I’ll admit, I’m a budget minded shopper. I’ll try store brands, and many items I choose to buy are store brands or lesser known brands
One of the things that I considered pretty useless for purchasing was macaroni and cheese in the box. To me, it pretty much was orange colored butter flavored pasta, and I added the butter for the flavor when I was “mixing” the powder, butter, and milk with the hot pasta. Buying the pasta in bulk and adding the butter left me with a different looking but largely same-flavor product at a far lower cost. The only way boxed macaroni and cheese had any flavor was if I also added cheese. I could make macaroni and cheese from scratch almost as easily, and that certainly tasted better.
This past week, armed with a coupon, I bought Kraft macaroni and cheese in the blue box. On average, it costs about twice as much as the off brands. With the coupon, it was less expensive. Would it taste better, and would that taste outweigh that doubled price?
I finally made it for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against macaroni and cheese, except that it rarely tastes like cheese. It’s easy enough to prepare too.
I followed the directions, although my pasta was done long before the timer said the time was up. (about 2 minutes early) I added the milk, butter and powdered cheese mixture.
There was a difference in the powder. Lots of difference, I had to admit. This looked like maybe there was some real cheese in the powder.
Everything mixed up quickly, without any moments leaving me wondering if it was going to be macaroni and cheese soup. I dished it up, and it actually looked like one of the times when I’d made off brand mac & cheese and had stirred cheese into the mixture.
Now came the taste test.
Okay, it wasn’t Grandma’s homemade macaroni and cheese. Face it, nothing in a box can compare with real white sauce and real cheddar and longhorn cheese with the pasta, topped with bread crumbs and baked until golden brown and bubbly on top. This also didn’t require three pans and three hours, plus leave me with a casserole dish to scrub. We’ll scratch Grandma’s version in our mental comparison, even though the memory made my mouth water.
This WAS better than the off brands and store brands, no matter what name was on the box. It wasn’t a LOT better, but it was enough better that it actually tasted a little cheesy. I’m a hard sell on mac & cheese–during hard times, too many boxes had been bought when they were two for a quarter. I’d swore then that I’d never eat the stuff again. (Yes, never say never, it WILL haunt you forever.)
Trying it on my patient partner was a fairer test. He likes mac & cheese. He also doesn’t see the difference between really cheap coffee and good coffee, but that’s another story for another day.
Even he tasted the difference, stating that it did taste like cheese, real cheese, even if it was not “ultra cheesy.” From the guy who has no taste buds half the time, that was a major achievement.
So it’s not gourmet food, and there is certainly nothing exciting about mac & cheese from a box, but Kraft mac & cheese was tastier and of noticeably higher quality. It’s still a cheap meal, and certainly doesn’t deliver a huge nutritional bang, but when a person is hungry, on a tight budget, and wants a hot meal–it works. It’s also great as a side dish, or jazzed up with cooked vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower. One of the mainstays of my less-than-flush-finances had been mac & cheese, sometimes with sliced hot dogs, a can of tuna, peas, or broccoli mixed in. Even diced leftover chicken turned it into a much heartier meal.
So, save your coupons, take them and step up from the bland no-brand mac & cheese to the Kraft version in the blue box. (There are many versions in the store.) It’s a pleasant surprise.