Spaghetti Squash and Beef Bake Recipe

If you’re anything like me, this month’s warrior challenge made you more than a little nervous. I’m not going to lie; when I heard that this month’s challenge was to find and make four new recipes, I thought maybe I would just sit this one out. Don’t get me wrong; I used to love to cook. During my eating disorder days, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen so I could have absolute control of everything I was eating and ensuring it was the healthiest, “purest” it could possibly be. But since starting my recovery journey at the beginning of this year, I’ve taken a step back and am more than happy to eat what other people prepare for me. These days, I’m happier doing the things that really bring me joy and it turns out that means not always being in the kitchen.

So when I was left with the task of preparing dinner for my family last week, I was not terribly excited. Moreover, I knew that because I had a spaghetti squash sitting on the counter, it meant incorporating that into my dish, which was not ideal for many reasons.  I have a very complicated relationship with spaghetti squash, as silly as it sounds. During my eating disorder days, spaghetti squash was basically a code for “low-calorie, low-carbohydrate alternative to real food”.

So incorporating it into a healthy, well-balanced meal for my family involved reconstructing the way I thought about it.

It involved a surprising amount of self-exploration. Why did I think of spaghetti squash as something to eat to avoid eating balanced meals? I don’t think of other vegetables this way, so why spaghetti squash? Why was I able to eat broccoli or green beans as part of a healthy meal but not spaghetti squash? Maybe because so often, spaghetti squash is used in Pinterest recipes as a “low carbohydrate” alternative to pasta. But as a newly minted Registered Dietitian, I know with absolute certainty that that isn’t the case. Spaghetti squash has a lot of nutrients sure, but they aren’t the same as the ones in pasta. And when your body is craving pasta or carbohydrate, spaghetti squash isn’t an equal substitution. Every food has a place in a balanced diet and it takes a lot of time to truly identify where that place is.

Looking at the spaghetti squash on the counter, I knew that I would have to construct a new way to incorporate it into my meals. I also knew that whatever I chose to make would have to be something that didn’t allow me to integrate my former disordered thoughts. I chose the Spaghetti Squash and Beef bake partly because it’s the one my mom had cut out weeks before and partly because it had protein, fat, and carbohydrates, when you add a nice big slice of warm, crusty bread.

 Spaghetti Squash and Beef Bake
 Spaghetti Squash and Beef Bake
I prepared the meal while I was home alone on my day off, singing along with my favorite music and dancing around my kitchen, something I hadn’t experienced in a long while. When it was finally ready, I shared it with my mom as we sat in the sunroom at her house on a warm summer night, sharing a delicious meal and delightful conversation. Preparing and eating the meal in a relaxed and comfortable environment helped me to appreciate the meal and the time I took preparing it. Sharing it with my mom, someone who gives me endless support, made it even easier to enjoy the meal without fixating on the calories or fat or protein in it.

This month’s Warrior Challenge allowed me to expand my culinary horizons and make peace with a food that I’ve battled with for a long time. The challenge, like all the other Recovery Warrior challenges, helped me strengthen my recovery muscles and make peace with some things that I had long been battling- cooking and preparing balanced meals. And further proof that the worst part of any challenge is starting…

I am happy to report I only have one more recipe left before I complete this month’s challenge of four new recipes during the month of June. Looking forward to my last recipe and hearing what July’s challenge will bring me!

Spaghetti Squash and Beef Bake

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 (2 lb) spaghetti squash
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 8 oz white mushrooms, diced
  • 4 cups baby spinach, thinly sliced
  • 1 (24 oz) jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 (15 oz) container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Whole grain or Italian loaf

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Halve the squash, scrape out and discard seeds. Brush the inside of the squash with the oil and sprinkle with salt and 1/8 tsp black pepper.
  3. Place the squash on the baking sheet, cut sides down. Roast for 35 minutes until soft. Remove from the oven and scrape out the flesh with a fork.
  4. Reduce oven temperature to 350
  5. Meanwhile, in a large pot on medium-high, sauté the beef, crushed red pepper and remaining 1/8 tsp black pepper for 8 minutes, breaking beef apart as it cooks and juices are released.
  6. Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 5-7 minutes.
  8. Add the spinach and cook until it starts to wilt, about a minute. Add the pasta sauce, ricotta and reserved spaghetti squash; stir until well-mixed.
  9. Transfer mixture to 11” x 7” baking dish; top with Parmesan. Cover casserole loosely with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, removing the foil after 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  10. Serve with fresh, sliced bread. Enjoy!
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