Yummy Toddler Foods: Mac ‘n’ Cheese – the Healthier Version

Whenever it comes to planning meals for my family, I would get into this crazy nutrient-balancing auto-pilot mode. And if a new recipe is a one-dish meal (& deficient in certain nutrients), I tend to tweak the recipe in order to include all the 7 classes of nutrients, namely:

1) Carbohydrates (mainly from starchy plant foods, e.g. rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles, corn)

2) Proteins (preferably from meat and fish)

3) Fats (this is my least worry as it is often found together with meat and fish)

4) Vitamins

5) Mineral salts

6) Dietary fibre

7) Water

Although certain vitamins and mineral salts are present in meats, others are only found in plants. Hence, I must have at least 1 green vegetable and 1 fruit (preferably rich in vitamin C) to make the meal a balanced one. Dietary fibre is only found in plant foods and the amount varies depending on the type and part of the plant eaten.

While Yang enjoys Mac & Cheese, I’m just so-so with it. Perhaps the thought of eating macaroni (loads of carbo) with cheese (plenty of fats) doesn’t excite me. However, I decided to give the dish a shot after browsing a mini cook book for toddlers recently. I happened to be in a creative mood. :)

Below is my recipe – an attempt to make Mac ‘n’ Cheese a somewhat nutritionally balanced one-dish meal for my family.

Mac 'n' Cheese - hot from the oven!

Ingredients (for 2 adults & 1 toddler)

  • Butter – 4 tbsp
  • Flour – 4 tbsp
  • Fresh milk – 450 ml (can be replaced by formula milk)
  • Elbow macaroni – 150 g  140g
  • Broccoli – 6 florets, sliced
  • Carrot – 1 small stick, peeled and grated finely
  • Fresh corn on cob – 1 cob, kernels sliced off
  • White button mushrooms – 200 to 250 g (or 1 tub), with dirt brushed off and sliced
  • Bacon (lean) – 3 strips (about 150 g), trim off excess fats and cut into small pieces with a pair of scissors
  • Grated cheddar – 80 g (or 4 cheddar sandwich slices each of 20 g, broken into small pieces. I used President’s.)
  • Finely grated parmesan – 5 tbsp
  • Ground pepper – dashes
  • Optional seasoning: Italian dry herbs / Cajun powder – dashes
  • Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp

Method

1.         Preheat the oven to 200°C.

2.         Cook elbow macaroni

  • Add macaroni and a pinch of salt into a pot of water, bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes or until al dente.
  • Drain the macaroni and set aside.

3.         Stir-fry vegetables and bacon

  • While the macaroni is being cooked, heat up some vegetable oil in a heated wok and stir-fry the broccoli, carrot, corn kernels and mushrooms until the mushrooms begin to sweat.
  • Add bacon and stir fry until it is cooked.
  • Dish up the vegetable mixture into a bowl and pour the remaining liquid (this is salty) into another bowl. (If there’s no liquid left, it is fine.)

4.         Make the cheese sauce (Mornay sauce)

  • Rinse the wok with tap water and use a paper towel to wipe dry.
  • Using low heat, melt butter in the wok and add flour stirring constantly for 1-2 minutes to make a smooth paste (roux).
  • Add milk a little by little, stirring constantly, to dissolve the roux to make a smooth sauce.
  • Once all the milk has been added, continue to stir until the sauce is about to boil.
  • Once the sauce starts to boil, remove from heat and stir in the grated cheddar cheese to dissolve. (It is alright if some cheese bits are still visible.)

5.         Add the drained macaroni, vegetable and bacon mixture, pepper, 1 tbsp of the reserved liquid (from step 3) and optional seasoning into the cheese sauce and stir to coat all the ingredients with the cheese sauce.

6.         Transfer everything into a heatproof dish and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Lovely...sprinkle with some Parmesan before popping it into the oven :)

7.         Bake in the preheated oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes or until the top becomes golden brown. Serve warm.

Update on 19th Dec 2011: I have made some adjustment to the recipe (see red print) after tonight’s attempt. 150g macaroni was too much for us to finish and so I reduced it by 10g. And the addition of corn made the dish even more delicious. :)

Note:

The bacon could be replaced with other meats such as minced chicken, minced pork or fish (e.g. threadfin, cod and salmon). Alternatively, you could omit the meat altogether. I tried one vegetarian version using broccoli, tomatoes and egg plant. :)

Multi-colours! Good phytochemicals for the body :)

My bowl of vegetarian mac & cheese :)


5 Comments to Yummy Toddler Foods: Mac ‘n’ Cheese – the Healthier Version

  1. Anna says:

    Hi Ling

    My name’s Anna and I’m in Perth (am originally from Malaysia). My little girl Isabelle is 21mths+… came across your blog not too long ago and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the blog posts – very inspirational! Hannah is such an adorable and intelligent girl. I especially enjoy reading your recipe posts/cooking ventures like this one. I too, am obsessed with preparing a nutrient-balanced meal for my girl each time. :)

    Season’s Greetings to you and your wonderful family. Have a blessed Christmas and New Years!

    Cheers
    Anna

  2. Ling says:

    Hi Anna,

    I’m happy to meet another mother of a toddler girl! Thank you for your encouraging compliments on our girl and blog posts – makes my day :)

    A blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year to you and family as well :D

  3. Theresa says:

    Hi Ling

    Guess what? I just bought an oven two weeks ago. And I am keen to try out this recipe. When it comes to cooking, I am really dummy. So, hope you don’t mind me asking this question. What kind of glassware can I use for the oven? I am afraid of putting normal glassware I have at home in the kitchen and later it “exploded” in the oven!

  4. Ling says:

    Hi Theresa,

    Yay, welcome to baked foods! Use oven-proof or Pyrex glass ware. Ceramic or porcelain dishes are fine too.

    Btw, the vegetarian version is rather bland. The top recipe tastes ok. :-) Wish you success! Oh ya, the macaroni can reduce to 100-120g.

  5. Theresa says:

    Thanks!!! Will try this recipe out!