Mac & Cheese Doesn't Have to Come From a Box
Me: What do you want for lunch?
Kid: Macaroni and cheese.
Me: But you had it yesterday!
Kid: Today is not yesterday.
Why does every kid love macaroni and cheese so much? (ok, every kid but one -- my oldest son). It can’t just be the Kraft commercials or the bright orange colour or the fact that it is some kind of Canadian favourite. There must be something in the alchemy of butter, cheese and noodles that turns it into the ultimate comfort food.
Not to mention that it is one of the easiest meals to prepare. But before you whip up your upteemth box of the orange stuff, think about ways to add some extra nutrition to it – throw an egg into the hot noodles or warm milk and whisk it up, the egg will add protein and make you feel less guilty about the guilty pleasure. If you can get away with it, tuna, spinach, cooked chicken, peas or whatever else can go in as well. Because as much as the kids love it, boxed mac and cheese is not the pinnacle of healthy eating.
So what to do? Try making your own macaroni and cheese for dinner, it isn’t too hard and it can be made ahead of time. I often make it when I am having families over for dinner and the kids always eat it. But the parents end up sneaking it on to their plate too and then suddenly there isn’t any left.
The homemade macaroni and cheese recipe is a favourite from my book, Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them. When I say favourite I don’t just mean my husband (but he did say yum when he saw the recipe open), I mean objective people like PhDinParenting and other complete strangers.
If your kids are used to the orange stuff, then use orange cheddar so they aren’t turned off by the appearance. My kids don’t like the crunchy topping, but my hubby does, so I usually only put the topping on half the dish.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb macaroni, penne or other short tubular shape
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups hot milk
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ½ cup grated cheddar cheese (use the food processor if you have one)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Drain.
Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat while pasta is cooking. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the flour and combine with butter to make a smooth paste. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes and then slowly whisk in the hot milk. Continue whisking until milk has come to a boil and thickened. Remove pot from heat. Whisk in mustard, add cheese a handful at a time and stir until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Combine pasta and sauce and spoon into either one oiled 9x13-inch baking dish or a variety of individual oiled baking dishes.
Combine breadcrumbs with parmesan in a medium bowl. Add olive oil, and toss to moisten crumbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle crumbs evenly over pasta.
Bake for 35 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and crumbs are golden.