Macaroni and cheese can be transformed into a more nutritious and gourmet meal with a few clever variations. A 1-cup serving of from-the-box macaroni and cheese contains about 260 calories, a bit of the grain group and the dairy group, but not much more nutritional value [sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kraft].
An obvious way to go a bit more gourmet is to make your own macaroni and cheese from scratch. This allows you to add a variety of different ingredients. Switch up the cheeses, or do a blend of multiple cheeses, such as Colby, Parmesan or Swiss, instead of just cheddar [source: Cooking Light]. If you want to go even further, try Mascarpone, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyere [source: Artisanal Premium Cheese]. For creamy sauces, some recipes incorporate whole cream or sour cream instead of milk. Spicier varieties can include jalapeños or Dijon mustard.
"Macaroni and cheese is sacred," says Berkoff. "However, depending on how adventuresome your kids are, you could add diced Niçoise olives -- tell them they're pieces of 'dirt' -- 7-year-aged cheddar or a Greek-style yogurt in the sauce."
For those that might be a bit less adventurous, making a small tweak to their already familiar box brand might be the best route. Try switching out the plain old tube noodles for a version that uses whole-grain noodles or a different shape of noodle. Another idea is mixing frozen butternut squash into the sauce; it's the same color as the cheese sauce and will add some nutrition and variety to the dish. For those that like a bit of meat, add some small pieces of ham or bacon to the mix.
Next, we'll look at another kid favorite popular at fast-food restaurants -- the cheeseburger.