Spinach Bacon Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
OMG. THIS PUMPKIN MAC AND CHEESE literally became one of my favorite new meals during Pumpkin Week 2020. Both Sidney and I chowed down on it for a few days. Well, Sidney actually shoved it in his mouth in less than 5 minutes, but that’s my son.
It quickly became an AK reader fav, so you know I had to reshare it this fall!
This pumpkin mac and cheese is creamy, cheesy, full of vitamins, and savory with a slight hint of sweetness from pumpkin. I promise you’re going to fall in love with how fabulous it is! The combination of pumpkin, cheddar and parmesan is simply divine.
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Ingredients in pumpkin mac and cheese
This incredible pumpkin macaroni and cheese bake has everything you could want in a dinner: sneaky veggies, a pumpkin cheese sauce and of course, bacon. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Pasta: I like using cavatappi in this pumpkin mac and cheese recipe but feel free to use traditional shells, large elbows, or whatever pasta you have on hand. Your favorite gluten free pasta will work well, too!
- Bacon: the savory bacon adds such incredible flavor when paired with the pumpkin cheese sauce. Of course feel free to omit to keep this dish vegetarian.
- Spinach: who doesn’t love a sneaky boost of veggies? We’re adding plenty of spinach but the kids won’t even notice.
- Butter: you’ll add a bit of butter to the pumpkin cheese sauce and to the crumb topping. Feel free to use vegan butter if you’d like.
- All purpose flour: a little all purpose flour will help thicken the cheese sauce. You can also use whole wheat flour or all purpose gluten free flour.
- Almond milk: I like to use unsweetened almond milk in the sauce but you could also use cashew milk or regular milk.
- Cheese: we’re using both sharp cheddar cheese and grated parmesan cheese because what’s a mac and cheese without multiple kinds of cheese?! I recommend shredding and grating them from a block so that the cheese gets nice and melty.
- Spices: we’re adding salt, garlic powder & freshly ground black pepper to the sauce for the perfect flavor balance.
- Pumpkin puree: the star of the pumpkin cheese sauce! You can use canned pumpkin puree or make your own with this tutorial.
- Panko breadcrumbs: you’ll mix some breadcrumbs with butter to get a deliciously crispy topping. See below for gluten free swaps.
Customize your pumpkin mac and cheese
This healthy pumpkin macaroni and cheese recipe is easy to customize based on your taste preferences! Here are some easy swaps I can recommend:
- Make it dairy free: feel free to use vegan butter, a dairy free milk of choice (like the almond milk listed) and dairy free parmesan cheese & cheddar cheeses. You can also use my vegan cashew cheese sauce and add in pumpkin puree, which I think would be fabulous.
- Keep it gluten free: make sure to use gluten free pasta noodles, a gluten free all purpose flour and gluten free breadcrumbs. More ideas on this below!
- Go vegetarian: simply omit the bacon and make the rest of the recipe as is.
Jazz up your breadcrumb topping
I love a good traditional breadcrumb topping on mac and cheese, but you could also substitute crushed-up tortilla chips, potato chips or even buttery crackers! Using grain or gluten free chips is a great swap for keeping the recipe gluten free as well.
How to make pumpkin cheese sauce
Truly the star of this mac and cheese recipe is the incredible pumpkin cheese sauce. It has sweet & savory elements that you’ll fall in love with.
- Make a roux. In the pan you cook your bacon & spinach in, add butter and place over medium heat. Once it’s melted, whisk in a little bit of the flour and then slowly add in milk, a little bit at a time, alternating with the flour and vigorously whisking away any lumps.
- Thicken the sauce. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and stir every so often, until the sauce thickens up.
- Stir in cheese & spices. Once the sauce has thickened up a bit, turn off the heat and stir in garlic powder, parmesan and cheddar cheese. salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper.
- Add pumpkin. Finally, stir in the pumpkin puree. Your sauce is good to go!
