Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Boxed Mac and Cheese--Nutrified

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch (or join us) as our family of 6 eats, or tries to, on $6/day.

Just for the record, I really wanted to title this post, "Mac Daddy's Cheese--Pimped." But instead I summoned all my 30-plus years of maturity, all my experiences as a mother, all my knowledge as an adult that words like 'pimp' really aren't funny, even if the letters in them make them sound funny, and I confirmed once and for all that I am not a 12-year-old boy.

Whew. Thank goodness that is firmly established. Still, I will dedicate this post to all the 12-year-old boys out there, or perhaps all the 8-year-old ones, who, like my own son, absolutely love boxed macaroni and cheese even though it is a) disgusting and b) as nutritionally beneficial as a toilet paper roll.

It is, however, very cheap. Right now, boxes are going for $.29 at Aldi. It's one of those rare foods that is much much cheaper to buy boxed than to make from scratch, presumably because the boxed contains no more than perhaps one miligram of actual cheese. But, as I say, it is beloved. And so I buy it. But I do try to make it a little more nutritious and a little more real-cheesy (please keep this information between you and me).

This is what I do. Remember our friend the pureed sweet potato or butternut squash. You'll need about 1/4 C of that. You can probably work it up to more, but I recommend you start with an amount guaranteed not to be noticed. This adds vitamins (I know it doesn't seem like a lot, but remember it's pureed which reduces its volume and remember that both sweet potatoes and butternut squash have tons of vitamin A so even a little goes a long way). It also allows you to reduce the amount of butter necessary.

By the way: If you think I'm looney for pureeing my own squash, but would be interested in easily nutrifying your mac and cheese, just buy a few containers of baby food squash. They're not nearly as cheap, but they are easy and if you have a few on hand, you can feel like a good mother even when you give in to your child's requests to make boxed mac and cheese.

You'll also need a couple tablespoons of real cheddar cheese. (Heaven forbid.) Again, you can probably work this amount up with time, but start low because you want to avoid having anyone ask, "Is there cheese in this?" That would, after all, be a dreadful thing to have in one's mac and cheese.

The great thing about these two tricks is that they actually make your mac and cheese edible. I really can't handle the boxed stuff, but the cheese and squash make it so I actually kind of enjoy it.

Note: Both sweet potato and butternut are good in mac and cheese, but butternut is my favorite; it was practically destined to be combined with mac and cheese as it really does improve the flavor and texture something wonderful.

Boxed Mac and Cheese--Nutrified
Serves 4
Prep and cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: $.40
(.29-box of mac and cheese, .05 pureed squash bought in season, .06 some real cheese)
I have to give credit for the idea of using purees in my food to Jessica Seinfeld (Deceptively Delicious) and Missy Chase Lapine (The Sneaky Chef).

1 box mac and cheese
1 Tbsp butter (margarine if you must)
1/4 C milk
1/4 C sweet potato or butternut squash puree
2 Tbsp grated cheddar

Prepare pasta according to instructions. Drain. Add butter, mik, vegetable puree, cheese, and that nasty cheese packet that comes with the boxed mac and cheese. Mix it all together and serve.



  1. I love hearing your personality in your writing about food. The other day Jackson asked if they had boxed Mac and cheese in Mexico and I secretly thought to myself "I hope not". If they do, though, I will definitely try your idea.

  2. Hurray! Now I'll think of you down there eating your macarrones gratinados every time we have ours.

  3. You can buy pureed sweet potato by the canned pumpkin... can't remember if I have ever seen butternut squash though (I think they also have it, but maybe it's seasonal). Cheaper than baby food puree, and easier than making your own. But you just want to make sure that it is pure sweet potato without added sugar... I accidentally bought canned sweet potatoes that were probably the nutritional equivalent of boxed mac & cheese one time... oops.



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