Taste Test: Frozen Macaroni and Cheese
Are you falling for claims that many brands of frozen macaroni and cheese are reasonable options for a healthy dinner? Check out the results of this evaluation before your next trip down the freezer aisle.
We used our typical rating scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) for this taste test. Each brand was evaluated based on taste and nutrition, paying special attention to calories, fat, sodium and ingredient quality. Many of the brands had both conventional oven and microwave instructions; we prepared all of them in the microwave for consistency.
Nutrition Info: 300 calories; 6 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated); 570 milligrams sodium
The Healthy Eats Take: This low-cal version of mac and cheese features firm pasta in a watery, yellow-ish, salty tasting sauce. It also has long list of ingredients with trans fats and plenty of thickeners and stabilizers – including carrageenan, cornstarch and gelatin.
Cost: $4.79 per (20-ounce) container ($1.90 per 8-ounces)
Nutrition Info: 320 calories; 15 grams of fat (6 grams saturated); 830 milligrams sodium
The Healthy Eats Take: This brand has a distinctive mac and cheese flavor but a thick, gummy sauce and overly mushy pasta. It’s highest in sodium, with a whopping 35% of the daily recommendation in just 1 cup. It also contains partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats).
Nutrition Info: 230 calories; 7 grams of fat (4.5 grams saturated); 370 milligrams sodium
The Healthy Eats Take: This version is made with organic ingredients including a few extra servings of veggies. It has a slightly chalky aftertaste but just the right amount of seasoning. Organic sweet potatoes and butternut squash outweigh powdered cheese and the addition of green peas along with the pasta is a nice touch.
Nutrition Info: 370 calories; 18 grams of fat (5 grams saturated); 480 milligrams sodium
The Healthy Eats Take: Complete with a crispy topping, this pasta entree has a pleasant blend of white cheeses and a creamy texture. It's highest in total fat but contains less saturated fat than many of the others (with some coming from palm oil). The cheese sauce is thickened with flour, cornstarch and whole milk.
Nutrition Info: 400 calories; 16 grams of fat (10 grams saturated); 640 milligrams sodium
The Healthy Eats Take: Very appealing looking and super tasty! This creamy pasta was full of flavor (my kids asked for seconds of this one). It was a little over dressed with sauce but the pasta maintained a nice texture. Made with organic pasta and milk, additional ingredients were cheddar cheese, butter, rice flour and sea salt. It did lose some credit for being so high in sodium.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.