Make ahead healthy pumpkin mac and cheese
- Prep it ahead of time: feel free to make this pumpkin mac and cheese ahead of time and bake it a day or two later! Simply make the recipe as directed, except do not add the breadcrumbs. Instead, cover with foil and place in the fridge until ready to bake. Once ready to bake, add the breadcrumbs as directed and bake. You make need to add 5-10 minutes of extra baking time.
- Freezer friendly option: if you want to make this pumpkin mac and cheese ahead of time, simply make the recipe as directed, except do not bake it with the breadcrumbs on top. Instead, put it in a freezer-safe container pan like these, cover and place in a freezer safe bag until you’re ready to bake. Once ready to bake, thaw out the pumpkin pasta bake in the refrigerator overnight. Once thawed, bake as directed!
You can store any leftover pumpkin macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Simply reheat in the microwave.
More pumpkin recipes to try
Get all of my pumpkin recipes here!
I know you’re going to LOVE this healthier pumpkin mac and cheese recipe! Be sure to leave a comment and rate the recipe below if you make it. Thanks for being here — I appreciate you! xo.
Spinach Bacon Pumpkin Mac and Cheese
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Creamy pumpkin mac and cheese with savory bacon and a boost of veggies from spinach. This easy pumpkin mac and cheese bake is filled with delicious pumpkin spice flavors for a sweet and savory dinner the whole family will love!
dry cavatappi (or shells, or whatever pasta you have on hand, even gluten free!)
- For the pumpkin cheese sauce:
all purpose flour (or whole wheat flour or all purpose gluten free flour)
unsweetened almond milk (or cashew milk or regular milk)
finely grated (not shredded) parmesan cheese
shredded sharp cheddar cheese
salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- For the topping:
shredded sharp cheddar cheese
panko breadcrumbs, gluten free if desired
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Spray a 2-quart baking dish or 9×9 inch or 11×7 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease with olive oil or butter.
Boil the noodles until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Once done cooking, drain and place in a large bowl.
Cook your bacon: Add bacon to a large skillet or pan and place over medium heat, cook bacon on both sides until crispy and golden brown. If the pan starts to smoke at any point, simply lower the heat. I always cook my bacon on medium low heat. Once bacon is done, blot with a paper towel to absorb excess grease, then chop into bite sized pieces and transfer to the large bowl with the noodles
Drain the grease from the bacon pan, then place the same pan over low heat and cook your spinach: add spinach to pan and cook until spinach wilts, the spinach will absorb any of the small amount of grease remaining on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and transfer to the large bowl with the noodles and bacon.
In the same pan, add in 2 tablespoons of butter and place over medium heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in a little bit of the flour and then slowly add in milk, a little bit at a time, alternating with the flour and vigorously whisking away any lumps. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and stir every so often, until the sauce thickens up.
Once the sauce has thickened up a bit, turn off the heat and stir in garlic powder, parmesan and cheddar cheese. salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper. Finally stir in the pumpkin puree.
Add the pumpkin cheese sauce to the bowl with the pasta, bacon and spinach. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir well to combine, then pour mixture into your prepared baking pan and spread out. Top with remaining ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese if you like extra cheesiness!
In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with melted butter. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture on top of casserole and bake for 25 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serves 6.
Prep it ahead of time: simply make the recipe as directed, except do not add the breadcrumbs. Instead, cover with foil and place in fridge until ready to bake. Once ready to bake, add the breadcrumbs as directed and bake. You may need to add an extra splash of milk. Additionally, you make need to add 5-10 minutes of extra baking time.
See the full post for tips, tricks & ways to customize this recipe!
Servings: 6 servings
Serving size: 1 serving (based on 6)
Saturated fat: 11.4g
Recipe by: Monique Volz // Ambitious Kitchen | Photography by: Eat Love Eats
This post was originally published on October 6th, 2020, and republished on October 24th, 2022.