Both my kids have sensory processing disorder with food sensitivities, which is like picky eating you don’t have to blame on the parents. As a family, we can agree on exactly one meal: Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar Mac and Cheese, fruit (which varies based on whim and season), and microwaved frozen broccoli. They eat other foods, but this is the only meal we all like and, as such, we eat it multiple times a week. And I’ve learned the best way to prepare it.
The kids’ occupational therapist mentioned a tip that helps boost protein and fat for kids who have very limited diets: replace the butter and milk in box mac and cheese preparation with full-fat Greek yogurt.
As they’ve gotten older and have diversified their diets slightly, I’ve not had to worry so much about their fat intake, but the protein issue remains. My daughter eats chicken “nuggies” and cheeseburgers only at school and my son has gone completely vegetarian, though not for any moral reason, and lives mostly on sunbutter sandwiches. Thus, I’ve kept the Greek yogurt in the mac and cheese, but have started using fat-free or part skim since I’m more likely to buy it and eat it with fruit throughout the week.
The particular Annie’s mac and cheese varietal my kids prefer says to use 3 tablespoons of milk and, optionally, 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in the preparation. The dry mix itself has 10 grams of protein, which isn’t too shabby. If you like your mac classically orange, Kraft “blue box” mac and cheese boasts 10 grams for prepared.
However, the Greek yogurt, a Tillamook 2% milkfat variety I bought this week because I felt like buying local (Oregon), adds even more protein. I like to live dangerously so I don’t measure it out, but I’d guess that I use about a half cup of yogurt in lieu of the butter and milk, which has 12 grams of protein. Fage brand has similar levels.
First, I whip the yogurt up with the powdered cheese ahead of time in the serving bowl. I’ve experimented with using less yogurt and adding in some pasta water, especially before I knew my kids and I would go for the yogurt taste, but now I lay the yogurt on thick. When the pasta’s done cooking, I pour it into the serving bowl on top of the yogurt cheese mixture and mix it together fairly quickly while it’s all very hot.
No box mac and cheese tastes good the next day, and this one is no exception. Eat it all or compost the remainder.
Kids aren’t bodybuilders, as much as my five-year-old wishes. They don’t need a ton of protein a day. I do, though. And we all need more calcium, too. More than anything nutritive, I prefer the taste of mac and cheese with yogurt. The Greek yogurt adds a tang to the mild-mannered mac, a kid meal I eat alongside my children (and sometimes, in a pinch, without them). While sour cream might add a similar vibe, the yogurt is the right amount of creaminess for my taste.
If my kids weren’t too offended, I might take it a step further and add in some andouille sausage and paprika—only to my bowl, of course. Or, I could turn it into a curry situation. Pesto could come into play. Even a little pepper and pecorino could turn it into a creamy cacio e pepe. Carbonara might be too obvious. But after schlepping the spawn from school to swimming and back again, sometimes a simple, slightly tangy bowl of box mac and cheese is all I want.