Macaroni pasta gets covered in a silky smooth, creamy and delicious sauce. This vegan butternut squash mac and cheese is wholesome and flavourful and the colour is so perfect, your picky eaters won’t guess the difference!
This recipe was originally published in September 2019. It has been updated for content and photos.
When you have picky eaters to feed, mac and cheese is a sure winner! But this version is one that adults can feel fantastic about too!
With butternut squash as the star, you can feel great about sneaking in nutrients to this kid-friendly dish.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ This was simple, quick and delicious! My 13 yr old niece said it was the best meal she’s had all week! Definitely a keeper. – Traunza
Why you’ll love it
- Wholesome! This dish is unlike most mac and cheese recipes. Instead, it features nutrient-dense butternut squash as the star. Plus, there’s no vegan butter or oil, making it a heart healthy choice.
- Kid-friendly and picky eater approved! There’s something about the yellow/orange colour of this butternut squash mac and cheese sauce that makes children’s eyes light up. Perhaps because it resembles store-bought, boxed varieties. This one is a winner for my boys in our healthy kitchen.
- Delicious! Wholesome food doesn’t have to be boring. This dish is so satisfying, it’s great for adults too!
- Simple to whip up. Okay, it’s not as quick as boxed mac and cheese, of course. But it only requires 9 ingredients (mostly from the pantry) and is ready in just 30 minutes.
Ingredients + Substitutions
Here’s everything you’ll need to make this delicious vegan butternut squash mac and cheese.
- Butternut squash: It wouldn’t be butternut squash mac and cheese without the butternut squash. Choose one that feels heavy for its size, has a hard skin, and is free from bruises. For this recipe, I use a 2-pound squash, or approx. 5 cups cubed.
- Pasta: Macaroni or elbow shape is classic, but if you can get your hands on cavatappi (pictured above) they are quite fun! Any variety will work perfectly fine here, even gluten-free pasta, if needed.
- Nutritional yeast: Adds delicious cheesy and umami flavour to the sauce.
- Cashews: Enhances the creamy and rich texture of the sauce. If you cannot have cashews, blanched almonds are a great alternative. If you need it nut-free, you may use raw sunflower seeds or pepitas.
- Cashew milk: Any non-dairy milk will work fine here, as long as it’s unsweetened. Use whatever plant-based milk you have on hand.
- Spices: Onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and salt enhance the delicious flavour of our cheese sauce.
(This is a summary with step by step photos, full recipe measurements and instructions are in the recipe card below.)
Start by peeling and chopping your butternut squash into cubes. Then bring to a boil in a small pot until a fork tender. At the same time, bring a large pot of water to boil to cook your pasta.
Add the cooked and drained squash with all remaining sauce ingredients to your blender. (photo 1)
Blend until completely smooth, adding a bit more plant milk if needed for consistency. (photo 2)
Cook the pasta to ‘al dente’. Then drain it, return to the pot and add the sauce. (photo 3)
Stir until the pasta is evenly coated with the butternut squash mixture. (photo 4)
Then serve with a sprinkle of vegan parmesan cheese or some extra salt and pepper if you’d like.
Here are some fun ways to change up the recipe:
- Make it spicy: If you’re not serving picky eaters or young children, add one tablespoon of sriracha to the sauce before blending to kick it up a notch.
- Use sweet potato instead of butternut squash, as we’ve done here.
- Make it a baked version. Once mixed with the sauce, transfer to an oven safe dish and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Then bake at 400°F/204°C for 5-10 to brown the top. (Or use the broil setting for 1-2 mins, but watch carefully to prevent burning.)
- For low fat, omit the cashews and replace them with half a cup of white cannellini beans.
- Make it a low calorie version and use spaghetti squash instead of wheat pasta.
- For an Instant Pot version, try our pantry-friendly IP vegan mac and cheese.
- Boost the protein with ground soy curls as we’ve done with our vegan hamburger helper.
Or, check out our avocado mac and cheese!
To make this butternut squash sauce smooth and creamy, you’ll need a strong blender, such as a Vitamix.
If you don’t have a strong blender, add the cashews to the boiling water with your squash chunks. This will soften your cashews and help them blend more smoothly.
As the pasta sits with the sauce, it will continue to absorb it. So, if you plan to have leftovers, reserve a cup of the sauce in a separate container before mixing the rest into your pasta.
To reheat, add the pasta and the reserved sauce to a pan to return it to a creamy state.
If you forget to reserve some sauce, you may add a little plant milk or water to the pan when reheating.
You may freeze the mac and cheese sauce airtight in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. I don’t recommend freezing pasta as it alters the texture and tastes best freshly made.
- Salt your pasta water. Make sure to add enough salt to your pot of water for the best texture and flavour. Here’s a handy guide to help you salt your water perfectly each time.
- If you do not have a powerful blender, add the cashews to the same pot with the squash and cook together. This will soften the cashews and help them blend more smoothly.
More delicious vegan kid-friendly food
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- 450 grams macaroni or cavatappi pasta or your choice, gluten-free if preferred
For the Sauce
For Garnish (optional)
- vegan parmesan cheese
- fresh sage
- smoked paprika
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook your pasta according to package directions for al dente pasta. Drain, return to the pot, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the squash to a small sauce pot, cover with water and boil for 8 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Then drain it and add to your blender, along with all remaining sauce ingredients, starting with ¾ cup of the milk. Blend until smooth, and add more milk if needed for a thinner consistency.
- Then pour the sauce over the pasta, mix well, and serve with any garnish you like. (Reserve 1-2 cups of the sauce if you want to add more on top of each bowl for serving.)
It has a slightly sweet flavour that is similar to pumpkin with a hint of nutty flavour. The nutritional yeast adds a cheesy element.
The flavour of butternut squash does not taste like cheese. It’s naturally sweet and slightly nutty, similar to sweet potato. However, it does a fantastic job of creating the base of this cheese sauce for it’s colour, moisture, and creamy texture.
The butternut squash is strictly used for the sauce in this dish. Spaghetti squash has a stringy texture that butternut does not, so you cannot use it in place of spaghetti. That said, if you want a lighter version of this dish, you may use spaghetti squash to replace the wheat pasta.
Technically, the skin is edible and there is no danger in consuming it. However, texturally speaking, I prefer to peel the squash, resulting in a creamier mac and cheese sauce. Also, the skin CAN be a little bitter, depending on how soon the squash was harvested.