THIS SNACK… doesn’t… suck?: Kraft Dinner Crackers

There’s a classic urban legend that I still hear (and repeat) from time to time.  Apparently it’s international, but the version I heard goes something like this:

A group of students at a Canadian university were working toward the end of their academic year, and found that they had collectively blown through their pre-paid meal cards a month early.  They had spent most of the year packing on the well-known Frosh Fifteen, so they decided that they would live cheap and lose a little weight at the same time.  Pooling their cash, they invested in a few cases of Kraft Dinner and decided to live on nothing else until the end of term.

Within two weeks, they had to be admitted to hospital after displaying signs of weakness, loose teeth and lost hair — what the campus hospital later identified as scurvy.

It was on the news and everything.

Now, if you visit that Snopes link, you’ll find that there isn’t actually a shred of proof that this has ever happened, and in fact there are examples of the story which mention foods like ramen, dried porridge, pork pies, hot dogs and potato chips.  Pretty much, in other words, the default horrible junk foods of whatever Western culture you pick.  The only problem is, I would probably not believe that anyone attempted to live on beer and chips for two weeks; I would believe that a bunch of dipshit Canadian kids would try to survive on Kraft Dinner.

It’s just that horrible.  It’s just that good.  

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Kraft Dinner is a four-serving box of macaroni that comes accompanied by a single pack of mystery “real cheese” powder.  Combined with a 1/4 cup of butter, a tablespoon or so of milk, and however much salt you need to slow your heart down from all that troublesome beating it does, the powder combines to form one of the most compelling junk food toppings in history.  Grind some black pepper in there, drop in some actual real cheese, chop up hot dogs that you fried while you were waiting for the pasta to boil — whatever, Kraft dinner is your lazy Sunday afternoon food canvas.  You are free to express yourself however you choose, and all for just over a dollar.

In case I am not clear, permit me to be so now:  Nobody gets four servings out of one of these.  Crack open a box of Kraft Dinner, and you’re signing up for anywhere from 750 to 1600 calories before you add so much as ketchup.  This is not health food, but man does it ever hit all the buttons when you’ve been out shoveling snow from the driveway for three hours:

  • It is cheap
  • It is fast
  • It is salty
  • It tastes like, but is not necessarily, cheese
  • You can have a whole pot of it and no God can stop you

You can imagine, therefore, my enthusiasm when Tina came home with this:

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I KNOW!

Now, I’ll be honest.  I headed into this experiment with bias.  I wanted them to be terrible.  That’s what you do when you’re a kind of bitter, 32-year old post-modern blogger, right?  You screw up your critical eye and take a hard look at the cynical re-packaging of your childhood into new products you’re expected to consume out of sheer nostalgia.

Look at you, with your box that looks pretty much like a Kraft Dinner package!  Look at your branding, with the original logo and the 1990’s “Gotta be KD” occupying the same visual space!  Look at your noodles-or-are-they-crackers floating around on there!  How dare you pluck at my heartstrings do you know what you’re doing to me!

Ahem.  But no, let me try to be at least a little unbiased about this, and begin with a few conspicuous details.

First:

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Well, there’s tradition for you.  I had no idea what the relationship between real cheddar cheese and Kraft Dinner was when I was a kid, and I have no idea what it is now.  Maybe the box is made from real cheddar cheese?  It’s impossible to say, but somehow it goes against my belief system to think that blocks of cheese can be reduced to Armageddon-proof powder that’s packed into pasta boxes nationwide.

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And in the challenger’s corner, the most optimistic re-branding effort in the entire world!  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: when you think Kraft Dinner, think low-fat sensible solution!  These crackers are just as healthy as the heavily-fatted pasta dinner we’ve been serving Canadians for decades, which is therefore retroactively just as healthy as these baked cracker products!

What’s that?  Your head is spinning in confusion?  You’re probably just lacking in essential cheddar cheeses.  Here, have a cracker.

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This isn’t exactly a chintzy portion of crackers, I have to say.  I was sort of expecting to open the cereal-style box and find a bunch of wee packets, each with one of those airplane-sized portions that kind of makes you hate life — not the 100-calorie snack-sized bags, but the 15-calorie ones that are enough to get your metabolism running, just in time for you to have nothing left to eat.

Instead, I’m confronted with a big silver hefty bag full of wee little baked crackers, each absolutely caked with the orange-yellow powder I remember so well from my youth.  And hey, cute!  They’re sort of curved and the same size as macaroni!  Where is my basic hatred to protect me from this?  

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Well, probably they’re going to taste horrible, right?  I mean, let’s put the pieces together:

  • Baked cracker that’s low-fat
  • Caked with artificial cheeze
  • Very small and served in plenty, likely to offset the fact that it’s awful

It’s what I like to think of as the Hickory Sticks paradigm, where a single sample of a product may seem terrible, but when you’ve had several hundred of them suddenly they’re really not that bad.

But instead… what’s this?

They… they don’t suck.  Yes, there’s a blast of sort of powdery artificial flavor, but that’s not altogether different from any other cheeze-flavored snack you’re going to buy.  But underneath, the cracker is actually as light as advertised, and the individual stick is so small that you aren’t overwhelmed by it.  It’s the sort of thing you’d be happy to pour a little bowl of to take with you while you’re working on a beer, or even a big bowl to put out when you’re about to dig into the DVDs you haven’t returned to the store for a week.

