Easy School Lunch: Gluten-free Macaroni and Cheese

Gluten-free Mac & Cheese with a Secret Ingredient

Gluten-free Macaroni and Cheese
This gluten-free recipe for Macaroni and Cheese features a secret ingredient that adds a unique flavor twist.. Nielsen-Massey Vanillas

If you have to send your preschooler to preschool with lunch each day (40 percent of kids do, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service), you may be a bit worried, especially if he or she is a picky eater. Because parents know, just because you put something in a child's lunchbox, it doesn't mean they are going to eat it! 

While you can't guarantee success at the lunch table with your little one, you can stack the odds in your favor. Sure, choosing foods out that your preschooler likes helps, but the folks at Nielsen-Massey have an even better idea: bring your child into the kitchen to help you prepare meals. Together you'll have some wonderful quality time  and they'll be learning skills that they'll be able to call on later in life.

“Cooking together is a great bonding experience for parents and children,” said Beth Nielsen, Chief Culinary Officer of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, Inc. “While measuring ingredients and watching muffin dough rise, kids can learn about fractions and chemical reactions while creating a mouthwatering meal for the school day.”  

From setting the timer, to mixing the wet and dry ingredients, there are a lot of things little ones can do to help. In addition, Nielsen-Massey suggests talking about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, while showing your preschooler just how you do certain cooking and baking steps.

Not sure what to cook? Nielsen-Massey have a whole bunch of wholesome, nutritious recipes  that are perfect for a packed lunch (use a Thermos!) and, are suitable for asking your preschooler to help with! One of the tastiest ones is their Cheesiest Gluten-Free Jack Mack (recipe below), that uses a blend of Monterey Jack, sharp white cheddar and American cheeses.  In addition, there is an unexpected, secret ingredient -- Nielsen-Massey Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract that adds a complex flavor twist to this kid-friendly favorite. 

Cheesiest Gluten-Free Jack Mac
Serves 8  


12 ounces gluten-free uncooked elbow macaroni 
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely shredded
8 ounces extra sharp white Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded 
4 ounces American cheese, cut into small pieces 
1½ cups whole milk 
2 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract 
¼ teaspoon organic garlic powder 
1 teaspoon salt 
½ teaspoon white pepper 
2 tablespoons butter 
2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose baking flour 
½ cup crushed gluten-free pretzels 
½ tablespoon butter (for pretzels)

While macaroni is cooking prepare cheeses; set aside. Cook macaroni al dente accord-ing to package directions, rinse well with cold water and drain; set aside.

To a small bowl, add milk, vanilla extract, garlic powder, salt and pepper; stir to combine and set aside. 
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, cook and whisk for about 2-3 minutes. Gradually pour milk mixture into pot while continuously stirring, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add cheeses. Cook and stir until cheeses melt. Add drained macaroni, stir to coat and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Coat 8 (6-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray and place on a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. In a small microwave safe dish, melt butter; add crushed pretzels and stir to coat. Evenly fill ramekins with macaroni and top with pretzels. Bake on lower rack until heated through, about 10-15 minutes.

If baking in a casserole dish, coat with cooking spray; add mac and cheese and top with crushed-buttered pretzels, bake until done, about 25-30 minutes.

For additional vanilla- and flavor-infused back-to-school lunch recipes, check out these delicious recipes from Nielsen-Massey including:

Healthy Fruit Nut Muffins
Sunrise Zucchini Bran Muffins with Madagascan Honey 
Parmesan Zucchini Crisps 
Orange Blossom Fruit Salad

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