Mac & Vegan

Being of African American decent, the term ‘Soul Food’ has a number of meanings to me. It’s not only what you can expect your grandmother to cook every Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it’s food that has a stigma of being some of the most unhealthy food that you can consume.

Nevertheless, I recently came across an article that related Soul Food to the vegan lifestyle. Before reading the article, I had already made up my mind to disagree, and after I had finished the article my opinion hasn’t changed.

While the article makes the argument that slaves had diets similar to the vegans because of the limited access they had to food, this article fails to take into account the entire vegan lifestyle. Vegans do not simply refrain from eating animal flesh; they do not eat, use, or wear anything derived from an animal. So if you’re wondering, yes, this means mac & cheese as we know it would be forbidden for vegans.vmc

Fortunately, there are ways to prepare vegan approved mac & cheese. Since cheese is the main ingredient that puts mac & cheese on the ‘do not eat’ list, I’m going to give you a few vegan mac & cheese recipes to enjoy and tell you where you can buy vegan mac & cheese locally.

  • Creamy Vegan Mac & Cheese – this recipe has been voted a favorite among revi
    ewers for its creamy consistency and quick prep time.
  • The Best Vegan Mac & Cheese – a favorite among reviewers for its simplicity and texture similar to that of traditional mac & cheese.
  • Low Calorie Mac & Cheese – with its cashew based cheese sauce, this recipe takes the guilt out of confiding in this comfort food.

Not up for meal prep tonight? Check out the mac & cheese at these local vegan friendly restaurants:

The Land of Kush

Red Emma’s

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Avoid the Gluten, Not the Mac

Is it just me, or does it seem like most people didn’t cared about the presence of gluten in their food until a few years ago? “Gluten-free” is one of the most recent trends in healthy eating. While eating gluten-free foods certainly has its advantages for those with gluten intolerance, it seems that the gluten-free lifestyle is turning into another label companies can use to increase their profits by offering what seems to be a healthier alternative to the foods you already eat.

A recent article published by Food Business News  says that gluten-free food sales have grown drastically since 2013 but that large growth may soon come to a halt as consumers begin to become more knowledgeable about what gluten is and whether their specific health needs/goals require a gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Myths

FBN contributed the successful sales of gluten-free foods to common misconceptions about the benefits of eliminating gluten from your diet.

  1. It’ll help you lose weight. Eliminating gluten from your diet without making any other attempt to manage your weight such as eating fruits and vegetables, reducing calorie intake, and exercising regularly, will not result in weight loss.
  2. Your tummy will feel better. While this one is actually a fact, you have to know what is actually causing your upset stomach. If you do not suffer from a celiac disease, a gluten-free diet may not provide the relief you’re looking for.
  3. Gluten-free foods are healthier. As it turns out, when manufacturers make gluten-free foods, the foods tend to lose certain elements of texture or chewiness which they sometimes use added fats and sugars to get those things back.

Well the good thing about this gluten-free trend is my fellow Mac & Cheese lovers who may happen to suffer from a form of gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance do not have to sacrifice their love of the cheesy stuff. Brilla, Ronzoni, and Heartland all offer macaroni noodles that are not only gluten-free, but reasonably priced.

Want even more exciting news? Starting October 12th, Noodles & Company, who offers gluten-free options for all types of pasta lovers, will launch three new flavored Mac & Cheeses. That’s right, Mac & Cheese just got upgraded from the kid’s menu! The new flavors will include Buffalo Chicken, Mac & Cheeseburger, and BBQ Pork. I think I speak for Mac & Cheese lovers, gluten-free or not, when I scream ‘thank you’ at the top of my lungs. Now if only Panera Bread would follow suit.

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Noodles & Company Original Wisconsin Mac & Cheese w/ a side of extra cheese sauce 

Organic Fanatic

As one who likes to keep up with trends, health trends to be exact, a particular trend that has always piqued my curiosity has been the growing popularity of organic foods. I never really looked too much into what the term organic meant or why foods that were considered organic were healthier for you, to be on honest I always assumed it was a label that justified grocery stores charging me more for the same foods I already buy.

However, I recently read an article published by FIU Student Media that has begun to change that perception for me. In order to earn the honor of being considered organic, there are strict limitations and restrictions put in place by the United States Department of Agriculture that a manufacturer must adhere to during production. Chemicals, hydrogenation, trans-fats, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones are all limited in the production of organic foods, which, considering some of the negative effects of consuming these things repeatedly over a long period of time, is a good thing.

The article made mention of the higher prices associated with buying organic products and it also cited a study that found no difference in the nutrient quality between conventional foods and organic foods. This, of course, made me question if I should even bother to look for organic foods. Nevertheless, the article concluded that organic foods were worth the extra money and worth the health benefits no matter how small in significance.

