Healthier Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
Indulge in lighter versions of everyone's favorite comfort food
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Some of us grew up with the stuff in the blue box, made with bright orange powder and half a stick of butter. The lucky ones sat down to homemade, oven-baked macaroni and cheese, complete with a browned crispy topping. Whatever kind you loved as a kid, chances are you're still a fan of macaroni and cheese. Ask any group of people what their favorite comfort foods are, and, most likely, mac and cheese will make the list.
So just where did the dish everybody knows and love come from?
A type of pasta called "maccheroni" (perhaps similar to today's macaroni, but without being hollow) is thought to have been eaten in Italy as early as the 1300s. As for macaroni and cheese, this notoriously American dish goes back to Colonial times. A dish called "macaroni pie" became a favorite of a certain statesman named Thomas Jefferson, who tasted it while in Italy. He served it at his home in Monticello, and at formal parties in Washington. According to The Food Encyclopedia, Jefferson used American cheese instead of the European cheeses of the time -- and American macaroni and cheese was born.
Jefferson might not recognize the dish today, when the various versions of macaroni and cheese range from kid-friendly to gourmet. "Lobster Mac n Cheese," featuring marscarpone cheese, Havarti, and white cheddar, is a popular side dish at the upscale restaurant chain The Capital Grille. A version of macaroni and cheese using Romano, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, and pepper jack cheese is the most requested recipe from The Grand Central Baking Company in Seattle and Portland. The three cheeses in Martha Stewart's recipe for Macaroni and Three Cheeses are white cheddar, Havarti, and Muenster.
Today's mac and cheese toppings range from buttered bread that's been run through the food processor to panko crumbs or saltine crackers. But one thing's for certain in most of the recipes I found -- homemade macaroni and cheese tends to contain an abundance of butter and cream. One recipe on Epicurious.com, for example, calls for 6 tablespoons of butter, 3 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy cream!
Let's hope everyone reading this article is ready to ban the blue box from their kitchen (at least for the day) and is open to the magic of homemade macaroni and cheese. And as the "Recipe Doctor," of course, I'm going to lighten this historic American recipe a bit. Nutritionally, there are three ways to improve on homemade macaroni and cheese:
Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
With these three tips in mind, here are three macaroni and cheese recipes for you to try; one recipe for beginners (perfect for younger kids who aren't quite ready for sauces), one for the intermediate macaroni and cheese eater (a light version of a more traditional American recipe), and one for the more advanced eater (a light version of a fancy restaurant rendition with lobster or crab and stronger-flavored cheeses).
Noodles with Butter and Cheese
Children in France are often served this pasta dish at home and in restaurants, although the cheese usually used there is Gruyere.
2 cups cooked macaroni noodles (whole-grain blend)
Yield: Makes 1 large serving or 2 small servings.