I'll admit it, my kids occasionally eat Kraft mac and cheese. When they were babies, I tried to get them to eat more wholesome brands, like Annie's, instead. But even before they could read or discern Whole Foods from Kroger's (which they only can now because of the distinct lack of Chips Ahoy in the former), they knew that shells and white cheddar was far inferior to bright orange elbows. And frankly, it was a battle I wasn't willing to fight. They'll eat it? It's food? Great. Done.
As it turns out, the 79-year-old Kraft mac and cheese—while still not (rightly) being labeled as health food—isn't as bad these days as it once was. Touted by AdAge as "the world's biggest blind taste test," apparently Kraft changed its recipe months ago and never told anyone. And no one noticed.
A year ago, Kraft announced its plans to "refresh" the ingredients in its mac and cheese. It took a while for them to figure out how to keep the flavor, color and texture of the mac and cheese while doing away with the good bad stuff that made it that way. Kraft started selling it in December, but didn't tell anyone. And if anyone noticed, they didn't say anything. Fifty million boxes later, the cat (and the food coloring) is out of the bag.
"We wanted our fans to experience the new recipe themselves, without being prompted," Greg Guidotti, VP-meal solutions for Kraft Heinz, told AdAge.
I'd like my kids to eat as nutritiously as possible, but there are times when a Happy Meal might be the only thing keeping my girls from exploding like atom bombs.
The mac and cheese is now free from synthetic coloring and artificial preservatives and flavors, switching out stuff like Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 for more familiar ingredients like tumeric and paprika. Their just-launched advertising campaign, "It's changed, but it hasn't," is likely aimed at moms who may feel guilty eating Kraft mac and cheese but can now presumably feel a bit better about their fast and cheap choices.
It's the same guilt moms feel when they admit their kids eat McDonald's. When the McDonald's in my rural town closed a couple of months ago, the news nearly brought my daughters (and husband) to tears. (The nearest McDonald's is now 40 miles away.) My 4-year-old interpreted the closing to mean she'll never get another (impossibly cheap) toy again. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old said a prayer for the McFlurry, which she seems to think is not made from vanilla ice cream and M&Ms, but instead from some wholly improbable recipe involving unicorn farts and Donald Trump's popularity—preposterous, once-in-a-lifetime concoctions that could (and should) obviously never, ever be replicated.
Of course it's not the cool-mom thing to do to admit my kids eat McDonald's, like it's not the cool-mom thing to admit I feed them Kraft mac and cheese. Then again, if you're the mom of small children, being cool is probably not high on your to-do list. I'd like my kids to eat as nutritiously as possible, but there are times when a Happy Meal might be the only thing keeping my girls from exploding like atom bombs, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come. Now with the recipe change, maybe I can feel just a little bit better about feeding them mac and cheese.
To be honest, my kids have probably tried the new and improved Kraft mac and cheese since its arrival and didn't even notice the difference. But it's not as if I'm going to start serving it more frequently. Put next to a Happy Meal, which contains 395 calories for fruit, fries, a drink and some sort of protein (and the impossibly cheap toy, which is priceless), a serving of Kraft Mac and Cheese contains 350 calories. I'm not entirely convinced one is better than the other, or that either one will move the nutrition needle (although I'm pretty sure both could survive a nuclear holocaust). Sure, Kraft did the right thing by taking the bad stuff out, but that doesn't mean that what's left is still going to do much good.