As a stay-at-home mom, I like to be sure my family is eating healthy. But, of course, now with the challenging economic times, it's more important than ever to try to get the most value out of every meal I make.
While I love to cook, I'm not always as stringent as I should be about watching what I spend at the grocery store. And with three kids at home, our grocery bill can really get out-of-hand. It seems like I'm always at Kroger! So to help get me back on track with our grocery spending, I've been challenging myself to make healthy meals for about ten dollars or less. I don't always pull it off, but at least I'm watching what I spend now (and how often I go to the grocery store). Plus, I always love a challenge...
The one thing I always turn to for a great inexpensive meal is pasta! Throw it together with a little sauce and a salad or a veggie, and you've got a great dinner for the family. Lucky for me, pasta's usually the one thing I can get the girls to eat without complaints. So with Jeremy out of town for a meeting this week, I decided the girls and I should make some Oven-Ready Mac 'n Cheese. It's very inexpensive to make, and it still feels like I'm making something special for dinner even though Daddy's out of town.
To get started, preheat your oven to 350°. While your oven's heating, boil your pasta. Because you're going to bake it later, I never let mine cook fully. I like it to have a nice little al dente bite to it. There's nothing worse than mushy pasta!
When the pasta's perfectly al dente, drain it in the sink. To help reduce the number of pots to clean up later, I put the cooked pasta in a bowl, and I used the same pot to prepare the cheese sauce.
Add the butter to your pan, and let it melt down and begin to sizzle.
When the butter's ready, add the flour and spices. I always let mine brown for a little bit, so I don't end up with the "raw flour" flavor... Be careful, and keep a watchful eye as you brown. You don't want the butter to burn!
When your mixture turns a light brown, you're ready for the half-and-half.
Add the half-and-half (or milk). Using a whisk or spatula, mix quickly and constantly until all of the flour has been distributed into the half-and-half. This is probably the most important step in the whole process. If you don't stir quickly enough, you'll end up with lumps in your sauce. It may help if you reduce the heat just before you add the half-and-half. You can also strain the sauce before you add the cheese if you do end up with lumps.
While your sauce cooks (and begins to thicken), prepare the cheese. I used 10-12 slices of American cheese and cut them into fourths.
When the sauce begins to thicken slightly, begin adding the cheese, a few pieces at a time. Stir constantly so the cheese doesn't stick to the sides or bottom of the pan.
After you've added all of the cheese, the sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of your spoon or spatula.
Add the cooked macaroni to the sauce, and mix well.
Pour the mac 'n cheese into a casserole dish for baking.
But before you put it into the oven, crush up the cornflake topping. I put mine into a Ziploc® bag and crushed them with my fingers. You could also use a rolling pin to crush them.
After the cornflakes have been crushed, sprinkle them over the macaroni and cheese. This will add a nice little crunch.
Put the dish in the oven until the mac 'n cheese is hot and bubbly. It's ready, and it's oh oh-so so-good! Serve it up by itself (like we do), or add ham or broccoli to it to jazz it up a bit. My girls prefer it plain. They know what they like, and there are no complaints from me. It's hot, fresh, and it only cost about what you might pay for two Happy Meals! We ate this for two days.
When we had this for lunch the other day, the girls were all smiles! Big sister (Sydney) was at school when we took this pic...Say "cheesy"!
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