Homemade cheeseburger macaroni, and a defense of family dinners

Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni is a creamy, comfort-food pasta dish for fall that’s easy enough for busy school nights.

Cheeseburger Macaroni


The cool evening air swirled in our open windows on a recent early evening. Cozy in our sweats, a warm dinner of pasta and vegetables nourished us after a long day. My kids and I sat around our round black table, our voices carrying out the windows.

Dinnertime is important to my little family. It’s when we come together and talk about our days. The kids ask me about what we’re working on at the BDN, and I ask about their math classes and what they are reading.

It’s also when I hear the nuggets of their day — the ones that reveal nuances of growing up. At 6 and 9, these two are witty, thoughtful kids who navigate their own worlds with grace.

And sometimes, that means letting me know that they are changing.

“Mom, you can’t call me that anymore,” said my daughter Paige, 6, between bites of pasta. I’d called her a nickname that she’s had since infancy — one that conveyed cuteness … until now.

“Why not? I’ve called you that forever,” I asked quickly. “Did someone say something about it?”

And so it was. Paige had shared this nickname with a friend at school, and they pointed out — as only a child can do — that it wasn’t so cute. I knew this day would come — it had to. But so soon?

It’s conversations like this that make family dinners so valuable to me. They are the ones that bring us closer together.

Though some are trying to argue, as writer Amanda Marcotte did in her recent Slate Magazine piece, “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Dinner,” that home cooked family dinners are a grand albatross to women. They tie us down and we resent making them. Forget about the benefits of family dinners — making them is just too much. No matter your income level, whether you work or not or whatever — they are stress-inducing things that may not really be worth it despite the clear health benefits, according to the article.

The researchers interviewed 150 mothers from all walks of life and spent 250 hours observing 12 families in-depth, and they found ‘that time pressures, tradeoffs to save money, and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials,'” Marcotte wrote.

Honestly, I think Marcotte missed the point.

Family meals are important. But they aren’t important because of the food, they are important because of the bigger picture. I mean, yes, research supports the fact that home cooked dinners can be more nutritionally sound than non-home cooked ones. But as a parent — heck, as a person — you have to adapt your dinner plans to what you really have time for. Rolling your own pasta and turning summer’s last tomatoes into fresh marinara will produce a delicious meal, but dried pasta and your favorite jarred sauce is still nourishing.

The food? It’s scenery in the bigger picture here — an aside to something more important. Yes, home cooking is great. But a family dinner can be had with many versions of dinner — from quick and easy recipes for home cooking to the occasional take out. You can toss a bunch of ingredients in a slow-cooker can have a homemade meal when you arrive home. Ultimately it’s the company at the table that really matters most.

Marcotte also touches on picky kids — and adults. Specifically, she mentions how picky appetites make home cooked dinners harder. She writes: “It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway,” and that I take issue with. 

If your family is a “bunch of ingrates” about dinner, as Marcotte suggests, then there’s something wrong that’s much larger than the menu. Because when family eats dinner together, it connects. Little bits of life filter in. And things like the girl who made fun of your daughters nickname are revealed.

Making Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni

That said, if you do like cooking — and let’s face it: I do — a home cooked dinner can be made quickly and easily. This Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni is a perfect example. In about 30 minutes (much of which is hands-off time), you can swirl together seasoned ground beef with pasta and an easy cheese sauce for this family-favorite meal.

Cheeseburger Macaroni-4


It’s comfort food — the kind of dish that reminds you of childhood and will someday remind your kids of it too.

Two pots. Thirty minutes or less. Happy family … all sharing a meal. Because that’s what matters.


Homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni
Recipe type: Dinner
Serves: 4
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2½ cups water
  • ½ lb pasta (about 2 cups dry pasta)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a deep skillet, brown the ground beef over medium heat. Drain fat.
  2. Meanwhile in a small bowl, mix together the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and salt. Sprinkle the spice mixture on the ground beef and stir well to combine. Add the water and pasta into the skillet. Stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until it turns a light golden color. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking until fully combined. Cook until thickened, whisking occasionally -- about 5 minutes. Add the cheese and ground mustard and stir until fully incorporated.
  4. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture and stir well to combine. Cook on medium-low for 3-5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired.
  5. Enjoy immediately.


Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is editor of Bangor Metro magazine and senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News. She is the author of "The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook," (Sept. 2018, Rockridge Press) and the co-author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains" (March 2015, DK). Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, Glamour.com and more. She also writes about food at www.sarahscucinabella.com.