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Our reviews of boxed macaroni and cheese meals have been really popular. It was pretty amazing to me, but I suppose that I should not be surprised. These are easy and pretty inexpensive ways to feed kids and you can tell how much in demand they are just by looking at how much shelf space they take up in the grocery store.
We thought that our reviews had covered most of them but we found a couple more. Why keep reviewing them? Partly the popularity and partly because these two in particular have a lot of fiber (good for your kids).
Annie's has yet another whole wheat mac and cheese - Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar. This is the best of the Annie's we've tasted yet. The shells have a great texture by comparison to other macaronis we've tested and a more nutty flavor. The white cheddar has a good clean taste. This isn't like you freshly grated the cheese, mind you, but it's OK. The meal is a bit salty at 570 mg and that comes through in the flavor. Just a bit less salt and this would be fantastic because the flavor of the cheese would come through better.
Realistically there's a bit more than the 570 mg sodium and 260 calories in a serving because the box is only 2 servings (it claims that it's 2 1/2 but in real life it just is not going to work out that way.)
This is even worse with the Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. I like their pastas and use them often in developing recipes. They are widely available in a lot of shapes, made with 100% whole wheat durum flour and are really high in fiber. They cannot, however, make a good mac 'n cheese dinner. It's just plain bad. The package instructions actually call for 1/4 cup of butter or margarine for what is (effectively) two servings. Two tablespoons of butter per serving? Huh?
Most mac 'n cheese dinners don't call for adding butter any longer so we made it both ways - one with just the milk and powdered cheese and the other also with light spread (adding only 80 calories instead of 300). It was creamier but not really any better tasting. The cheese did not have a good fresh flavor to it. A definite loser in the macaroni and cheese challenge (there goes any hope of a sponsorship). (I suppose that I could redeem myself by saying go and buy Hodgson Mill pasta and make your own Mac n Cheese, but I don't expect them to be calling.)
In any event the Annie's wins this round hands down - and is probably the best one we've tasted so far.
Reviewed: February 27, 2009