Instant Mac & Cheese Without The Box

What is that you ask?

That, my friends, is an escape from the hazardous box of macaroni and cheese that has served you faithfully when you had little time to prepare a meal, or needed an older child to feed him/herself or others.  Kraft macaroni and cheese sounds like such a good idea.  Pasta, milk, cheese – what could be wrong with that?   Well for starters, the macaroni is not whole grain and it is enriched.  You know, the old take-all-the-nutrients-out-and-then-stick-them-back-in in a form that is not as readily absorbed by the body?  Second of all, it’s dehydrated cheese.  It takes a few chemicals to achieve that in a form that anyone would WANT to reconstitute!  It’s certainly not the worst ingredient list in the grocery store but Kraft Macaroni & Cheese includes chemicals like: sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, citric acid, enzymes and worst of all – Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 which are on the Center for Science in the Public Interests’ list of DO NOT CONSUME food additives.

My first attempt to dodge using Kraft-type mac & cheese was to buy Annie’s whole wheat shells and cheese.  Nice product.   WAY too expensive for what it is.  I only bought it on sale, and even then when you see how much it makes you can come up with lots of other ways to spend that 2$.  Next, I began baking macaroni and cheese the old fashioned way.  Everyone loves it except my son.  Really?  By the way, he also prefers what he calls  ‘factory chicken soup’ to my homemade.  Good thing he’s cute, eh?

So… being a nice Mommy at least once in a while and missing the convenience of telling him to make some mac and cheese for himself at lunchtime now and again, I decided to try and make instant mac and cheese without the box.

And what you see in the jar is a frozen portion of the sauce I made on the stove top in the same amount of time it took for the noodles to cook (including bringing the water to a boil).   The recipe was adjusted, several versions of fresh and frozen were kid tested and proclaimed to be as good as Annie’s.  Success!  I had hoped for almost as good (which is the highest praise any of my homemade soups have ever received from him), but to equal the Master – or Mistress – of Mac & Cheese?  Wow.  I think someone should fan me with a palm leaf and feed me grapes.

But first let me give you the recipe.

Instantly Healthier Mac & Cheese
adapted from Instant mac & cheese recipe on

  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 2 Tbsp. White whole wheat flour (what I used)
  • ½ – ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ¼ – ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar cheese (Little Sis’ kids preferred less cheese, and they are awfully cute as well… Just sayin’)

Set water on to boil for pasta (preferably whole grain)*.
Make the sauce:
Mix the flour and milk in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake well to mix the flour in.  Begin the butter melting in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the spices and milk/flour mixture making sure to give another good shake to the jar before pouring the milk in.  Heat the mixture to boiling, stirring well.  Boil, stirring the whole time for 1 minute.  Turn heat to low and add cheese.  Mix well.  Pour over cooked pasta  You can freeze some of the sauce for another quick macaroni meal that a kid can easily prepare.

*I am a dumper not a measurer of things like pasta so I’m afraid I don’t have a set amount of pasta for this recipe – but leftover sauce can be frozen, and leftover pasta can be saved so please forgive the lapse.  Plus you can find your optimal amount of sauce per bowl of pasta when unencumbered by rigid amounts.  Good justification for not having to make this recipe right this second, don’t you think?  Even though it wouldn’t take long at all.

We’ve linked this recipe to Melt in Your Mouth Mondays on Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms.

56 responses

  1. I still buy Annie’s on sale for my 3 year old when it’s on sale for $1 a box. It’s the last food in my whole house that has dairy and we only make it occasionally (with soy milk, ha ha!), but your post inspired me! I have the whole grain elbow macaroni and you are absolutely right that you can make up a sauce WHILE THE NOODLES ARE BOILING. Why do we resort to something prepackaged just because we think it’s convenient? Are we really doing something else during the 8-10 minute boiling time that is so important we can’t whip together our own sauce?

    I make a vegan bechamel and add extra nutritional yeast when I make it cheesy for homemade mac & cheeze, but the addition of the dry mustard sounds brilliant! It’s every bit as simple and quick as the sauce you made above. I am going to make it for the toddler brigade (babysitting) at my house today!


