I grew up on boxed mac and cheese. Homemade stuff was a delicacy in and of itself that my mom made occasionally – usually when I begged – but for the most part, my family was a big fan of the boxed stuff. And to be completely transparent? I totally dug it. And even more? I don’t really mind giving it to my own kids on occasion.
Now, I’m not saying that boxed mac and cheese is the best, most nutritious option when it comes to meals for your kids. I don’t think anyone would look at a packet of powdered cheese stuff and be like, MAN this beats a kale smoothie in the nutrition department every. dang. time. Yes, a million and seven options are way healthier, but the boxed stuff sure does win the “ease of use” contest. Let’s face it – it doesn’t get much easier than boxed mac and cheese. Not to mention, kids love it. There is no hour long dinner time argument of, “please for the love of God, just eat your dinner. You will not get anything after this. Just eat. NO, you cannot have something else..” because, for the most part, kids love the stuff.
Boxed mac and cheese is the ideal option for those nights when you need a break. You know the nights – the toddler has been tantruming all day, the baby is sick, you just got your period, and you seriously can. not. wait. for bed time. Those are the nights when you just need something quick, easy, and argument free for dinner.
But the truth is, as you’re prepping your blue box dinner, you might feel a little guilt. Because you know the truth – it’s not necessarily the best option.
Here is where I will step in and say, “MOMMA. Make that box of mac and cheese. You do you. You are a great parent. Do what needs to be done for your family, what is right for your family. Only YOU know what that is, so forget the haters.” (can you tell that I cannot stand mom bashers? Even if they’re just in your own head.) But I get it. I have that same little annoying person in my brain that guilts me for dumb things like a stupid box of mac and cheese. Which is why I’m coming at you today with my 4 favorite ways to make boxed mac and cheese healthier!
4 Ways to Make Boxed Mac and Cheese Healthier
Add frozen veggies.
Definitely the easiest option, in my opinion. When there is about a minute or two (add more depending on the size of your veggies) left on your pasta, toss in about one or two cups of frozen veggies to the boiling water. I suggest choosing a veggie that is about the same size as the pasta, since it’s harder to pick out or object to, but throw in your kid’s favorite. I like to use corn, peas and carrots, but I’ve also used chopped broccoli or spinach with good results. Drain everything and prepare the sauce as you normally would.
Substitute Greek Yogurt.
Substituting Greek yogurt in place of some butter and milk to bump up the nutrition factor of a box of mac and cheese. I like to do about 2 tablespoons of melted butter and a 1/3 cup of Greek yogurt, but you can play with proportions until you find something your family digs. You can totally skip the butter and do about 1/2 cup of yogurt. Just mix the Greek yogurt and cheese powder off the heat before adding butter/hot pasta. Greek yogurt helps cut down on the fat and bump up the protein without your kids even realizing. I’ve found it also makes it creamier than if you use the traditional butter and milk.
Add a bit of puree.
Want to get super sneaky? Add a couple of tablespoons of veggie puree to your mix. Something like carrot, pumpkin, or butternut squash will add a punch of nutrition while not changing the color or flavor much – if anything it will just be a touch sweeter. It’s a really smart way of sneaking in some veggies without your kids knowing 😉
Looking for more ways to get veggies into your kiddos? Check out this post with 18 ways to do it!
Powdered nutrient boost.
This is one I seem to forget a lot, but a lot of brands right now are coming out with different nutrition boosts that you can add to the food of your littles to fill out any gaps in their diet. I tend to use the Go and Grow by Similar since I like how they come in individual packets so I just measure out a portion for each boy, add a packet, and go. It’s not a total fix for a bad diet, but it’s a great way to balance out a meal that isn’t nutritionally sound.
Choose a more natural brand.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and say I always choose the more expensive, organic brand, but when I can, I do. These brands usually have less questionable ingredients. I like to stock up on them when they’re on sale or if I have a coupon. That being said, the store brand is almost always cheaper and Ryan loves to ask for the fun Cars themed ones, so, there’s that.
Look. Parenting is tough. No one’s going to argue that. Taking shortcuts are necessary to keep it together some days – it doesn’t make you a bad parent. Serving your kid boxed mac and cheese can be a fun treat! Adding a bump of nutrition to make your boxed mac and cheese healthier is even better.
Okay, so tell me – what are your parenting shortcuts? How do you bump nutrition in something like boxed mac and cheese? Let me know in the comments!
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