Better yet, lingering behind is everything that makes Kraft Dinner great:  that funny, artificial un-cheese flavor; the buttery aftertaste, this time from the baked cracker; the salty bite, still and always from my old friend sodium.  If anything, they remind me the most of Ritz Crackers (another childhood favorite) that have been savagely diced and given the Kraft Dinner treatment — a scenario that I’m pretty sure has featured in some of my dreams, if not at least my deepest cravings after a night at the pub.  I hardly know what to think, but this is — against all odds — a snack I am glad Tina brought home to test on me.

THIS SNACK… doesn’t… suck!  My world is upside down, but at least I have one more thing to eat while I watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  I’m willing to call it even.

  • Marcel

    my kids love these and best of all I can actually portion control it by pouring a little bit into a juice cup.

    As for the real deal KD you forgot to mention its one of the few foods that you cook, mix and eat all from the same pot. When youre a student, no sense in getting another dish dirty when you can take the pot straight to the couch while watching Star Trek TNG

  • erica

    I bet these would be quite haute cuisine if mixed with wasabi peas or tamari almonds or something also salty and tangy and delicious.

    But, cheeze-wise, how do they stack up to other faux-cheese crackers like Cheez-its or Cheese Nips or Goldfish crackers, etc?

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I would say they’re cheddar-cheezier than Goldfish, but along the same lines. It’s very much like you’d find on a flavored cracker, rather than what you’d get on, say, a Cheeto.

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com kristie

    What? Ew! Now, in fairness, I’ve always been violently against boxed mac and cheese, on account of my paralyzing fear of processed cheese (read: baseball nachos…shudder). I admire that you’re willing to take on snack foods, though, and tell us the cold, hard facts. It’s that kind of excellence in journalism that will keep us as fit and sexy as those World of Warcraft basement folk.

  • http://www.amomentofweakness.blogspot.com Tara

    Oh man. This post made me want to go home and make KD. I haven’t eaten it in years and I miss it suddenly.

  • JennyM

    I always figured “made with real cheddar cheese” had something to do with the fact that Kraft also makes cheddar cheese, and so maybe they are both made in the same giant factory. You know, *with** each other, but not necessarily in the same finished product.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      Ha ha, I never thought of that! “Made in tandem with cheddar cheese and numerous other fine Kraft products” probably doesn’t fit on the box.

  • http://justsmooty.blogspot.com EJS

    On a completely off-topic tangent:

    Tina, I know you usually reference your homemade pesto in your recipes but I don’t see a recipe for it anywhere on your site. Is there one in particular that you recommend?

    I just got done making the dough for your pita recipe and went “Hmm, making bread dough wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I remember my mother making it out to be. Maybe I could attempt that fancy twisted loaf with pesto.” 🙂

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      EJS – How excited am I that you made the pita?! Did you like it? Did they puff up in gloriously tumescent splendor?

      You’re right, I don’t have a pesto recipe printed anywhere on this site….maybe because I change it up a lot. I tend to make massive amounts of pesto using whatever is on hand and then I freeze it in ice cube trays for easy access. Half the time I make them nut free as I have a lot of friends who are peanut or treenut allergic. In terms of nuts, sometimes I use pinenuts but other times maybe almonds or walnuts….sometimes there’s a bit of lemon zest in there as well, other times maybe arugula forms the base or I’ll throw in a handful of green olives…I’m pretty loosey-goosey with my pesto to say the least!!!

      That said, if you wanted a pretty reliable pesto recipe I could recommend this one as a base:
      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Garden-Pesto-106990
      I use significantly more cheese than that (what a surprise!), about 4-5 cloves of garlic, and in terms of the olive oil you can just drizzle it in until you have a somewhat thick but quite spreadable consistency.

      Good luck!!! Oh, and if you *DO* make the pesto pain d’epi, please let us know what you thought of it!!

      • http://justsmooty.blogspot.com EJS

        The pitas are delicious! Even my uber-picky roommate deemed them wonderful. Though, they did not puff, not hardly at all, and I wonder if that’s because I let the dough rise for too long (curse that soporific combination of sunshine and a chair by the pool) and perhaps it got too dry? Regardless, we ended up with a lot of tasty, tasty flatbread and declared ourselves satisfied.

        Thank you for the pesto recipe! I’m definitely excited to try the pesto pain d’epi on my next day off. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  • ann

    for the record –I personally know someone who tried to live off Taco Bell’s cheap menu in college until he had to go to on-campus health clinic . . . they gave him a bottle of vitamins because he had scurvy. it happens. and, yes – he eats a more balanced diet now.

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  • Drew

    These crackers are delicious… Both my 2.5 year old son and i chow down on them for a snack!

    Stunned the heck out of me, they are MUCH tastier then goldfish crackers!

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

    I… don’t know how to respond to this:

    From: [redacted]
    Date: Wed, Jun 24, 2009 at 11:18 AM
    Subject: KRAFT FOODS NACHO CHEESE & CHIPS WITH SALSA
    To: info@choosy-beggars.com

    cUSTOMER SERVICE”

    Why are the snack packs not available in the grocery store anymore..??? My grandsons love them
    and I cannot find them in our local stores.

    Please advise.
    Thank you,
    [redacted]

  • Anonymous

    KD Crackers taste like Goldfish but more tasterier and chesier

  • AnuKat

    You uh… you got the measurements wrong. It’s 1/4 cup milk and 1 tbsp of butter, not the other way around. Ew.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I stand corrected. Though if people are coming to the internet for directions on making Kraft Dinner, there are deeper issues at play.