    • Our pleasure. And you’re absolutely right about us thinking it’s convenient. I really do think so much of our dietary life is deeply informed by habit. And some of those habits are really entrenched – like the notion that boxed mac n cheese is the easiest mac n cheese. I’m happy to add the step of grating a little cheese to avoid the cost of the box. I also think there’s value in getting my kids off the box.

      • I keep a box of Annies for when I don’t have cheese or when I’m in a rush. But I won’t make it unless I have a bell pepper or broccoli. But I want to try this and freeze the sauce that would be awesome and just as fast as the box!

      • I’m with ya! But the whole grain version of Annie’s has gotten so expensive, and this truly is as easy. Even going from scratch doesn’t take that long… but the 2nd batch is really fast. Hope you enjoy it!

    • Ditto. My daughter has announced that despite my recent move AWAY from cheese, she would still be perfectly happy to have M&C every day for every meal… Before kids I made many a meal out of simply adding whatever I had on hand to my mac n cheese. Spinach and feta was a particularly inspired bowl of comfort. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. This gorgeous roux M&C was a stand-by for us, too, and a mega-hit with my kids. Since going vegan, I’ve made a successful variation with nutritional yeast that my kids totally love. WOOT!
    Veggiewitch ♥

    • Ooooh! I would love to know how you do that! Little Sis has also been experimenting with some ‘cheesy sauce’ that are cashew based. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. This is just what was needed to get my incredibly fussy nine-year old to finally eat homemade mac ‘ cheese (previously he’d only accept plain pasta with cheese on the side)!

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  8. Interesting… never thought of making homemade instant mac and cheese. My kids prefer box mac and cheese to the real thing too, but then again I don’t make either very often. We also buy Annies, when its on sale only, and then it;s only $1 a box, not THAT bad.

    I will surely give this a try sometime.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Have a wonderful day, and stop by anytime to say hello if you can.

    P.s. After coming back from an extended blogging break, I’ve started a 40 day challenge to get HEALTHY by my birthday. If you get a chance to check it out, I could sure use the support!
    Hugs, Bella 🙂
    Bella’s 40 Day Challenge

    • Thanks for stopping by Bella. I always buy the Annie’s whole grain mac n cheese, which when not on sale is 3$ a box!!! So that and figuring that homemade would be better – even than Annie’s prompted this. I also just wanted to see if I could do it because so many of our bad food choices are made for what we perceive to be convenience’s sake… sometimes it’s really not that much faster! Good luck on your journey to health. Our Baby Steps series might be helpful to you!

  9. I am so glad that I am not the only one whose kids prefer boxed stuff instead of homemade. It is rare but if I buy that nasty boxed mac and cheese the kids go crazy for it. I don’t get it. Homemade tastes soooo much better! I use a recipe similar to the one you gave here and I love it!

    Thanks for linking up to the Healthy Tuesdays Blog Hop- you always have yummy recipes to share!
    Kerry from Country Living On A Hill

  10. I am guilty of using the box when my kids were younger, but now it’s always homemade. Your recipe looks good! Thank you for sharing with Foodie Friends Friday! Please come back this week with another great recipe!

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    • Thanks for the invite! We’ll be sure to check it out! Let us know what you think of the mac n cheese. Our kids were all pleased with it – and that’s saying a lot. 😉

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  17. Looks like a great recipe! I have been making mac and cheese from scratch for 3ish years, because the boxed kind has so many unappealing additives. I love the idea of making extra sauce to freeze for easy access (and I am planning on doing just that!)

    Thanks for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

    • That’s great! It tastes better too, don’t you think? Freezers are such a godsend. It would be hard for me to feed my family the way I do without one. Thanks for hosting and having us!

  18. We just love Mac N Cheese, this looks great. Thank you so much for sharing your great recipe with Full Plate Thursday. Hope you have a great week and come back soon!
    Miz Helen

  19. I made this for my kids today, and they loved it! It came together pretty quickly. I used a bit more than 1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese because that’s how my kids like it. Thanks so much!

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  23. Never had annys but my husband begs for blue box mac and cheese. He is also one of those that like things out of a can better. Talk about discouraging. Searching for something just right. Hope this works!

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