When I was a child, my number-one requested dinner was shells and cheese. I loved the day-glo yellow cheeselike product that smothered the tuna and peas my mother mixed in, her attempt to add some nutritional value. I found the little shell pasta perfectly shaped to hold pools of sauce, and could eat three servings in one sitting. Unfortunately, as an adult, no matter how fondly I remember this popular kids’ meal, the reality just doesn’t measure up. I don’t know if the formula has changed or if my tastes have grown more sophisticated, but the same processed meal no longer satisfies and actually makes me feel a little sick. So of course I’ve been on a quest to create a healthy homemade version of this childhood favorite. I’ve learned that a simple butter roux makes a great base for a homemade cheese sauce. But I’ve spent quite some time searching for the perfect whole grain pasta shells. Imagine my excitement when I was offered an opportunity to review Barilla® Whole Grain pasta and opened my package to find a box of whole grain shells shining out at me like a beacon from the depths of packing paper and cardboard.
I was a little nervous that this pasta would disappoint like so many others we’ve tried in the past. Several years ago, my mom bought several brands of whole grain or whole wheat pasta and gave them to me because my father and brother wouldn’t eat them. I tried each one once and experienced a variety of disappointments from slimy to gummy to just plain unpleasant. But Barilla has a taste guarantee for their whole grain pasta. If you don’t love it, they’ll give you a free box of your favorite Barilla pasta. I decided that if they were that confident in their product, I was willing to give it a try. I dished up the pasta and sat down at the table with nervous anticipation, wondering whether I’d finally found a healthier pasta that actually tastes good.
Everyone dug into their bowls and made muffled sounds of satisfaction through mouthfuls of cheesy pasta. I explained to our exchange students that macaroni and cheese was a very popular children’s meal in America and that shells and cheese was always my favorite version. One student dropped his fork into his empty bowl and announced “I think it is very delicious!” Once everyone was done, I turned to my husband and asked, “Honey, what did you think of the pasta?” Surprised, he answered “It was good of course! What’s not to like about macaroni and cheese?” “No I mean the actual pasta itself, the shells.” “They were great. Why?” I smiled and pulled out the box to show him.
Barilla Whole Grain is 51% whole wheat, and all natural. While I still hope to one day switch to entirely whole wheat for everything we eat, we’re just not there yet. But Barilla Whole Grain is a huge step in the right direction. It has three times the fiber of regular pasta — and if you’re like me and trying to figure out a way to start incorporating whole grains into your family’s diet, there’s no easier way. I think we all look for ways to feed healthier foods to our families, and if you’d like to try moving toward whole grains, check out the various whole grain pasta types Barilla has to offer. You can also visit TryBarillaWholeGrain.com to get more recipe ideas using their whole grain pastas.
A couple quick notes on the recipe. It made ten servings for us but we also tend to have smaller portion sizes than the average American. I did all the nutrition calculation based on seven servings. It can all be lower if you make it ten servings like we do. If 1/10th of the recipe isn’t enough for you, add a simple green salad. You can also lower the fat content by using low-fat cheeses. We LOVE cheese and cut out fat in other areas so we can indulge in the good stuff.
- 8 oz medium whole wheat pasta shells
- 3 TBS salted butter
- 3 TBS flour (any kind)
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I like sharp cheddar and gruyere)
- 1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
- 1 (5 oz) can tuna, drained
- 2/3 cup frozen peas, cooked
- to taste salt (I use about 1/2 tsp kosher salt)
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- Melt butter in a pot on medium high. Stir flour into the butter until it makes a kind of paste (this is called roux), then stir in milk.
- Add cheese to the milk and stir until melted. The sauce should be thickening by now so add the pepper.
- Drain your pasta and stir it into the sauce along with the tuna and cooked peas. Serve sprinkled with additional sauce to taste.
Approximate cost/serving: This cost us about $4 to make. We stretched it to 10 servings but I’ll stick with the seven servings I used to calculate the nutritional information. It’s still just 57 cents a serving. CHEAP!
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 354Total Fat: 21gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 64mgSodium: 438mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 2gSugar: 5gProtein: 19g
Nutrition information is an estimate only.