For busy moms, getting dinner on the table is often hectic, especially with kids who seem to turn their noses up at half of what you make. Macaroni and cheese is one of those universally-liked, kid-friendly dishes that rarely garner a complaint, even from your picky eaters. The key is to being able to make a tasty mac and cheese that you can put together quickly for your impatient kids — one that is not full of unnecessary additives and chemicals, like the store-bought, prepackaged kind.
For the most basic and quick mac and cheese dinner– one that doesn’t involve a blue box and a mysterious, powdery substance, start by cooking elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Drain the water from the pot and add about a 1/2 stick of butter, a can of evaporated milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together well, then add about a cup of grated cheese. Cheddar is commonly used, but it can be whatever cheese you prefer. Stir the cheese into the macaroni mixture over low heat until creamy and serve. That is the basics of making a quick and easy, stove-top mac and cheese, but you can just as easily make a more creative or healthier version, which will not take much more time to make.
Instead of traditional elbow macaroni, you can use pasta shells, spiral pasta, pasta rings, bowtie pasta or wagon wheel pasta to makes it more interesting for kids. Switching to whole grain pasta adds fiber to the dish. You can also use soy, brown rice or gluten-free pasta if your children have any wheat allergies.
Cheese and Dairy
You can easily switch out those full-fat cheeses for low-fat cheeses, and your kids won’t even notice the difference. Use low-fat or reduced fat versions of sharp or mild cheddar, mozzarella, colby, jack, Parmesan, Gruyere or whatever cheese you know your kid will eat, or add a combination of a few for major flavor. For kids who cannot tolerate dairy, soy comes through for you again, with plenty of soy cheese options available at grocery stores. Non-dairy milks like rice milk can be substituted for the evaporated milk. Opt for heart-healthy, olive-oil based margarine instead of butter, because butter is high in saturated fat.
Take that simple mac and cheese up a notch with a few additions. Adding a tablespoon of dry mustard adds just enough zip for a more flavorful dish. Some recipes call for flour to make a thickened cheese sauce. This is optional, but you can use brown rice or gluten free flour, if you choose. To add a little more nutrition to the mac and cheese, mix in a small amount of finely chopped vegetables, such as spinach, peas carrots or broccoli. For a crunch factor, pour mac and cheese into a baking dish, and sprinkle whole grain seasoned bread crumbs on top and then place the baking dish under the broiler for about five minutes.