Flip Flops in the Windy City: Eating on the Cheap

Pictured: deliciousness

A lot of money and time are spent focusing on grad school.  Finding meals that are inexpensive and easy/quick to cook can alleviate some of that pressure.  And I have found the ultimate dish: white cheddar shells with Andouille sausage.  Laugh if you want, but read on…

I understand that it may sound funny/childish to tote mac ‘n’ cheese as a viable option.  But it definitely is a viable option.  The dish that I prepare takes 10 minutes total (2 for the water to boil, 8 for the pasta to cook), costs $4.00, and makes enough to cover one dinner and one lunch.  Call me childish, but this is economical, easy, and yummy.  “But there are so many choices for boxed mac ‘n’ cheese out there!” you say.  “How will I ever know which one is the best besides trying EVERY SINGLE ONE?!” you lament.  Fear not, I’ve already done that.  And now I’m going to tell you about it.  To save time (and dignity), I’ll only mention the top four.

Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese

Annie's Macaroni & Cheese

We’ll cover macaroni & cheese first, getting to shells later.  First of all, it goes without saying that Kraft macaroni & cheese is the best there ever will be.  But you might look a little funny buying 10 of these at your local grocery store.  I’ve definitely gotten some odd looks.  In order to circumvent ridicule, let’s talk Annie’s pasta.  It’s a little more grown up, at least as far as mac ‘n’ cheese can get.  It’s one of the more decent ones out there.  For $2.29 (prices may very), you get 2.5 ounces.  For 280 calories, you only have 4 grams of fat–pretty decent considering what we’re making here.  Once made, its cheesiness is fair, and its mushiness is good.  Above all, I think those are the best two ways to rate this dish, and will be be using those words frequently.  It reheats fairly well, making it a good next-day lunch.  Don’t wait too long, this stuff dries out in the fridge.

Parade Macaroni & Cheese

Parade Macaroni & Cheese

Parade macaroni & cheese is good.  For $1.99 you get 2.5 ounces, making it cheaper per ounce than Annie’s mac ‘n’ cheese.  And with 270 calories, you have 4 grams of fat, making it just barely not-as-bad for you.  However, it is not the cheesiest macaroni & cheese I’ve ever tasted, particularly after reheating.  The mushiness is top shelf though.  Overall, a good buy.  But you can do better.

Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar

Annie's Shells & Real Aged Cheddar

The shape of pasta shells in general allows them to keep more sauce.  Part of it is the shape itself, the other is surface area.  For $1.99 you get 2.5 ounces, and with 270 calories you get 4.5 grams of fat.  This is comparable to the other two brands so far.  But be warned, it falls short on cheesiness, mushiness, and reheating.  It’s a bold claim to use aged cheddar, and this brand should probably just call it cheddar.  Skip this one.

Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar

Annie's Shells & White Cheddar

Now we’re talking.  For $1.99 you get 2.5 ounces, and with 270 calories you get 4 grams of fat; less fat than the other shells here.  But the real improvement is in flavor.  Using 100% real cheese (not always the case in boxed mac ‘n’ cheese), this brand utilizes white cheddar effectively.  The cheesiness is quite flavorful, both when served and reheated.  It is a good level of mushiness as well.  I strongly recommend using this whenever you do mac ‘n’ cheese.  I’ll slip a little Kraft in there once in a while for nostalgia’s sake.


Obviously I don’t eat mac ‘n’ cheese by itself for dinner, that would truly make me 6 years-old.  I include Trader Joe’s Andouille sausage.  This gives the flavor a nice kick and also keeps you from looking 6 years-old.

Trader Joe's Andouille Sausage

For $3.99 you get four sausage links.  I use two in each batch.  I’ll also add a liberal amount of garlic powder.  Please try this out and enjoy!  If you find any ways of improving this, please let me know!