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It is hard to beat good homemade macaroni and cheese, but store bought mac n’ cheese can be a real family-pleaser and time saver.

Macaroni and Cheese--A Kid Favorite!

These days, there are countless macaroni and cheese products.   Frozen, refrigerated, or boxed varieties can be microwaved, baked, or prepared on a stovetop.  There is a lot to choose from!  This Consumer Corner post features information about my favorite mac and cheese brands.  Clearly, I have not tried every macaroni and cheese product available, so I am keeping it simple by narrowing down my top picks into two categories of boxed macaroni and cheese:  best traditional and best whole wheat.  I investigated several popular brands like Kraft’s traditional macaroni and cheese and Velveeta shells and cheese.  Taste, texture, calorie, fat and sodium content, and artificial additives and preservatives were all considered when choosing my top picks.

Best Traditional:  Trader Joe’s Macaroni and Cheese-Wisconsin Cheddar

This brand does not require adding butter or margarine, so the fat and calorie content is half of most traditional brands.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to sacrifice taste!  This pasta has a delicious, tangy, cheddar cheesy flavor.  Kids will appreciate the fun, classic tube shaped pasta.  Parents can feel good about serving this product as it contains no preservatives and the orange-yellow color comes from annatto seed, not artificial food coloring.  Unfortunately, this mac is only available in Trader Joe’s stores.  Click here to find a location near you.

Nutrition Facts: (2.5 oz/1 cup prepared with 2% milk) about 3 servings per box

  • Calories- 270
  • Total Fat- 4g
  • Saturated Fat- 2g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 500 mg
  • Carb- 47 g
  • Fiber- 2 g
  • Sugars- 3 g
  • Protein- 10 g

Best Whole Wheat:  Annie’s Homegrown Organic Whole Wheat Shells and White Cheddar

Similar to my traditional favorite, this brand does not require adding butter or margarine.   This white cheddar variety has a sharp taste, and the shells have a firmer bite than most shells and cheese varieties.  This Annie’s product is made with certified organic whole wheat pasta and certified organic white cheddar cheese.  It is an excellent source of fiber, and is made with 100% whole grain, containing 48 grams per serving!  See Whole Wheat, White Wheat, What?  for more information about whole grains.   You can find Annie’s Whole Wheat Shells and White Cheddar at grocery and natural food stores nationwide.

Nutrition Facts: (2.5 oz/1 cup prepared with 2% milk) about 2.5 servings per box

  • Calories- 260
  • Total Fat- 5g
  • Saturated Fat- 2g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 580mg
  • Carb- 44 g
  • Fiber- 5 g
  • Sugars- 7 g
  • Protein- 10 g

Adding vegetables like tomatoes, peas, and broccoli to mac and cheese is an easy way to boost the nutritional value of any meal.   Incorporating vegetables is an effective approach for introducing new or unaccepted foods to younger children that already love mac and cheese.  Get creative!  For inspiration, check out these recipes from Annie’s that feature adding vegetables to many of their pasta products.

What are your preferred macaroni and cheeses?

Disclaimer: Just The Right Byte provided an objective and independent review of these products; no affiliations or support was obtained from any grocer or food marketer.

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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Snacking is a normal and necessary, if not unavoidable, part of any child’s day.  Whether you are a fellow foodie, a concerned consumer, a proactive parent, or just a health happy nutrition nut, our new series is right up your alley.  “Consumer Corner” is not only an objective review of new and existing products geared toward children, but also an interesting and enlightening account of how products are made and what constitutes them.  The purpose is not to promote or demote any brand or type of food, but instead to give you the tools you need to make your own informed decisions about food purchases.  (Think of us as Switzerland!)  We hope it will take some of the guesswork out of grocery shopping on your life-long journey of healthy eating.

Popchips, Inc. was founded in California in 2007.  What are Popchips?  They are a new innovation in snack chips.  They are not baked, they are not fried, they are…..wait for it…..popped!  It happens using a little heat and pressure on pieces of potato the size of grains of rice or corn kernels.  (This simply couldn’t happen with the bigger slices of traditional chips)

Nutrition Facts: (1 oz./20 chips)

  • Calories- 120
  • Total Fat- 4g
  • Saturated Fat- 0 to 0.5g
  • Trans Fat- 0g
  • Sodium- 250 to 310mg

What’s In?

  • All-natural
  • Blend of seasonings
  • Safflower and/or sunflower oil for seasoning 
  • A little more sodium than traditional fried chips
  • Vegan- original, sea salt & vinegar, and salt & pepper only
  • Allergens:
    • Nuts- none
    • Dairy- Barbeque, Sour Cream & Onion, and Cheddar only
    • Gluten/Wheat- not an ingredient, but present in the processing facility
    • Soy lecithin- Parmesan Garlic only
  • Kosher (certified by kof-k kosher supervision)
  • Acrylamide (found in all fried, baked, and roasted products)

What’s Out?

  • Not Organic
  • Non-GMO
  • Half the total fat of fried chips
  • Zero grams trans fat
  • Low saturated fat
  • No cholesterol
  • No hydrogenated oils
  • No artificial colors or flavors
  • No preservatives (this makes proper storage more important to freshness)
  • No MSG
  • Low in sugar

What are the Options?

  • Original potato
  • Barbeque potato
  • Sour Cream & Onion potato
  • Cheddar potato
  • Sea Salt & Vinegar potato
  • Salt & Pepper potato
  • Parmesan Garlic potato

Where are they found? Whole Foods, Safeway, Target, Wegman’s, Jamba Juice, and select Costco locations. You can also order them online.

My opinion, for what it’s worth: I tried the Barbeque and Cheddar flavors.  To me, the taste was similar to traditional fried potato chips of the same flavor, but without the greasy mess.  There is also an airy quality to the crunch.

If you would like to try them yourself, or just want more information, visit www.popchips.com.  Happy snacking!

*This is not an endorsement of any particular product–just an FYI (for your information).  If there are products that you would like us to review, please let us know by leaving a comment.  Or tell us about the products in “Consumer Corner” that you have tried.  In fact, feel free to comment on anything you would like!

Contributing Author:  Cami Ruark

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