Making a batch of macaroni and cheese that tastes just like the boxed version but made with knowingly superior ingredients is just as easy as reaching for that iconic blue and orange box.
Here in America, children seem to have grown up on boxed macaroni and cheese. After all, it seems to satiate even the pickiest of little munchkins, so no wonder it’s become a staple in many homes. Similar to cake mixes, it’s crazy convenient because you just add a few ingredients and you’re done. However, if you’re like me, you want to make things from scratch and control the ingredients going into an end product – so shopping in the middle section of the super market may make you cringe. But never fear, there is always a solution!
Look at the back of any boxed macaroni and cheese, more so, the regular store varieties. To break it down, boxed macaroni and cheese is made up of two things: macaroni pasta and cheese powder. Typically the pasta portion is fortified with a bunch of synthetic ingredients and vitamins, and the cheese powder is filled with preservatives and dyes to get that vibrant orange color. No wonder deciphering packages is so darn difficult! Please don’t get me wrong, I too grew up on macaroni and cheese, the spiral shapes were always my favorite. However, as I realize whatever is going into my body can and probably will affect my health long term (and that we’ll have a kiddo in our household soon enough), I want the option to make better choices. There are of course some great organic and gluten-free boxed macaroni and cheese varieties available in most stores, but what I’ve found is that making it at home is just as easy, and usually cheaper.
For the pasta component, smaller noodles definitely work best. You can source out the varieties you and your kids enjoy, or mix it up by finding speciality shops with pasta in fun shapes. And the beauty is, you can choose whatever kind of pasta you desire, which could be whole wheat or gluten-free too. I’ve also noticed that the pasta in boxed macaroni and cheese can turn from perfect consistency to mushy in an instant, so choosing which type of dried pasta you’re using can make life a little easier especially if your time in the kitchen is prone to distractions.
From there you need to source out cheese powder. And honestly, once you have that on hand, you’ll probably always have the ingredients in your house for this copycat boxed macaroni and cheese. I personally like and prefer the Cabot Cheddar Cheese Powder. You can find this brand online, or in select grocery stores, especially in New England. Things to consider with cheese powder:
- Like shredded cheese, cheese powder does need to have some preservatives to enable it to last. Try sourcing out a brand depending on your desire in ingredients. I chose Cabot because it was as close to real cheddar as you can usually get, just in a powdered form.
- Cheese powder like most spices does not do well in hot/humid environments. The easiest thing is to store it in your refrigerator between uses, especially if it has minimal preservatives in it.
- Absolutely mix it up! Cheddar cheese powder can sometimes have that twang to it, or sometimes you’re wanting to incorporate add-ins. I’ve found almost every type of cheese powder imaginable, and while not only used on pasta, it makes great toppers for popcorn or potatoes, so feel free to experiment and find your ideal mixture.
It’s as easy as that. Simply get the cheddar cheese powder on hand (assuming you stock dried pasta, milk, salt and butter regularly in your house) and you’re ready to go.
To full plates and eating your tarte out,
- 2 cups of dried pasta, preferably macaroni
- 4 tablespoons of butter (or butter substitute)
- 1/4 cup of milk (or milk substitute)
- 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese powder
- 1/8 teaspoon of salt
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
- Add butter to pan. Stir to melt. Add in milk, cheese powder and salt. Stir till combined.
- Add pasta to cheese sauce and mix thoroughly.
- Depending on how you usually make your boxed macaroni and cheese, you can substitute more or less butter/milk. Or simply use varieties and pasta depending on your diet and preferences such as skim milk, gluten free pasta or margarine.