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Don’t fret, parents: With a little more work, mac and cheese can still be part of the meal plan

Potentially harmful chemicals that were banned from children’s teething rings and rubber duck toys a decade ago may still be present in high concentrations in your child’s favorite meal: macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.
Potentially harmful chemicals that were banned from children’s teething rings and rubber duck toys a decade ago may still be present in high concentrations in your child’s favorite meal: macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.

Powdered macaroni and cheese: The saving grace of many a flustered parent’s dinnertime hustle. Boil water, cook noodles, rip open a packet of orange fairy dust, swirl with milk, and voila! A five-minute meal that sates even the pickiest eater.

Until now. A new study of 30 cheese products has detected high concentrations of phthalates in those handy, highly processed cheese powders in boxed mac and cheese mixes. (Yep, even organic ones.)

Phthalates, according to the study, can disrupt male hormones like testosterone and are linked to genital defects in infant boys and learning and behavior issues in bigger kids. All of which sound far worse than some fussing over dinner.

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Don’t disrupt your kids’ dinnertime routine just yet, though. Here is an easy recipe recently featured in the Globe that you can make at home.

Serves 6

Salt and white pepper, to taste
1pound elbow, shells, or penne pasta
2cups milk
¼cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
¼cup (4 tablespoons) flour
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
cups grated sharp cheddar
1cup Gruyere
cup grated pecorino romano cheese
½cup grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until the pasta is tender but still has some bite. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pasta water and remove 1 cup. Drain the pasta into a colander. Do not rinse it; return it to the pot.

2. Meanwhile, in small saucepan, warm the milk gently.

3. In another saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour; it will be like wet sand. Add the warm milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes or until the sauce thickens; remove from the heat. Stir in the nutmeg, cayenne, and white pepper. Add the cheddar, Gruyere, and romano cheeses; stir until the cheeses melt. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if you like.

4. Pour the cheese mixture into the cooked pasta. Add enough of the pasta cooking water to make a loose consistency. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan.

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Adapted from Full Moon


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com.