When it comes to a home run dinner for the family, mac and cheese rarely disappoints. This cheesy pasta is a perennial kid favorite, easy to find in stores and simple to prepare. Depending on which brand you choose, macaroni and cheese can be high in fiber and protein, or it can be high in calories and saturated fat. Selecting the best mac and cheese for your child—especially if they’re a picky eater—can have a positive impact on their daily nutrition and on their food preferences.
We compared the nutrition* of 5 mac and cheese brands—Kraft, Annie’s, Earth Balance, Amy’s and Nurture Life—to help you decide which mac and cheese is best for your family. Let’s dig in!
[post_widget id=”5904″]What to like: As one of the most iconic mac and cheese brands, Kraft has made recent strides to improve their product by removing artificial flavors, artificial preservatives and artificial colors, in addition to transitioning to natural spices like paprika and annatto for color. With the addition of reduced fat milk, Kraft Mac and Cheese contains 15% daily value for both calcium and vitamin A, critical for the developing healthy bones and maintaining healthy vision.
What to consider: Made with refined-grain pasta instead of whole grain, Kraft Mac and Cheese only contains 2 grams of fiber per serving. Among the 5 brands sampled, protein comes in at the lower end of the spectrum with 10 grams per serving. Lastly, Kraft Mac and Cheese is the highest in sodium with 720 milligrams of sodium per serving. For toddlers ages 1-3, the daily recommendation for sodium is less than 1500 milligrams per day, putting this meal at about 48% of their daily requirement in just one serving.
[post_widget id=”5905″]What to like: Annie’s line of mac & cheeses has built the reputation as a healthier alternative to Kraft’s products, as it’s lower in total fat, sodium and calories and higher in protein. Similar to Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese, Annie’s Organic Creamy Deluxe Cheddar provides 15% of the total daily value of calcium.
What to consider: Although Annie’s contains 2 grams of fiber because it’s made with wheat pasta, the pasta is not 100% whole wheat. Annie’s contains no added vegetables, having 0% daily value of vitamin C. It only provides 2% daily value for iron. Other brands have as much as 10% daily value for iron, an important nutrient that helps carry oxygen to cells in the body.
[post_widget id=”5906″]What to like: As a vegan option for mac and cheese lovers, Earth Balance Vegan Cheddar Mac & Cheese is 100% dairy-free. Due to the absence of dairy, it is the lowest in calories and in total fat. Earth Balance Mac and Cheese also has the lowest amount sodium out of the 5 brands we compared.
What to consider: Because it’s non-dairy, Earth Balance Mac & Cheese contains a lower amount of calcium per serving: All other options have at least 15% daily value of calcium, while Earth Balance Mac & Cheese contains only 2% daily value. Similar to Kraft, Earth Balance uses enriched wheat macaroni pasta rather than whole wheat pasta, which means it contains only 2 grams of fiber.
[post_widget id=”5907″]What to like: Similar to Nurture Life’s Mac & Cheese, Amy’s comes ready-to-eat. This heat-and-eat option makes for a quick and easy meal. Amy’s Macaroni & Cheese is comparable with Nurture Life’s in terms of protein, containing 16 grams per serving. Along with having a significant amount of protein, Amy’s is also one of the highest in calcium (30% daily value), which is vital for the development of healthy bones and teeth.
What to consider: Not only is Amy’s Macaroni & Cheese the highest in calories, it also contains the greatest amount of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. In terms of cholesterol, Amy’s Macaroni & Cheese is almost double Nurture Life’s and Annie’s, 3 times Kraft’s and 4 times that of Earth Balance. Additionally, it’s the highest in sodium next to Kraft.
[post_widget id=”5908″]What to like: Nurture Life Mac & Cheese is the highest in fiber of the brands we compared because it’s made with whole wheat pasta. One serving provides about half of your child’s daily fiber requirements, which plays an important role in promoting digestion. Nurture Life Mac & Cheese contains more protein than the other brands and has less sodium than Amy’s and Kraft. Many of the ingredients are organic, including whole wheat pasta elbows and cauliflower. The addition of cauliflower in our cheese sauce provides about 60% daily value for vitamin C, which promotes wound healing and iron absorption.
What to consider: While Nurture Life Mac & Cheese does fall second highest in terms of cholesterol and total fat, it’s a complete meal with high protein content and added veggies.
Regardless of which mac & cheese brand fits your family best, you can always add vegetables to the plate to elevate the nutritional value of the meal. At Nurture Life, we add pureed cauliflower to our cheese sauce for that extra dose of vitamin C. With these other options, try mixing in a portion of chopped carrots, zucchini or squash. Even the simple addition of frozen peas will add a nutrition boost you’ll be happy with and a meal your little one will still enjoy.
*Calories, total fat and saturated fat depend on preparation, such as using whole milk or skim milk, and butter or a canola-based spread. Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet unless otherwise noted.