Let me re-enact a conversation I have probably half a dozen times a week either in person, over email, or through some other medium:
Me: You should really try out X recipe. It’s really delicious and not that hard to do.
Person: Why in holy Hades would you make that? You can just buy it?
Me: Well, it’s just better.
Person: Sure it is buddy. Take a hike.
So after having this conversation a million times, I’ve realized that actually the person isn’t wrong. I’m most likely biased toward my homemade version because, well, I made it.
So after much thinking, I’ve come up with what I hope to be a recurring series that I’m calling The Homemade Trials. The idea is simple enough, I make or buy a store-bought item, then make it from scratch, and compare the two on a series of criteria.
The Criteria. I picked four main criteria on which to evaluate my pre-packaged item versus the homemade version:
Time: How long does it take to prepare? Do I save any time by buying it pre-packaged?
Cost: When you break down ingredients, is it actually cheaper per serving?
Nutrition: How do the two versions shape up from a nutritional standpoint?
Taste: The only subjective criteria, but at least for me it has to be one because this is food after all people.
I’m No Scientist. Let me state before I go into the super-nerd breakdown of this post, that I’m not a scientist. That said, I do think I have a scientific brain meaning that I tend to think about things in a pretty logical fashion. Feel free to point out errors though if you see them.
The Boxed Mac -n- Cheese. I went with what is probably known as the most popular boxed mac -n- cheese and has been for as long as I can remember.
It is, after all, apparently THE CHEESIEST.
I followed the instructions exactly.
Honestly I haven’t made boxed mac -n- cheese for a while although I used to live off the stuff. The powdered cheese product is not something I consider as food by the way.
Let’s get into the criteria for this trial because we have a lot of work to do!
TIME. I started a timer when I started boiling water for each version of mac and cheese. While the box might imply that you can make mac and cheese in under ten minutes, if you factor in water boiling, that’s impossible.
The box version of mac -n- cheese clocked in at 19:20.
My homemade version clocked in at 21:00.
I used the exact same amount of water in each case so that difference is entirely because my elbow macaroni took a few minutes longer to cook than the boxed macaroni.
One difference here is that the boxed version is idle time. You don’t have to do anything while you cook the macaroni. For the homemade version though you need to be making your cheese sauce while the water boils.
That said, the boxed version was technically faster so I’ll give the TIME category to the boxed version.
COST. I was pretty sure that the boxed version would destroy me in this department because I use pretty good ingredients (2 pounds of Tillamook cheddar runs $8) for my homemade version. I did try to keep it as simple as possible though.
It’s important when doing cost that you do per serving cost to make things fair. The box of macaroni says that it has 3 servings in it. My final version of boxed mac and cheese weighed in at 18 ounces meaning that 1 serving equals 6 ounces of mac and cheese.
This was A LOT closer than I was expecting. The real saver for the homemade version is that it made six and a half servings of mac and cheese while the boxed version just made three by weight.
I actually think that if you shopped around on cheese prices, you could beat the box price.
As is though, I have to give cost category to the BOXED version which I figured would happen.
NUTRITION. This one was a bit tricky for me to calculate, but basically I wanted to measure some basics like calories, total fat, carbs, and protein and see how the two versions stacked up. Again, it’s important to work on a per serving basis.
To do the homemade version, I added up the nutritional info in each of the main ingredients (macaroni, butter, milk, cheese, and flour) to get a total which I compared to the boxed version.
I thought it was important to adjust the nutrition facts for the boxed version according to the milk and butter that I used as well so I started with the “As Packaged” nutritional info and ignored the “As Prepared” column.
I double checked my math on all of these. Keep in mind that we’re talking about mac -n- cheese here so neither are GREAT for you. That said, I was absolutely shocked that the homemade version had less calories. I wasn’t shocked to find that it had more fat though just because I used real dairy.
All the nutrition info makes a ton of sense if you think about it. That packaged cheese mix is mostly salt which is why the sodium is a lot higher in the boxed version. There’s A LOT more protein in the homemade version because of the real dairy as well.
If you add in all the preservatives and random ingredients that are included in Boxed Mac -n- Cheese (Sodium Tripolyphosphate anyone?), I’m going to give the Nutrition award to the homemade version. Even with the tiny bit of extra fat, I think the other categories more than make up for it.
Taste. Ok. So this is fairly subjective I know, but I do think it’s important. I also think that at least in this case, I could’ve ran it through 1000 people and I’d be shocked if anyone disagreed with me.
Boxed mac -n- cheese doesn’t actually taste that bad to me. I like it okay. The key to it is to eat it as soon as possible. If it sits for even a few minutes it gets really congealed and strange. Homemade mac -n- cheese doesn’t really have this problem. It’s stays pretty creamy no matter what and even tastes okay cold.
So while boxed tastes okay, the creaminess and cheesiness of the homemade version is just out of this world. It’s not even close.
Taste goes to homemade.
The Verdict! So according to the criteria this is a tie. The boxed version won the TIME and COST categories and the homemade version won the NUTRITION and TASTE categories.
The thing to remember is that the boxed version just barely squeaked out a win in the TIME and COST categories where the homemade version completely dominated the NUTRITION and TASTE categories.
So I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to a very simple question:
When it comes to mac -n- cheese, are you willing to spend a few extra minutes and few extra cents to eat a healthier and tastier meal?
I can’t answer that for everybody, but for me the answer is definitely YES.
Here’s the recipe I used:
Homemade Creamy Mac -n- Cheese
Makes eactly 6.5 servings!
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Cups milk
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Pinch of salt and pepper
1) Cook elbow macaroni according to package.
2) In a pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour to form a roux. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the mixture turns a light tan color.
3) Slowly whisk milk into roux. Whisk continually until milk is incorporated. The mixture should get nice and creamy. Try to whisk out any lumps that form.
4) Add grated cheese to sauce and season with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.
5) Once cheese is melted, stir in elbow macaroni and stir until well combined.
6) Serve immediately!
I’d love to hear what people think about this post and if you have any ideas for future Homemade Trials, leave a comment!