Despite my love affair with bento last year, I’m relieved to have a break from packing Henry’s lunchbox. But lunches at home can be challenging too.
So I like to keep a box of macaroni and cheese on hand. Around here, it’s considered a treat. (It’s loaded with sodium and the cheese comes in a powder. Not exactly health food.) So proclaiming, “Macaroni and cheese for lunch!” can instantly snap the boys out of an action figure tug-o-war–and please most picky playdate guests too.
My two cents on boxed mac:
Choose whole wheat pasta. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. I like Annie’s Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.
Skimp on the powder. Use between 1/2 and 3/4 of the cheese packet to cut down on sodium (it still turns out fine).
Beware the hidden vegetable hype. Some brands tout that their mac packs a serving (or even just half a serving) of veggies, thanks to added dehydrated vegetables. I’m not generally a fan of sneaking vegetables into kids’ food, but if you’re going to do it, at least make it count. I’ve had yummy butternut squash mac like the recipe here and Mark Bittman offers a recipe for a cauliflower version here. Or toss in some broccoli florets or mixed vegetables.
Avoid day-glo colors. Look for varieties that don’t contain synthetic food dyes like Yellow 6 and are naturally colored instead
Serve the homemade version too. I’ll be honest: Henry refers to boxed macaroni and cheese as “real macaroni and cheese”. But I still make the homemade kind, and he still eats it.
This recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook.
Basic Macaroni & Cheese
- 2 cups uncooked whole wheat noodles like elbow or rotini
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1/4 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups cheddar cheese shredded or chopped small
- Small handful of breadcrumbs or Panko
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- While the noodles are cooking, melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly.
- Stir in milk and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in cheese and cook until it’s all melted.
- Drain noodles and gently stir in cheese sauce. Pour into ungreased 2-quart casserole and top with breadcrumbs.
- Bake uncovered 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.