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The last time that we tasted boxed Mac & Cheese was about a year and a half ago. At the time I did this at the urging of my brother. His kids ate a lot of the stuff, and he felt that the Annie's products came out pretty good (they did in our tests). This company has made a name for itself and has probably fed almost every kid whose moms and dads shopped at Whole Foods or the like.
I was wandering the aisle looking for some good quality pastas for an upcoming recipe when there they were - Annie's D.W. Whole Wheat Pasta and Alfredo. Whole wheat? Hmm... I thought. Looking at the package there's 5 grams of fiber per serving. Hmmm...
The first thing that you notice about the Annie's D.W. Whole Wheat Pasta and Alfredo, after cooking the pasta and adding it to the powdered cheese and milk, is that the cheese smells like CHEESE. Amazing I know, but there it is. This is a pretty good product, but it does suffer from being a bit too salty (why would the folks at Annie's want to feed kids all that salt?).
The box says that there are 2 1/2 serving but this is realistically going to serve only two. All three of the pastas we tested were weighed before cooking and they contained right at 5 ounces of pasta (that's two 2 1/2 ounce servings, and 2 ½ ounces of pasta is more like 1 1/4 servings). Going by this you do have to factor an increase of all the Nutrition Facts info by about half. That's a lot when you consider the reported sodium is 570 mg. Once again a “healthy foods” manufacturer adds too much salt.
Otherwise, this is a good product. Good pasta with some flavor and texture. A thin but reasonably cheesy white sauce and not too much fat.
Next to the Annie's on the shelf was Back To Nature 100% Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. This comes in best of all at 7 grams of fiber and is lower in calories. That is, until you read the fine print about the fact that it doesn't include the milk or butter that you add - talk about being deceptive (ah, well). The pasta cooks quickly and this one does call for 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter along with the milk.
All deceptions aside, this is pretty darn good. I don't think that it's just the butter that makes it better. They use a powdered white cheddar and the flavor is much more robust than the Annie's. The pasta is not as good, however, being less dense and flavorful.
We give this an Eat but be warned. If you figure that there's actually 2 servings in the box (not two and a half) and you add in the milk and butter, the total calories per serving comes in at about 465 calories, 14 grams of fat and 930 mg of sodium.
Guess what? Kraft makes a whole grain pasta. Not whole wheat, mind you but only 50% whole grain. Still, the Kraft Whole Grain Macaroni & Cheese Dinner is better than their regular product. In fact, I'd call that a huge leap forward for Kraft (not all that well known for their healthy processed foods). (Surprise! I found out shortly before this column was to be posted that the Back to Nature brand is owned by Kraft. Hmm....)
This is made in the traditional way with a milk and margarine (we used light spread). It was OK but pretty much what you would expect from Kraft. The same "day-glo" orange cheese, the same too salty flavor and the macaroni is fair at best. Kind of bland even for whole wheat pasta.
These are not the best choices for your kids. Making your own, fresh Mac & Cheese is the best choice so that you can control the quality of the ingredients as well as calories and sodium. That said, these boxed Mac & Cheeses are at least a step forward in using whole grain pastas.