Sunday, April 18, 2010

Freezers are a Mom’s Best Friend: “Instant” Mac & Cheese

I don’t know what I would do without my freezer. From keeping teething rings cool, to freezing home-made babyfood in ice cube trays (the perfect portion for little ones), to frozen fruits and meats, my freezer is often so full I long for a second one.

This week’s tip concerns one of my favorite meals: Mac & Cheese. Oh, how I love instant Mac & Cheese – especially the kind where the cheese comes in liquid form! Alas, we are trying to avoid prepackaged, mystery-ingredient foods as much as possible to reduce our eco-footprints and keep our family as healthy as possible.

I’ve got two steps that keep my kid in nutritious Mac & Cheese, and keeps mommy from having to make home-made stuff on a daily basis. First, I found a great, easy and quick recipe from Real Simple Magazine: I call it “fake” because you don’t have to make a roux, and because it has an entire head of cauliflower in it - which my daughter actually eats! I also use whole wheat pasta instead of the usual stuff. It's pretty yummy.

Whenever I make it (about once per month) I take all the leftovers and freeze them in muffin tins lined in plastic wrap (so it doesn’t stick to the tins). I push the pasta into the muffin tins so that it freezes as one solid piece of casserole and cover with more plastic wrap. (Note, in this photo, I didn't to a great job sealing it, and you can see the freezer-burn ice crystals on it). Once they are frozen, I pop them in a baggie.

Whenever my toddler needs a quick lunch, I grab a Mac & Cheese “muffin” out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave and – tada! – instant Mac & Cheese!

Total cost: the cost of a casserole (any favorite casserole will do!)

Total time: Making the Mac & Cheese takes about 15 minutes prep and 30 minutes cooking. Freezing takes as long as it takes to put leftovers away. Defrosting/heating it takes about a minute per muffin.

Result: Less, prepackaged food with mystery ingredients; Instant, yummy toddler-sized lunches!

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