When in Rome… Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner lacks something. It lacks artificial food dyes (yellow 5 and yellow 6), or tartrazine. Kraft products shipped to Europe and Australia are altered. European Kraft macaroni and cheese doesn’t contain artificial colors or chemicals, like the U.S. version contains. Is it that European children prefer Earth tones over hyper colors? Maybe, but doubtful. Europe is just, well, in the know when it comes to ingesting chemicals. You could say they frown upon it. The U.S. needs to get up to speed.
A 1994 study in Australia found “behavioral changes in irritability, restlessness, and sleep disturbance are associated with the ingestion of tartrazine in some children” (1). Perhaps this is why Kraft can’t sell their Macaroni and Cheese dinner with yellow food dye in Australia either.
What exactly is in the blue box’s hyper-color cheese sauce, you ask?
Whey, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, salt, sodium tripolyphosphate, contains less than 2% of citric acid, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, milk, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, cheese culture, enzymes.
The only listed ingredients we have in our kitchen on any given day are salt and milk. As for the rest? Who adds these things to their kids’ meals?
Data from a 2009 study on the connection to hyperactivity ”suggest that it is best to avoid exposing children to artificial food coloring” (2). One other study on the prolonged use of tartrazine (yellow 5 and 6) states, “as tartrazine belongs to the azo class, it is still a possible food carcinogen” (3).
Back in the day, I was a hard-core Kraft Mac n Cheese girl myself. I’d make a box for dinner, and bring the leftovers in my lunch the next day. I’d nuke those leftovers too. Ugh, I’m the first to admit, it was hard to resist the salty, cheesy, convenient blue-boxed wonder. Emphasis on was hard. Even a pregnancy craving didn’t crack my M n C boycott. You’re welcome, honey.
My wee kiddo doesn’t know the notorious “blue box” exists yet. And when she does, at a friend’s house, at the store, wherever; the teachable moment comes a knocking. The moment entails something like this: Food that you ingest shouldn’t be hyper-color. Period. Mommy or Daddy tips her or his primary teacher hat –that one all parents wear all the time– and the parent teaches, teaches, and teaches some more. “To feel your best and be healthy, eat real foods. Honey, if you’re curious about some brightly colored cheesy pasta, let’s go for it. You choose. Will it be yellow or green?”
Just use natural spices or dark vegetables to brighten your mac n cheese.
For a bright yellow finish, try adding tumeric, paprika, pureed butternut or yellow squash, or some crushed tomato for an orange effect.
Green you say? Mix in broccoli florets or pureed broccoli, kale or spinach.
Everything else can be the same. You can boil your macaroni and drain. Then add some milk, real butter, real cheese, and one of the natural brighteners. Your child’s mac n cheese ends up being a lot less processed and may even contain a real vitamin or two when all is said and done. For now, I’m taking advantage of this window where my kiddo prefers plain peas and green grapes to any type of pasta, any day.