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Blue Box Inspired Mac + Cheese

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Vegetarian
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Big Kids Plate
Toddler Plate

Let Your Friends Try This Recipe!

Why we love it:

My kids love the blue box mac - they do NOT love my grandmother’s (delicious) recipe for bechamel based, thick and creamy baked mac & cheese (*sigh*). I have no problem serving them blue box mac & cheese from time to time, but I don’t really enjoy it as a meal. This version didn’t fool them, but they did enjoy it - and paired with a gorgeous fall salad, it was a meal we’ll all be craving again soon.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Elbow Pasta (or other dried short pasta)
  • 212 cups Cheddar Cheese (or a blend, shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 14 teaspoon Dry Mustard
  • 14 teaspoon Onion Powder (optional)
  • 14 teaspoon Black Pepper (optional)
  • 1 head Romaine Lettuce
  • 1 head Radicchio
  • 4 Tablespoons Walnuts (optional)
  • 12 Cucumber
  • 1 Pear
  • 4 Tablespoons Dried Cranberries
  • 112 cups Whole Milk 1.5 cup whole milk (or half & half, divided)
  • 14 cup Salad Dressing (balsamic vinaigrette recommended)

Cooking Instructions

  • 1. PASTA

    Bring a large pasta pot of water to a boil. Add 1 Tablespoon kosher salt. Once boiling, cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the al dente package instructions. Before draining, scoop out about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

  • 2. CHEESE

    Meanwhile, grate the cheese if needed. Add the teaspoon of salt, powdered mustard and onion powder and black pepper, if using. Set aside.

  • 3. SALAD

    Wash, dry and then chop the romaine and radicchio; toss together in a bowl. Top with walnuts, sliced cucumber, sliced pear, and dried cranberries. Toss lettuces with salad dressing to taste.

  • 4. MILK

    Once the pasta is drained, add the milk to the pot and set it over medium-high heat; bring it to a simmer. Continue whisking gently until the milk thickens slightly to the consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 4 minutes.

    Turn the heat to low and begin mixing a handful of cheese into the milk at a time. Stir until all the cheese has melted and the sauce is creamy. Remove the sauce from the heat.

  • 5. COMBINE

    Add the pasta into cheese sauce and stir to coat the pasta evenly. Add a few Tablespoons of pasta cooking water at a time for a looser sauce. It’s done when you like the consistency.

  • 6. SERVING

    Serve the mac & cheese right away with the salad on the side.

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Substitutions

  • GLUTEN FREE:
    use GF pasta
  • DAIRY FREE:
    we haven’t tested this
  • CHEDDAR:
    a blend is nice, try jack, provolone, mozzarella, gruyere, anything that melts well
  • RADICCHIO:
    it can be bitter so omit if preferred
  • PEAR:
    mix and match the salad to your taste, try orange segments, persimmons, and apple

Kid Friendly Version

Big Kids Plate
Toddler Plate

How to Tweak This Recipe for Kids:

  • Stick to plain, mild cheeses for kids who are trying new things
  • If concerned about the cheese, keep some pasta separate and offer it plain
  • Break apart salad into the ingredients that they might try. Swap in ingredients that are a win alongside something new

For Toddlers

  • If it’s too much cheese, mix up a separate batch for them with pasta but only a few spoons of the cheese sauce rather than a full grownup blend

For Choosy Eaters

  • Serve plain pasta if needed
  • Make the dish with a pasta shape that they select or really enjoy
  • Fill plate with veggies and fruit that are liked

Prep Ahead & Use It Up

  1. Shred cheese as needed
  2. If you have leftover mac & cheese, reheat it in a pot with a bit of milk, stirring often. You can microwave it but the oils from the cheese may separate out. It isn’t quite as good leftover, a great option is to pack it into a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and serve it baked the second time

Culinary Skills

Use orange cheddar if that’s what your family expects! For this photo I used mostly white cheddar so it’s pale in color.

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