Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

The Easiest Macaroni-and-Cheese


In honor of my baby boy’s fourth birthday, I have a confession. (Prepare to be shocked and horrified.)


My youngest child does not eat vegetables. At all. Ever. Even writing those words, I droop a little. I have failed.

When I was quite new to motherhood, I noted with disapproval a spate of new cookbooks touting the simplicity and practicality of mixing pureed vegetables into every dish you prepared. Prune puree smuggled into the pot roast, creamed cauliflower sneaked into the macaroni, smashed spinach stowed away in the spaghetti sauce. The theory was this:all you need to do is cook the vegetables to death and then puree them into oblivion and, voila, your kids won’t even notice they’re there! Now what kind of magic trick is that? The logical outcome of such a system is obviously that you would raise a whole set of humans who believed they hated vegetables, adults who had never experienced the wonder of a perfectly steamed summer green bean or a tender-crisp roasted brussels sprout. Worse yet, they would never have even seen those wonders acknowledged! What an appalling idea. I rejected the theory outright, feeling certain that if you feed your kids vegetables they can see and taste from the very beginning of their lives, their appreciation for those flavors will no doubt develop as they age, and by the time they reach adulthood, you’ll be sending out into the world a set of robust persons with straight white teeth and a taste for all things healthful. Oh, yes. That is obviously true.

And yet…

My youngest child has passed his first four years in a household that is mostly vegetarian, and I’ve steadfastly refused to prepare him alternative fare–no chicken fingers and frozen french fries for him when the rest of us are eating lentil soup!–and the result of this foolproof system has thus far been that he survives many days on bread, butter, and Craisins. His older siblings tell him that “big kids like vegetables,” and he says, “But I don’t!”

Last week, I told him he couldn’t have dessert unless he ate a one-square-centimeter piece of carrot.  This was a slow-roasted carrot, perfectly tender, lightly caramelized in the bottom of a crock of roasted pork loin. A carrot fit for absolutely any finicky palate. And my child? He chewed up the carrot piece, gagged, swallowed, gagged, and promptly threw up in his plate. Seriously. What am I supposed to do with that?


Don’t tell him, but it’s a carrot cake! (He only eats the frosting anyway!)

If you have any ideas, please let me know…but whatever your idea is, it had better not involve a bowl of overcooked vegetables and a blender!

In the meantime, I’m ready to make part two of this confession: Besides failing to teach my child to eat vegetables, I have also been known to feed my kids boxed macaroni and cheese…regularly. In my defense, they like itsometimes I buy the organic brand … I’ve quit  I’ve cut way, way back. And the reason I’ve cut way, way back is that I finally stumbled onto a method of making homemade macaroni and cheese that really is (almost) as easy as the boxed kind. The only part that is more burdensome is that you will need to shred your cheese, and I guess you could avoid that by buying the pre-shredded kind.

I have no idea why anyone starts their macaroni-and-cheese recipe by making a white sauce, but I always thought that was necessary in order to end up with a creamy sauce (like you get by mixing together powdered orange-colored cheese-type stuff and milk). I thought only food science could combine the milk and cheese smoothly without the aid of some kind of thickener/emulsifier. But in my kitchen, laziness is the mother of invention, and one day, you know what I did? I cooked some noodles, drained them, added some milk and butter and then stirred in a whole heap of shredded cheese. Know what happened? It turned beautiful and velvety–not gloppy or goopy or stringy. I do not know why. Does everyone already know this?

Just in case you don’t, here’s the recipe. It was the centerpiece of my little guy’s birthday dinner, alongside hot dogs (heaven help me!) and some lovely lemon roasted green beans (which he declined even to taste, saying, “It’s my birthday!).


1 lb. good-quality pasta

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon butter

8 ounces shredded cheddar

1. Cook the pasta in super-salty boiling water until it’s almost done–a minute or two short of al dente. (My package said to cook for 10 minutes, and I cooked it for 8.)


2. Drain it but do not rinse! Return it to the pan and return the pan to the eye, over low heat.


3. Add the milk, the butter, and the shredded cheese.


4. Stir well and cook over low heat until the cheese melts and then the sauce tightens up. Add more milk if you need to.


Forgive yourself: It’s real food after all! (And if you just have to mix in some cauliflower mush, go ahead…I guess.)



4 thoughts on “The Easiest Macaroni-and-Cheese

  1. My kids thank you for this. I “forget” about mac and cheese sometimes because it hurts me, but they were happily surprised to see it on their plates tonight. Bowties. Yum! Went well with rotisserie chicken and sweet potatoes. (easiest dinner ever)

    I am sorry to hear just how much your little man hates veggies. It’s so frustrating when you truly can’t make them do (or like!) something! Just keep putting a bite on his plate and he may just eat one when you’re not looking. Might be when he’s 19, but it will happen. With your yummy cooking, it has to!

    Good luck, momma. We all need some, I think!

    And um, I did the very same thing to my mom years ago over cold mashed potatoes, or was it peas? Think I should go call and apologize to her now. =)

  2. I have to admit that does make me feel a little better. I don’t think of you as a picky eater, so maybe there is hope.

    Do you know he won’t even eat potatoes??? Not even potatoes whipped with butter and half-and-half! He says, “They taste like vegetables!” I guess he does eat fruit… sometimes. I’m tempted to blame his shrimpiness on his diet, though. He weighed himself on the morning of his birthday and was very proud to report (with his daddy’s help) that he weighed “33 pounds old!” I actually think he may be the puniest of our three!

  3. Even with my real food values I always buy bulk mac and cheese at costco and we eat it about once a week. I feel better that it’s organic and working part time it’s nice to not always have to cook a ton. And my 31 pound 5 year old loves it… with peas! Wish I had some tips for ya!

    • If you won’t judge me for the 15 pounds of sugar I keep in my pantry, I won’t judge you for your weekly box of organic macaroni! When I use the box, I always put an extra big blob of butter in there for my undersized children…and then I try to avoid eating what’s left in the pan myself!

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