Health Up Boxed Mac and Cheese
by Missy Chase Lapine
There’s not a kids’ menu in the United States that doesn’t offer some variation of macaroni and cheese — the favorite — if not the most popular — of American comfort foods. Kraft now sells more than one million boxes every day! The beauty of even the packaged version is that its cheesy creaminess offers ample opportunity for sneaky chefs to slip in extra nutrition that even the toughest little critics won’t detect. Try to keep a straight face as your kids beg for more of these surprisingly healthy variations.
Each of the nutritional boosters listed here have been kid tested and have proven to be undetectable in taste, texture and color. Start by adding the least amount recommended of just one of the nutritional purees listed below. Add a little more each time you serve this dish (which is served in our house every day!) You can also mix two or more of the purees or boosters, as long as the total is no more than about half cup total, per six ounce box of macaroni and cheese.
2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
2 small to medium zucchini, peeled and rough chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons water, if necessary
Steam cauliflower in a vegetable steamer over 2 inches of water, using a tightly-covered pot, for about 10 to 12 minutes until very tender. Alternatively, place cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl , cover with water, and microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes until very tender.
While waiting for the cauliflower to finish steaming, start to pulse the raw peeled zucchini with the lemon juice only (no water at this point). Drain the cooked cauliflower. Working in batches if necessary, add it to the pulsed zucchini in the bowl of the food processor with one tablespoon of water. Puree on high until smooth. Stop occasionally and push contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the second tablespoon of water to make a smooth (but not wet) puree.
Makes about 2 cups of puree. Double recipe if you want to store even more, which can be done in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or the small plastic containers.
Once you've made the puree, prepare macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Add 2-4 tablespoons of White Puree into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended. If sauce becomes too dry, simply add an extra tablespoon of milk and extra cheese (either a slice of American cheese or 1/4 cup of grated cheddar melted into the sauce).
1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and rough chopped
3 medium to large carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
2-3 tablespoons water
In a medium pot, cover carrots and potatoes with cold water and boil for about 20 minutes until yams, and especially carrots, are very tender. If the carrots aren’t thoroughly cooked, they’ll leave telltale little nuggets of vegetables, which will reveal their presence (a gigantic no-no for the sneaky chef).
Drain the potatoes and carrots and put them in the food processor with two tablespoons of water. Puree on high until smooth; no pieces of carrots or potatoes should remain. Stop occasionally to push the contents from the top to the bottom. If necessary, use the third tablespoon of water to make a smooth puree, but the less water the better.
This makes about 2 cups of puree. Double the recipe if you want to store even more. Store in refrigerator up to three days, or freeze 1/4 cup portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers.
Once you've made the puree, prepare macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Add 2-4 tablespoons of Orange Puree into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended. This one works best with an extra slice of American cheese or 1/4 cup of grated cheddar melted into the sauce to help mask the carrots, which have a bit more distinguishable taste, in the puree.
For those days when a puree seems like too much work (or to add even more nutrition, above and beyond the puree ingredients), consider these additions:
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup tofu: Prepare macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Puree tofu in a food processor until smooth or mash it well with the back of a fork. Add pureed tofu into the cheese sauce, mixing until well blended.
1 to 2 slices American cheese or ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese: Prepare macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Add extra cheese to the packaged cheese sauce, mixing well until completely melted.
Missy Chase Lapine is the former publisher of Eating Well magazine. A mother of two young daughters, she knows how picky kids can be—and she’s got the kitchen experiments to prove it! She is on the Culinary Arts facility of The New School, in New York City, and also gives cooking classes and coaching to busy families hoping to learn how to eat healthier. Her book, The Sneaky Chef, is published by Running Press. Her next book The Sneaky Chef: How to Cheat on Your Man (In the Kitchen) will be out in April 2008. You can learn more about Missy at her website, www.thesneakychef.com