Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to Make Macaroni and Cheese Totally From Scratch

Fun Fact: In Canada, mac and cheese is called "Kraft Dinner" even when it is not Kraft brand. That's what you learn from attending Bible college in Canada. You learn that, and a lot about the Bible. Now, on to the post.

In the spring, I found boxed macaroni and cheese for $0.25 per box. When I was a new wife, that was the standard price, but now it is a rare deal. Now I only see boxed mac and cheese for $0.35 or higher, and that's the store brand. Coupon queens may find better deals, though.

I bought a lot of boxes when they were $0.25. Over the summer, we ate them up. They were good for lunches, since my husband was home more over summer vacation. Those boxes I bought have been gone for a few months. Now we love home-made macaroni and cheese.

I remember Amy Dacyczyn did a cost comparison in The Tightwad Gazette of boxed mac and cheese verses discount purchased macaroni and bulk cheese powder. She came to the conclusion that the boxed mac and cheese was a better deal. But is it a better deal over truly home-made whole wheat, real ingredient macaroni and cheese? Today, I crunch the numbers.

For our family, a meal was two boxes, with a half cup of milk and a half cup of butter mixed in. We usually mix in meat and veggies, and lately we've been on a taco mac kick, but today, we're dealing strictly with the mac and cheese. I'm using $0.35 as the cost per box as that is what I would be paying if I were still buying it boxed.

2 boxes of macaroni and cheese - $0.70
1/2 cup milk - $0.10
1/2 cup butter - $0.50

Total: $1.30

We make our own whole wheat noodles. I say that "we" make them not because my husband helps, but because Daniel, my three-year-old, likes to roll out the dough as best he can. I wrote a pasta tutorial here. It's a very basic recipe. I have more recently been making a soaked grained pasta. This recipe works great. Soaking grains is not really an extra step, it is just a different spacing of steps. Instead of making the pasta dough right before you make the pasta, you make it the night before and let it sit. It makes for a much healthier pasta. The grand total cost for making your own pasta is $0.24.

To make cheese sauce, I melt the following in a pan, then stir in the cooked noodles.

1/2 cup milk - $0.10
2 tablespoons butter - $0.25
4 ounces of grated cheese - $0.49

I first tried this recipe when I was still using American cheese for everything, so if it works with American, it will work with whatever cheese you have. It works great with my mozzarella.

Grand Total: $1.08

I actually hadn't calculated the cost until I wrote this post, as I was willing to pay more for a healthier mac and cheese. I wasn't sure I would beat the conventional boxed mac and cheese, but real food is triumphant again! Pretty exciting, huh?

UPDATE: I miscalculated the cost of the butter in the homemade version. Two tablespoons is $0.13, not $0.25, bringing the total to $0.96.


Anonymous said...

Actually I am probably more American :) I refer to Mac'nCheese as that and not Kraft dinner.

but we do say Pop for things like Coke and pepsi, Ginger Ale etc. I have yet to meet a Canuck that says "Aboot" and "eh".

And where I live our winters are so mild that the snow doesn't usually hit until February and it's a skiff :)

Actually I don't even use the Canadian system for measuring, I use pounds, inches and miles and cannot comprehend Celsius system, when it comes to weather temps I use the American Fahrenheit system, makes sense to meet it's hot out oh gee it's 80 plus degrees, it's cold out wow it's 30 degrees etc. :O )

Sorry I digressed, I have never seen Mac'nCheese here for 25 cents, at one time it was on sale for 50 cents a box, and now it runs as high at $1.19 a box.

I buy it in bulk (we have it rarely), so I buy 12 boxes for about 11 bucks or so, so it makes each box less than a dollar.

I do like to cook from scratch, but I do use some processed foods in a pinch, I think it's a balancing act all around, and my boy's do love their fruit :)

Mom in Canada

Clisby said...

When I was a child in the U.S. South, you would routinely see mac & cheese in the vegetable column of diner menus. Now they've been demoted to "sides".

Your recipe is similar to mine, except that I don't make my own pasta. Also, I make a roux first before adding the milk and cheese - just like you would if you were making a cream soup.

Anonymous said...

In June of 2008 I priced the cheese sauce powder at the bulk food co-op and while I can't remember exactly what the price was I do remember that buying the powder and pasta separately cost 160% of what buying the Kraft boxed at 5/$4 (the usual sale price around here, but I hold out until it is 50 cents or less per box). I hate the stuff, but my hubby and son love it. I like from scratch mac&cheese, but they hate it. Oh well! I can do without the pasta pounds, believe me!

Jenny said...

