house, endless therapy appointments, and literally 24-hour nonstop parenting with a kid in an itchy cast that wouldn’t sleep in his own bed, let alone for more than 2 hours at a time. We chose not to travel for the holidays this year. The kids won’t be sharing that they went to Florida or California when they went back to school like most of their friends. It was my one day off and I couldn’t even enjoy watching a dumb TV show because I was feeling the guilt. Would they forget the small joys that we DID gain when we gave family activity-themed gifts under the tree?

I often see Facebook posts of families with kids on the town looking at Christmas decorations or shopping on a bustling street surrounded by strangers, late night dinners at restaurants, children happily sampling new dishes and flavors. I talk to friends who’s kids actually entertained themselves for an entire summer with no plans other than a sports activity twice per week. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I know it’s not my reality. And I guess it kinda hits me hard.

What I’ve come to realize this past year is that my normal is not anybody else’s normal. To compare is totally unfair. We must accept and cherish what we can because we have also gained so much this past year. And even on the worst of days, when you think you have nothing left, there is always a little more to give after having a 2 minute break. Certainly, Robby and I are transparent about our struggles and really open communication is our only salvation. We are dedicated parents. But we accept what is damaged and then use our tools to mend and reframe. We burn the needle.

So while I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, I can share that Asher’s resolution is “to work harder and believe in myself”, Everett’s is “I dunno!”, Robby wants to be more patient, and I’m going to simplify. Worry less about other people’s expectations, and more about my own. I’m really going to use my tools in considering whether something is a ‘big problem’ or a ‘small problem’ to quote our OT, and I’m going to burn that needle between uses.