Two amateur cooks explore the world of cooking for a Crohn's and Colitis diet

Fake Mac’n Cheese

Marnina and I enjoy taking traditional, everyday foods and turning them into unconventional creations (see Fake-Sausage Cacciatore and Shepherd’s Pie recipes).  Marnina’s dietary needs and my interest in eating healthy foods have produced some unusual combinations of food.  Just this past week, we made a spaghetti and tomato sauce dish, except we substituted your typical spaghetti pasta for spaghetti squash, which is more tender than it is chewy.

We love comfort foods….and we love butternut squash.  So what is better than combining the two and making a “fake” mac and cheese by creating a cheese sauce with butternut squash?  The squash nicely mimics the color and creaminess of cheese, and it has a milder flavor than cheddar.  The recipe does call for some cheese, and in order to impart some zestiness into the dish (we were afraid the butternut squash sauce might be too mild), we used pepper jack cheese instead of the traditional cheddar.

As much as possible, we try to substitute dairy products (we go through soy milk like it is water) because we both have some problems digesting dairy.  In general, for some IBD sufferers, dairy is one of the foods that can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain, as well as bloating and gas.

Marnina will often try to avoid dairy products when she is not feeling particularly well (and therefore has some temporary acute inflammation in her gut), and this can lead to a temporary mal-absorption of milk sugars.   The digestibility of dairy products can cause the stomach to produce more acid, which will cause pain and inflammation of the stomach lining.  For some IBDers, their body cannot digest the milk sugar lactose in dairy foods, and those people should limit dairy or use an enzyme product, such as Lactaid, to help break down the lactose.

In a study performed by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that dairy foods with a high fat content, such as whole milk or butter, were most frequently reported to worsen perceived Crohn’s Disease symptoms, but the same research study found that dairy products in general had no effect on self-reported Crohn’s Disease symptoms for most people.[1]  It appears that for the general IBD population, high fat dairy foods cause more symptoms than low-fat dairy foods, and the study illustrates the point that there is a highly individual nature of dairy product tolerance in individuals with IBD.  Most IBDers can tolerate dairy as long as they are not flaring. As always, find out what works for you by keeping a food diary.

The inspiration for this recipe and blogpost came from my DC, a blog created by one of Marnina’s former Team Challenge teammates, Rachel.  Rachel is also a young professional living in the DC area. Rachel and Marnina both raised money last June for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, trained for four months, and then ran 13.1 miles together through Virginia wine country (much more on Team Challenge to come in future blogposts!).  While Rachel does not personally have IBD, she is and continues to be very aware of the diseases.  During their many 8:00 am weekend trainings, Marnina often discussed her experiences having Crohn’s Disease with Rachel. She was always interested and eager to learn more.  When Rachel blogged about her faux mac and cheese earlier this summer, Marnina immediately ‘starred’ the recipe and told me that we “had to try it.” It did not disappoint. Thank you to Rachel for sharing this recipe and helping us in raising awareness about IBD and fighting for a cure!

Pictures below, followed by the recipe:

Boiling the butternut squash in soy milk, broth, and garlic until tender

Blending the butternut squash puree with pepper jack cheese

The cooked elbow pasta

Pouring the cream sauce over the elbow pasta

Combining the sauce with the pasta...and adding some extra spices (paprika and red pepper flakes)

Browning the panko

Pouring the pasta mixture into the baking dish, and then topping with the browned panko

The finished product (we added some parmesan cheese right before eating)


  • 1 pound pasta (we used elbow pasta)
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk (we substituted soy milk)
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 2ish cups cheese (we used pepper jack cheese, but you can use a variety of different cheeses)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko


Preheat oven to 375

1. Cook squash, milk, broth and garlic over medium/high heat for 25 minutes or until squash is soft.
2. While squash cooks, bring water to boil and cook pasta.
3. Once squash is soft, pour mixture into blender (or use immersion blender) with cheeses, salt and pepper
4. Mix squash with pasta, adding goat cheese and any additional herbs or spices (red pepper would be good here, or some sage).
5. Spray baking dish with cooking spray.
6. Pour mixture into baking dish.
7. Heat up small amount of olive oil to a pan, and brown panko until golden.
8. Sprinkle panko and parmesan over top of pasta.
9. Bake 15-20 minutes or until bubbling.

Recipe adapted from:

[1] Nolan-Clark, Deborah, Linda T. Tapsell, and Rong Hu. “Effects of Dairy Products on Crohn’s Disease Symptoms Are Influenced by Fat Content and Disease Location but Not Lactose Content or Disease Activity Status in a New Zealand Population.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 111.8 (2011): 1165+. PubMed. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <;.

Comments on: "Fake Mac’n Cheese" (1)

  1. So happy you were able to adapt the recipe! It’s been a blast reading your blog and learning even more about IBD!

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