Ditto the previous poster re: it's all a balancing act. My kids like the boxed stuff better than homemade and frankly, sometimes we just need a fast meal that requires no real thought or serious effort. I buy the Annie's kind and just fool myself into thinking that it's better than other boxed kinds of macaroni, LOL. I got a ton for free last year when it was on sale for $1/box and there were coupons available for 50 cents off of any Annie's product. I spent a few dollars buying the coupons in bulk from E-Bay, then took them to the store (where they doubled the 50 cent coupons) to get it for free. Well, I guess it technically wasn't free since I did spend a few bucks on the coupons, but close enough...

Jenny said...

Oh, and one thing I forgot: next time you make boxed mac & cheese skip the milk and stir in a 1/2 c. or so of plain yogurt instead. It makes it so much richer and creamier. It's the only way we can eat it now.

natalie said...

We like the taste of our baked mac'n'cheese way better than storebought.

Our occasional convenience meal is top ramen, with an egg added to increase the protein. :)

Anonymous said...

Goodness, I never see KD in Canada for .35 either, and I live in one of the cheapest parts of the country. It's over a dollar a box. Way cheaper for me to make it from scratch (heck, I can get a 5-cup box of WW macaroni for 1.30!).

Homemade tastes a thousand times better, anyhow. MMMMmacaroni, my truest weakness.

This might sound dumb-ish, but is Taco Mac a common food in the States? I've never heard of it. What do you put in yours?

Great post, thanks - Acheron.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment from our Canadian neighbor:) BTW, here in Kansas we call all soda products "pop" too!

I have never bothered to estimate the cost of boxed versus homemade because #1 homemade tastes soooooo much better, and #2 it is soooooo much healthier!

Emily said...

Acheron, I found my taco mac recipe on a box of mac and cheese ages ago, and I really don't know if it is popular. I put ground beef with taco seasonings and salsa in it with whatever veggies we have on hand, usually peppers and onions, sometimes tomatoes, corn or olives.

Anonymous said...

I buy the store brand mac 'n cheese in bulk when it's 25 cents per box, too. The man and the kids love them. The homemade mac 'n cheese costs me about $1.00 to make, I have to agree with previous poster; sometimes, it's more convenient to cook the boxed stuff than to make from scratch. :)

Great post, as always.

Iba @ knit.jsminn.com

Anita said...

Do you know about the $5 Dinner website. I know you are making a lot of your things cheaper, but I thought you'd enjoy that site as well the address is http://www.5dollardinners.com

I'm enjoying your site and my daughter and I read often as I prepare her for living on a tight budget one day when she is married.


Kayleigh said...

Now I'm curious where you went to bible college in Canada, but I won't ask you to say!

I am American, married a Canadian and live in Canada... still can't get used to calling things by their brand name (Kraft Dinner, Kleenex, Revellos)

Simple in France said...

Phew! I'm glad the real mac won because I don't the glowing box stuff anymore. I had enough of all that when I was in college . . . that and ramen. Never again I say. And I'm glad it can still be done without breaking the budget. (besides, I absolutely love mac and cheese--the real kind anyway!) Excellent work.

PS--I hate working out how much recipes cost, so thanks for doing it for me :).

Patty said...

Does the box kind need twice as much butter as the homemade? That affects the price comparison considerably. Not sure how powdered milk would adjust things.
The nice thing about homemade is you can use whatever cheese you have on hand and pasta is easy since A: you have the flour for so many other things and B: you can do anything with the noodles (sauce, taco, veggie, etc-even different shapes). Multipurpose items are always prefered in simple living with limited storage space.

vm said...

I think one important point that seems to have not been mentioned thus far is the cost/value of your *time*. Just for argument's sake, you may want to consider the theoretical monetary value of your time and how much of that is used in order to save the 22 cents off of boxed mac/cheese.

This is *not* to say I think it is actually wasted time, or that there aren't major benefits to using less/healthier ingredients, I just think it's an often unmentioned part of equations like this, and sometimes we all need to pick our battles.

Valuable post though, as always (worth at least 22 cents!).

Emily said...

Patty, I made the boxed mac and cheese according to the box, but homemade doesn't need as much fat added because I use real (fatty) cheese. Since the milk amount is the same for each recipe, powdered would lower each the same amount.

vm, if I were going to factor in the cost of time, I would also be factoring the cost of health. A soaked grain, whole wheat box of macaroni and cheese is not on the market, at least not in my grocery stores. I would assume two boxes would cost considerably more than $0.70, and my time would be well-compensated for. I also don't calcuate the cost of my time in cooking because I enjoy cooking immensely and my kids like to help, so it is family time, not a chore. With things I don't enjoy, I would calculate the cost of time.

crabcakes said...


