Every night my kids ask for the same thing: macaroni and cheese! It is their absolute favorite thing to eat for dinner. I'm not going to lie, I love it too. But I just don't feel great about its lack of veggies, and I do grow tired of the same old thing.
So, we decided to shake up our mac and cheese by adding two tasty ingredients: broccoli and ham.
Typically, I bake mac and cheese in the oven for about 25 minutes. However, my sister and I have recently discovered the benefits of using our oven's broiler setting to speed up the cooking process, especially when all you need is to achieve a crisp and bubbly effect. This really cuts down on time and makes this a great weeknight meal.
It's also worth pointing out how customizable this meal is. Broccoli and ham was a great choice for our family, but there are tons of other meat-veggie combos that will work. Bacon, chicken, tuna or ground beef would be tasty in this dish, as would a number of other veggies, like peas, mushrooms or cauliflower. Let your family choose!
Note: If you decide to do our Mac and Cheese Play Food Craft, set aside some uncooked pasta from the box or buy a little extra from the store.
🌈 KIDIFY THE MEAL 🌈
🍅Swap the veggies! If your kids don't like broccoli, replace the broccoli with other veggies, like peas, cauliflower or mushrooms. Worth noting is that it's best to pick a veggie you can buy frozen, so you can steam it in microwave to save time.
🍅Change or omit the meat. If ham isn't a family favorite, exchange it for another meat, like chicken, bacon or ground beef. For vegetarians, a meat substitute, like Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles, would work really well in this dish.
🍅"Crunch" it up! Sometimes we sprinkle our macaroni and cheese with crushed potato chips before putting it into the oven. This adds an extra yummy crunch to the dish!
🍴 MODIFY THE MEAL🍴
🍅Use a meat substitute! I'm a big fan of Beyond Meat Beefy Crumbles. You can swap the ham for that, but note that you'll have to pan fry the crumbles first (they come frozen). That won't take but a couple minutes.
🍅Add more veggies! You can either increase the broccoli, add other veggies to the broccoli, or swap the broccoli for something else. I would recommend picking a veggie(s) that come in a frozen, steam-able bag so you can still save time on cooking the veggies. Good options would be peas or veggie medley (like peas, corn, green beans). You can also put raw spinach or arugula in the pot just as you would the ham. It will cook down quickly in the sauce.
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Mac and Cheese Shell Casserole with Ham and Broccoli
- In medium pot, heat water for pasta. Add 1 T of the salt to water. Once boiling, add pasta and cook according to package.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat butter on medium heat. Once melted, add flour, mustard powder, and the remaining 1/2 T salt. Whisk together until well combined (this is your roux). Slowly, add cold milk to the roux. Turn heat to high. Whisk mixture frequently until lumps go away. Then stir constantly for 5ish minutes, until you sauce is as thick as you'd like. Add 2 1/2 cups of the cheese and cook until cheese is melted.
- Cook broccoli in microwave according to package. Turn on broiler.
- Once pasta is done, strain. Add pasta, cooked broccoli and ham to cheese sauce. Mix together.
- Pour mixture into 8x10 casserole dish. Sprinkle casserole with bread crumbs and the remaining 1/2 cup of the cheese. Put dish on top rack of oven and broil for 4 minutes.
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