Mac & Cheese is probably one of the most famous kid meals around. Adults love it too, and not just for the delicious taste, but for its simplicity and ease to put together. I get it. It’s very satisfying knowing you can just pull a box out of the cupboard and dinner is done in less than 10 minutes.
But is it really worth it when you consider so many other factors like....is it healthy? Well if we’re talking about packaged products that contain “cheese powdered product” or “cheese whiz in a pouch” then no. I remember reading an article once where they posted a picture of a random cheese product with a line of ants crawling up to it and then making a quick detour. Ants! Don’t ants love everything? Well apparently they don’t care much for fake food. This really got me thinking what this stuff does inside our bodies in general. Our organs don’t really know what to make of it, let alone try to process it. Little by little we’re left with a lot of cumulative toxins in our body that love to hang out inside our fat cells. This goes for so many packaged foods that are designed to make our store shelves look pretty and get our kids excited about seeing characters on boxes with pretty fluorescent colors. As a new mom, this makes me so disheartened. To think of a delicate little body with brand new organs getting drenched in what is really more effective as oil lube for a car than for their bodies. I sure hope Sponge Bob, one day will promote fruits and vegetables.
I should acknowledge that Kraft has recently removed artificial preservatives and food dye from their products, and I am quite certain several more companies who market to kids (cereals, crackers, etc) will follow suit if they haven’t already.
This is no doubt a huge step and I am pleased we’re going in the right direction, but here are a few things to still keep in mind when roaming through those center aisles of the grocery store.
These products are still processed fake foods. Yikes, I really wish there was a more delicate way of putting this..... In other words, they’re providing calories with very little nutrition. What happens when kids eat foods like this? Blood sugar spikes way up to the high heavens and then plummets, causing crankiness, fatigue, and then….MORE HUNGER. Oh yea, I forgot to mention the part about them being physically addicting. The combination of certain fats, sodium, and sugar in foods like this have a drug-like effect on our bodies, not much different from fast food.
No Nutrition- Things like vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats are what make a healthy balanced meal. Packaged products (for the most part) contain an enriched flour base along with sodium and/or sugar for flavor. Yes, even organic ones! Though they don’t contain the scary ingredients, (no GMO’s, pesticides, or growth hormones), doesn’t mean they’re totally nutritious, and just because you’re buying a product at Whole foods doesn’t mean it’s something you want to use every day. Yes, eating foods that are fresh usually means a little more time in the kitchen, but after you make a pot of this, you’ll have some serious leftovers and some happy, healthy kids.
The Healthy Mac & Cheese recipe below has 4 ingredients, plus a little bit of oil & butter. All together it costs about 15 dollars total, while a box of mac & cheese goes for around 1.00. Totally cheaper, I get it. But when you consider the 2 major factors mentioned above, you really can’t beat a home cooked meal that’s so simple to make. My recipe makes about 8-10 full meal servings for your child AND includes actual vegetables, while the box of Mac & Cheese, though cheap and easy to make, really doesn’t compare when you consider the full picture. I am pleased to share with you one of the easiest, most delicious recipes you’ll ever make. One that’s perfect for picky kids and sophisticated enough for adults too ;)
So let’s talk ingredients.
I’m in love with these rainbow spirals. The ingredients are brown rice, carrot powder, tomato powder, spinach powder, and water. This means YES, they are indeed taking in a lot of the benefits of these colorful veggies. If you can’t find these rainbow spirals, go for a spinach penne or spiral shaped rice pasta. The tendency with this type of pasta is that it tends to get overcooked. I like to go for the al dente option when reading the package directions since it will cook a bit more when you combine the ingredients. Make sense?
The cheese is of course the highlight of the dish. I found a gorgeous raw milk, shredded cheese that melts incredibly at the local farmer’s market here in the North End of Boston. Check out the cheese, here. If you can’t find this or something similar, go for shredded organic white cheddar or something that melts well (just not processed American or “cheese product”). The consistency of this dish isn’t too runny, but there’s just something about the way the cheese nestles into the spirals that makes it so heavenly. Then you add the broccoli and it’s seriously the perfect meal.
For picky kids, a good idea is to cook the broccoli a bit longer than you normally would. This way it falls apart and sticks to the pasta better, rather than staying in big chunks. You want it to be a little soft, but not brown.
I wanted to make this recipe vegetarian, but if I want the perfect “one-bowl meal” I will brown 1 lb of grass fed beef or organic ground turkey and add to the mixture at the very end. See version 2 below as well.
2 Tbsp butter (grass fed, ie Kerry Gold)
1 head broccoli
Sea salt & pepper
3-5 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups shredded raw milk cheese
2 Tsp organic milk or cream (optional)
Begin by making the broccoli. Rinse and dry broccoli well and set onto a clean cutting board. Chop broccoli into about 1-2 inch pieces, using a few stems as well and set aside. In medium-large stock pot, melt 1 Tbsp butter along with the garlic on medium heat. Brown for about a minute or so, then add the broccoli and a dash of sea salt & black pepper. Lower heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes or so, stirring every so often. If broccoli looks a bit too dry, toss in a Tablespoon of water and keep mixing. Once broccoli softens a bit, remove from heat and set aside uncovered.
Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil and salt well. Add pasta and cook according to al dente directions. While pasta is cooking, chop the broccoli into smaller pieces. Drain pasta well and return it to the pot. Finally stir in the cheese, the broccoli, and the milk (if you want to make it a bit creamier). Last time I made this, I left that part out and it was still amazing. Re-season if needed.
Meet Tommy's friends and Professional Taste Testers: Bane, Tulsi, Grayson, Declan, & Luca
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