I think that it's wonderful that it's cheaper but even better that it's real ingredients and homemade. I do a lot of budget meals but if the difference in price is a handful of change, I'll always choose the healthier option even if it's a little more expensive. It's still very frugal and I figure the 12 cents extra I pay comes off of my health bill in the end. :)

stephanie said...

Good for you for making the healthier homemade version of mac and cheese!

By the way, a wee correction on your factoid... I can't speak for all Canadians, obviously, but I have never heard anyone call homemade macaroni and cheese "Kraft Dinner." If it's coming out of a box, it's sometimes called KD even if it's a different brand... but when it's made at home it's definitely called Macaroni and Cheese.

Anonymous said...

Ditto the previous commenter about calling all macaroni and cheese "Kraft Dinner". I'm 30, lived in Canada my entire life and have NEVER heard ANYONE call macaroni and cheese Kraft Dinner unless it was the brand.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you're paying $2.00 a lb. for butter! I can usually find sale prices of $1.50/lb on sale if I'm patient--Wal-Mart is running such a sale now, for example.

Green In OC said...

I didn't go to bible college but I am a HUGE "Bare Naked Ladies" fan and I learned about the Kraft Dinner reference from their "If I Had A Million Dollars" song!

I am dismayed to learn from the comments about that it is a misnomer!

It's still one of my favorite songs though!

Anonymous said...

That wal-mart butter sale isn't everywhere. I live in a region with very high grocery prices. If I travel 2 hours, I can get butter for 99 cents a pound. But if I can't travel and have to stay local then 2.00 a pound is the lowest I've ever seen..and that's for the pound that's not even quartered.

Anonymous said...

When we started getting WIC I started making "homemade" mac and cheese, too. Not that I bought the pre-packaged kind much anyway...it's full of garbage (although I would buy "annies" brand every so often, expensive, though!)

I don't really eat cheese (lactose intolerant!) but my 5 year old loves it. I just boil some noodles (the unhealthy kind :P), drain them...add a bit of butter and soymilk and some shredded cheese...until it seems creamy enough.

Voila! Lunch :)

Catherine said...

My kids like that taste of powdered cheese in the mac n cheese boxes so it has become a treat for them, something they make themselves and enjoy. It's often a snack for them. I stock up when I see it on sale, and no, I have not seen it for a quarter a box.

For "real" mac n cheese, I go all out and bake it in the oven with lots of cheese. It's really a casserole, quite rich and a whole different thing from the "Kraft" experience.

Unknown said...

I make taco macaroni a lot. A lb of ground beef (12%) and the bulk taco seasoning, cooked bowtie macaroni and 1 1'2 cups of corn. Then some 4 Cheese shredded blend into it and it's dinner. My kids love it. My oldest would only eat KD with peas in it. If it didn't have it, he wouldn't eat it. At least he got his vegetables this way.

stephanie said...

Green in OC -- haha. Oh Kraft Dinner does *exist* in Canada, but it's the stuff that comes in the blue box that is sold by Kraft. It actually says on the label -- "Kraft Dinner" rather than "Mac and Cheese Dinner" or whatever it says in the U.S.

Emily's Fun Fact was that ALL mac and cheese was called Kraft Dinner, which is not the case. That's all! So you can still enjoy the song! ;)

Clisby said...

I think $1.50/lb. is the cheapest I've found butter on sale. (Charleston, SC).

Treva said...

Hi Emily, I'm really behind in your posts b/c my computer had a worm and it took my DH a while to fix it. Anyway, I think the math is wrong. In the store-bought version, you add 1/2 cup butter which is 50 cents. In the homemade version you add 2T butter, which is 1/4 of a stick (a stick being 1/2 cup) and that means that it should be 1/4 of the cost. In this case you would need to round up to 13 cents for the 2T of butter, not the 25 cents you have currently listed. And that would bring your total under $1.

Clisby said...

Not that this has anything to do with M&C, but the cortido recipe is great! Although, next time, I'll add more red pepper - we like spicy food. This is a good way to use cabbage - too often, I make something that requires half a cabbage, stick the other half back in the refrigerator, and forget about it. This is an easy way to use it up. (I'd bet it's just about as good without the carrots, although the carrots make it more nutritious.)

Anonymous said...

What Bible College did you go to?

Emily said...

New Brunswick Bible Institute

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to mention that you can add a can of tuna fish to mac and cheese and it is delicious. My family loves it.

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