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"Scaffold" Your Mac and Cheese

08 November 2011

Is Mac and Cheese from a blue box a staple at your house?

Do your kids refuse to eat any other macaroni?

You may have seen or even tried recipes for "healthy" macaroni and cheese. But if your kiddo is a devoted fan of the blue box, chances are that for them, a healthier version of their favorite meal, still feels like a new and unfamiliar food.

Scaffolding is a great tool to help teach your reluctant eater to be a better eater, step by step.

It's a bit like learning to read.  If a child has just learned the a,b,c's, you can't hand her a book and expect her to be able to read it. There are steps in between. Starting at your child's current level, you provide scaffolds, step by step, to help your child progress to reading more and more challenging material.

In my post, "Puzzles and Picky Eaters- How to Use Scaffolding to Teach Your Kids to be Better Eaters" I mentioned that you first need to assess your child's independent level (what he will eat on his own.)  When it comes to macaroni and cheese, will she only eat it from the blue box?  Will he eat some variations (shape, brand) but not anything homemade?  Will she eat homemade macaroni but only with white pasta?

Once you've determined the independent level, you teach your child by altering the food by small incremental steps.

In the case of macaroni and cheese, you can follow two different paths- altering the cheese or altering the pasta.

Let's start with altering the cheese:

First try sprinkling some shredded cheese on top. Choose your child's favorite.  Depending upon your child, you can either sprinkle it yourself and mix it in (this will give the cheese a slightly different taste and texture) or you can give your child a little cup of shredded cheese and let him add it himself.

Continue to alter this a little each time you make it, by adding more or less of the packaged cheese sauce and more or less of the shredded cheese. You can also alter the kinds of cheese that you add.

For a little extra fun, have a "Mac and Cheese Bar."  Provide various kinds of cheese as well as other meats or vegetables and let your child choose her own add-ins.

Once your child eats and enjoys macaroni with added real cheese, you can try a simple homemade macaroni and cheese recipe:  Two options are Mac and Cheese Using Velveeta and Real Homemade Macaroni and Cheese.  Whichever recipe you use, try it first using the same noodles from the blue box. Once your child has accepted the change to homemade sauce, you can then try changing the noodles as well.

"Scaffolding" the Noodles

The noodles in blue box mac and cheese have a much different texture than most macaroni noodles.  If your child is hooked on this particular texture and shape, you can teach them to accept other noodles by altering their noodles slightly.

Start by adding regular macaroni noodles to the blue box noodles.  Continue to add more (and subtract the boxed ones) each time that you make macaroni.

Once your child has adjusted to these slightly thicker and denser, slightly curvier noodles, try other shapes or colors.

Involve your child by letting him choose which noodles, and how many of each, should go in the pot.

Once your child has accepted different noodles and different sauces, she will then be ready to try a "healthy" macaroni and cheese.

If you have a great macaroni and cheese recipe to share, please do so in the comments.

*Please keep in mind that each child is different. You may be able to progress through the steps quickly, or even skip some steps.  You may have to stay at one step for weeks or months before your child is ready for another change.

If you decide to scaffold your mac and cheese, please stop by and let me know how it goes, and share any tips that you discovered along the way!

Did this work for you? Next you can try making Healthy Homemade Hamburger Helper or Cheesy Mac!


  1. I love this idea so much I stumbled and tweeted it.

  2. Thanks, I'm still not tweeting yet :( Goals: This week, Facebook- Next week, Twitter!

  3. My kids have grown up with homemade mac & cheese - I learned how to make it from scratch when my oldest was a toddler, and have slowly weaned us away from the "purple box". But we have trouble with anything but white noodles. Colors are great (but hard to find!), whole wheat just doesn't taste right with cheese. Where did you get those awesome colored macaroni noodles?

    (Stumbled over here from Money Saving Mom and your awesome pumpkin bread recipe!)

    1. We actually got the multi-colored (veggie) noodles in the bulk food section of an Amish store. There are some other veggie noodles that are made by one of the major brands (I can't remember them at the moment though!) that are all one color- I think they have squash in them... I made them once with just butter and my kids actually thought it was mac and cheese because of the color and the fact that the squash added flavor. I wouldn't give up on whole wheat noodles though... I have found really big differences between brands (even though they all seem to list only whole wheat flour as their ingredients!) Another pasta I really like is Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta- they even have a new mac and cheese!


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