My Kids Ate It: Chili-Cheese Mac, Veggies and Ranch Dip

by Wendy Copley on March 26, 2012

I don’t know about you, but dinner time can be extremely frustrating for me. Sometimes it seems like no matter what I cook, one or both of my kids complains bitterly about their meal. We have firm rules about the use of the word “yuck” at our dinner table (hint: not allowed), so my kids have learned to turn “I don’t care for this,” and “This is not my favorite food,” into a searing insult merely through the tone of their voices.

Can anyone relate?

Here’s the deal though: they’re actually pretty good eaters. I like a lot of variety in my dinners and my husband does too, so we try new recipes frequently often interspersing them with old favorites. Getting the kids to try — and then consume — these new dishes can be challenging but they will do it now and then. I’ve decided to begin an occasional series where I share the successful meals with you all. I call it: My Kids Ate It!

Chili Cheese Mac

The first two recipes I’d like to share are from the current issue (April 2012) of Cooking Light magazine. I’m a long-time subscriber to Cooking Light and I always find several recipes to try in the magazine but this particular issue was a knock-out. After I’d finished reading it, Zach sat down to flip through it and he started laughing because about a third of the pages were dog-eared with recipes I wanted to try. Go get it, right now!

I started out by cooking this recipe for Chili-Cheese Mac. I just about always make a few changes to recipes when I cook and this one was no exception. In this case I made the recipe with a full pound of hamburger rather than the 3/4 pound the recipe called for because I had a one pound package of hamburger and I don’t believe in freezing 1/4 pound of hamburger. It would just get lost in my freezer and then I’d throw it out some time next year, so I decided to cook the extra meat rather than wasting it. I also subbed high fiber penne for the elbow macaroni because that’s what I had in the cupboard. Otherwise I left the recipe as is.

It took longer to cook than the 20 minutes the recipe indicated, but not much longer. I’m guessing maybe 30 minutes start to finish?

I thought it was pretty good, but maybe a tad on the gummy side. Next time I’d add a little more liquid to loosen up the sauce. It wasn’t as spicy as I’d like, but the heat was just right for the kids so I wouldn’t do anything to change that. My husband doused it with Tapatio hot sauce, but I left it as is. It took a bit of convincing to get Wyatt to try it but once he did he really loved it. Score! Augie was sick and didn’t want any dinner but he ate some at lunch the next day. That’s four thumbs up so I’ll make this again for sure!

I served it with raw carrots and sugar snap peas and another new dish: Creamy Ranch Dip. I decided to make this with the pasta dish because both recipes use a half a block of cream cheese and I knew if I used it all at once I wouldn’t have to deal with finding a use for any leftovers. I followed this recipe exactly, but when I finished I thought the consistency was too thick so I added a few more tablespoons of buttermilk. Much better! Everyone loooooved this and there were enough leftovers for lunches so this will be something I’ll make frequently. Too bad one of Wyatt’s school-mates referred to it as “bird poop dip“!

What have you made recently that your picky eaters liked? Link up your recipes in the comments so we all can be inspired!

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  • Kristal

    We too deal with a toddler who doesn’t always want to try new things. She eats well and does eat fruits and veggies without a fight. She just doesn’t always enjoy things mixed in a sauce(unless it’s Mac and Cheese) so I’ve learned to adapt. Especially with a baby getting into solids and table foods it helps to have several components to mix together in different ways. I make beans about once a week and our favorite way to eat it is in what I call a bowl dinner. I cook the beans, a whole grain(usually brown rice or wheat berries), a couple of veggies, and then a sauce of some kind( lemon vinaigrette, pesto, tonight we tried a Spanish red pepper sauce). The baby eats plain beans along with puréed foods, my daughter has all the parts separate in a divided plate, and my husband and I mix everything in a bowl:)
    Also, I end up saying “you can’t say you don’t like something unless you try it” so often I’m going to put it on the wall;)

  • Michele Lancaster

    Looks like a wonderful meal. We call that “Hamburger Assistant” and make many variations of it. Glad your kiddos liked it.

  • Yum, I wish I was eating that for dinner tonight!

  • That looks really good.  I love using mac and cheese as a way to mix in all sorts of goodies.  My favorite is cooking red lentils with the pasta and adding nuked butter nut squash when it all gets mixed up. The lentils and butter nut squash just melt right in and the kids haven’t a clue.  I recently made baked falafel, which were a hit with both the 1 and 3 year old!

  • Karen

    Love Eating Well — I am always trying out their stuff!
    And don’t you just hate it when a kid takes a perfectly fine food, that they like, to school, and then one of their little friends says something and they won’t eat it any more?

  • Bethany

    Thank you for this recipe review! I look forward to your new series! I have an almost 2 year old boy and an almost 4 year old girl. The boy is a constant conundrum…I can’t figure out what he really likes. But I know from experience that it’s normal for his age so I try not to freak out about it. The girl is a pretty good eater. Like you, I’m always trying new things and she usually does pretty well.

    2 recipes that I tried recently that were hits with both husband and kids (I use the term hits loosely when it comes to the kids of course) are:
    “No-work chicken.” I served it with polenta and broccoli:

    Teriyaki Pork & Mango stir fry. I recently discovered this site and LOVE her recipes. Served it with brown rice:

  •  Those recipes both sound great. I’m a mango FREAK, but I never think to cook with them — I just eat them raw for a snack.

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  • RookieMom Whitney

    I have terrible news: I totally thought this post was going to end with a disclosure that it was sponsored by Hidden Valley Ranch. I can’t believe you MADE ranch dip. I didn’t even know what was in it! Now I know that you can make your own bird poop dip!

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