Why you should never make box macaroni & cheese again: a manifesto

Filed under: Recipes

6 Min ReadJuly 8, 2008Kim Foster

Closeup of pasta

I think there is nothing more evil than a box of macaroni and cheese.

That’s right. I said it. Pure evil.

I think that every time you open your kitchen cupboard, the box of mac and cheese is laughing maniacally and mocking you. Wha ha ha ha. That’s what it says. Wha ha ha ha.  Just like that.

And I’m not just referring to the nuclear-orange colored Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner that we grew up with. Oh no, I’m talking Annie’s Homegrown, too. They are both serpents in beautifully designed packaging.  If the boxes had heads, they would spin around and around, as if possessed by a wicked, pus-spitting, three-headed, gibberish-speaking demon.

Not that I’m exaggerating or anything.

I say this because if you have a box of the mac and cheese sitting in your cabinet and your kid knows it’s there, you could feed them pizza topped with M&M’s and jelly beans every night of the week and they would still turn up their nose and ask for the box. If they know it’s there, a possibility that they might be able to have a potential substitute for whatever you have on the plate, they’ll opt for the box stuff. And unless you are strong – imbued with demon fighting super-powers – you’ll probably cave.

The box messes with your mind. Wha ha ha…

You think, “Okay, so Freddy didn’t eat his broccoli and fish. This sucks. My child might be malnourished. I see him losing weight and brain cells as we speak. Is that a rib sticking out? No, just his finger. Whew. He needs to eat something. I must get food into him. I know… Freddy doesn’t have to eat the fish and broccoli. I’ll whip up some Annie’s organic instead. I mean, how bad can it be?  It’s organic. It’s quick. Oh thank the Lord, he’s eating. God, he’s licking the bowl. Vitamins, minerals. I think his brain cells are rejuvenating. This mac and cheese thing rocks. God, I’m a problem solver. Someone give me a medal. Now, where’s my beer?”

Meanwhile, Freddy is thinking he dodged a bullet because he didn’t have to eat the broccoli. He makes a note to himself to feign hunger pains, or maybe cholera, the next time you make a dinner he doesn’t love. Freddy knows the box is always there waiting for him. And more importantly, he knows you’re weak.

Wha ha ha…

Okay, I’ll stop doing that now.

So, for these reasons, I refuse to have the box mac and cheese in my house. I’m cool if the kids eat it at a friend’s house, but if you bring it over my doorstep, like, because your kid might not eat whatever I’m cooking and you want to make sure they don’t keel over from malnourishment, I’ll make you leave it in the hall closet. Your kid could get the cholera at my house. And don’t’ get me wrong, I’m not one of those Moms who have kids who have never seen the inside of a McDonald's. Believe me, my scruples are few. I’ll let my kids sit in front of Princess movies until their occipital lobe starts to fall off the back of their heads, but I draw the line at box mac and cheese. Even a floozy has to have a few standards.

And I’d like to bring you into the light, so stay with me as I regale you with facts about the box:

  1. Both Kraft and Annie’s have basically the same ingredients: pasta, cheese, milk and salt. Annie’s has 9 ingredients, Kraft has 20 and most of those are replacing additives lost in processing. The real difference is that Annie’s doesn’t have yellow dyes number 5 and number 6. Annie’s doesn’t have that same bright, attractive, neon cheese color either. So there you go.
  2. In terms of nutrition, they are, surprisingly, equals. They have nearly equal numbers of calories, sodium, protein, fiber but  Annie’s has more than double the saturated fat. And yes, Annie’s is organic and this counts for something, but the “natural” line is not organic, just, um, “natural”, whatever that freakin’ means. You must come to grips with the reality, people – Annie’s is barely more nutritious than it’s day-glo counterpart.
  3. I know I know, You’re reading this and thinking, “Hey Kim, it’s not cassoulet with duck confit or anything but come on, I’m busy and little Freddy needs to eat. The box is quick and easy!” To this I say, “Cooking a cheesy pasta dish from scratch is exactly the same process as using the box.” Really. The same. Here goes: (1) Boil water, (2) put pasta into water, (3) cook pasta, (4) drain pasta, (5) add milk, butter and cheese (6) serve to Freddy. See? The same.

And to prove it, I am including a simple pasta dish here that you can make in lieu of the box. And once you get the hang of it, you can add other ingredients and play with the concept a bit. Just know, that by never introducing the demon box, you are doing yourself a big favor – you are helping your kid be adventurous by eating without a net. 

xxoo YM

Cheesy Pasta with Warm Tomatoes and Basil

Makes 2 to 4 servings

1 1-pound box pasta* (Change it up. Use whatever pasta your family loves)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A half stick of butter
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (Use the chopped stuff to keep your time down)
2 handfuls of torn fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Use the shredded stuff to save even more time)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they burst and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Season with the salt and pepper, then add the garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is done. Drain pasta, but save a cup or so of pasta water and set aside. Put desired amount of pasta in pan with the tomatoes and stir all the goodness together. Add another lump of butter, the basil and add a bit of the reserved pasta water if you need more liquid to coat the pasta. Turn off heat. Add a handful or two of Parmesan. Sprinkle with a bit more basil. Serve to Freddy.

*I cook the whole box of pasta even if I know I won’t use it.  I save the leftover cooked pasta in the fridge in a covered bowl or zip lock bag and use it the next day for lunch. Since the pasta is already cooked, all I need to do is throw it in a sauté pan with my ingredients and I have another fresh pasta dish in minutes.