The Mac and Cheese Alternative That My Family Loves (Yours Will, Too)

published Jan 26, 2024
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Let me tell you how risotto saved my meal plan just this week: I had planned red beans and rice for dinner, only to realize that I had forgotten to grab both red beans and basmati rice at the grocery store. Scrounging my pantry I realized that I could still use the peppers and sausage I planned for this dinner to make a risotto without having to run to the grocery store.

Every member of my family devoured this risotto and some even asked for seconds. Even without wine or fancy improvisation, here’s how risotto is the ultimate weeknight dinner for families.

Risotto is like mac and cheese — except way, way better.

Chances are if you have children you also have at least one mac and cheese lover. I love mac and cheese just as much as the next mom for its ease, flavor, and ability to get my 7-year-old to eat a cup of broccoli (mixed in, natch) in under 20 minutes. But I’d get bored eating mac and cheese once a week — not so with risotto. Even the most classic (read: basic) risotto can be kept interesting each week by just changing out the cheese. Of course, we won’t stop there.

Risotto is quick cooking. It really is, I promise.

Risotto gets this bad rap as a dish that is fussy and requires our complete attention for at least 40 minutes at the stove. This is simply not the case. It takes about 10 minutes to mince a shallot, take out some butter, grate some cheese, and warm the risotto broth. Then you can make a full stop to help with homework or build a LEGO tower before you begin cooking.

Once at the stove, risotto can cook in as little as 15 minutes (same as your box of Annie’s). And while it does require you to stay close, you can absolutely walk away for a moment to help rebuild that LEGO tower now destroyed by a wild 4-year-old. Risotto is customizable and helps disguise vegetables.

Anything you’d put in or on mac and cheese can go with risotto and more. What’s more is that you can customize every diner’s bowl to suit their taste. Recently we had a roasted butternut squash risotto with caramelized onions and crispy bacon, but my 7-year-old is on a year-long onion strike so her bowl got just the squash and the chopped bacon; my 4-year-old got squash on the side and whole pieces of bacon; and my husband had double the onions and I double the squash.

I’m not a big advocate for hiding vegetables for kids (no disrespect, I know it works for some parents), but I have been know to add riced cauliflower, mashed sweet potatoes, and of course chopped spinach and watched them disappear without complaint inside risotto.

My 5 Favorite Family-Friendly Risotto Recipes

This article was originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: The Mac and Cheese Alternative That My Family Loves (Yours Will, Too)