I kept this in mind as I searched for my quick fix this week. To my surprise, it wasn’t long into my search for mac & cheese that I discovered an organic mac & cheese (pause as the choir sings). Could Annie’s have done the impossible by giving the world a healthier instant mac & cheese for less than $4 per box? My answer to that is an unoptimistic “maybe”.

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Annie’s Creamy Mac & Cheese with organic pasta

Before I could get too excited, I realized the box said “Made with Organic Pasta”. So what about the cheese? When I took a closer look at the ingredients list, I was delighted to see the names of real cheeses that I was already familiar with. Maybe there was hope after all.

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Annie’s Creamy Mac & Cheese with organic pasta

I continued to read and I realized that the familiar ingredients I had seen at the beginning of the list did not continue to the end. As expected, a dairy product that has a shelf life of 1+ years is unlikely to be completely natural. Despite containing organic pasta noodles, Annie’s Creamy Deluxe Macaroni Dinner still contains ingredients such as Sodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, and Sodium Alginate.

Well despite the logistics, you may be wondering how it tastes. Honestly, it was a bit of a let-down. As you can see in the photo, the cheese sauce came out of the packet in a way that was very unappealing to the eye. The supposed sauce reflected a glob of cheese mush and it was very difficult to mix the cheese with the noodles. However, once it was completely mixed it looked appetizing but had a bland taste which was even worst after refrigerating and reheating. From start to finish, this dish took approximately 15-20 minutes to make.

Have time to make a truly healthier mac & cheese? Skip the boxed dinners and check out these recipes and these tips:

  1. Start with an organic pasta.
  2. Only use natural cheeses. Look to limit or eliminate any artificial additives or ingredients.
  3. Try low fat milk, cream, or yogurt to make it creamy and give it a nice consistency.
  4. Add a vegetable like broccoli or spinach to boost the nutritional value.

 

The Blue Box Blues

As the plate of golden perfection was placed in front of me, I was mesmerized. My mouth watered and my soul danced. I quickly raised my fork to my mouth shoveling down spoonful after spoonful of the warm deliciousness known as “The Blue Box: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese”. I had what they called “the blue box blues”. It was then that my everlasting love of Mac & Cheese began.

Yes, I’ve loved mac & cheese since I was a youngster, but a lot have changed since then. For example, now I don’t take pleasure in eating mac & cheese with powdered “cheese”. Nevertheless, with my hectic schedule, I rarely have the time to throw down in the kitchen and create praise worthy mac & cheese. So I often shamefully indulge in crappy box mac & cheese to satisfy my cravings.

I’ve set out to find a mac & cheese that I’m not ashamed of. I’m looking for something simple and quick that I won’t mind preparing after a 12-hour work day, but also something more adult. A dish that not only tastes good when it’s freshly cooked, but one that can be refrigerated and enjoyed for lunch the next day.

Despite my desire for a quick fix, I do not want to completely disregard the nutritional value. After all, the days I could eat unconsciously without going up a pants size are far gone. So in this, and my upcoming blog posts, you’ll get to enjoy me review numerous types of store bought mac & cheese discussing the cooking time, ingredients, and taste – both fresh and reheated.

First up is, you guessed it, the blue box! Well maybe not the one you’re thinking about, but Kraft makes a blue box mac & cheese without cartoon shaped noodles and powered cheese, to appeal to a more mature crowd.

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Kraft Deluxe Mac & Cheese

This one is called “Deluxe”, sounds luxurious already. In this box, they have also given us more cheese sauce AND bigger macaroni – you excited yet, because I am. But the best part is it’s “made with real cheese”!

Hold on a second, if this is made with real cheese why is it sold in the pasta aisle instead of with the rest of the real cheese in the refrigerator aisle? Now I’m a little concerned.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients. I consider myself a fairly educated woman and I don’t know what half this stuff is. So I’ve taken the liberty of looking up the ingredients in the cheese sauce. The noodle ingredients don’t frighten me as much as whatever they’re passing off as “cheese” that miraculously lasts for years without refrigeration. I don’t want to bore you and go through every single ingredient on the list, so I won’t be touching those ingredients that the product “contains less than 2%” of.

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Ingredients List

Whey, Milk, Canola oil, Milk Protein Concentrate, Sodium Phosphate, salt and Whey Protein Concentrate are main ingredients of this “cheese sauce”. Interestingly enough, these ingredients don’t compare to the ingredients listed in Kraft’s refrigerated cheddar cheese.

The cook time on this was approximately 15 minutes from start to finish, no heavy lifting involved. The creamy consistency and the taste were pretty good for a boxed mac & cheese. Don’t expect rich robust flavor but it’s worth the $2.50 I paid for it.

How’s reheating? Horrible. After 1 minute in the microwave you get something that looks and taste similar to plastic, disappointing.

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Reheated Plastic

Overall, taking into consideration the preservative filled ingredients, bland tastes, and the poor reheating ability, this mac & cheese leaves a lot to be desired.