When my son and I first started going gluten free more than two years ago, it was pretty tough—on our bellies and our budget. Walking through the gluten free section at Wegman’s I felt like Augustus Gloop when Willy Wonka opened the doors for the first room in the chocolate factory—wide-eyed, hungry and  no clue where to start. So, like Augustus, I dove right in, filling up my little hand basket with the celiac safe versions of pancake mixes, pasta, cookies and pretzels. This was a bad idea, and I would like to save you some trouble—and a few bucks while I’m at it. My son has painstakingly test tasted many boxed gluten free macaroni and cheese kits; here are his favorites:

20130921_103708 Ancient Harvest Quinoa Mac & Cheese: This one is not only gluten free, but it is organic as well! The pasta is a quinoa/ corn blend. Made with whole milk, the cheese sauce is tasty, not too salty and there was enough to coat the broccoli I mixed in with the noodles. Ancient Harvest is hands down my favorite of the gluten free pasta varieties available, but I find the texture of the noodles used for the macaroni and cheese to be slightly gritty, something my son did not notice as he gobbled his bowl down.  On the plus side, cooked carefully, the noodles stay firm, unlike some rice pastas which can get gummy.

20130921_103830Annie’s Rice Shells & Creamy White Cheddar:  I usually steer clear of rice pastas; they need to be watched carefully while being cooked and still often end up rubbery or gummy, which is not what I am looking for in my pasta. Annie’s Homegrown is the exception to my rule. The pasta is firm and with a bit of whole milk the white cheddar sauce is my favorite of all the gluten free cheese sauces I have experimented with so far. We also mixed broccoli into this one, to which my son gave two spoons up!

20130921_103754Annie’s Creamy Deluxe Rice Pasta Dinner: Think of this one as the gluten free Velveeta—cheese sauce is ready to go, just cook the noodles and stir! On the first bite I thought “Dead ringer for the Blue Box” and it takes less than 15 minutes to prepare from box to table, which suited my son after a long day at school. There was again more than enough cheese sauce to sneak in some veggies, so for a quick meal this one is my top choice!

Some other things to keep in mind:

When cooking gluten free pastas, follow the box directions and stick with the recommended cook times! I always test a noodle at the shortest time, then every minute after that until they are the desired texture. Gluten free pastas are not as forgiving as wheat pastas, so stay close.

Reheat with caution—I follow the “low and slow” rule here, and stir in about a tablespoon of milk to give the cheese sauce a second life. For a fun variation, mix salsa into the leftovers instead of milk!     ~Jenn Gizerian

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