BROWN BAGGING MAC & CHEESE
Mac & Cheese makes a great brown bag lunch to take to work or the office.
There are two ways to pack Mac & Cheese to go. Which way you pack Mac & Cheese depends on how you heat it up later (while at work on or the road), or if you have no way to heat it up later.
Toaster Oven: The best way to heat up Mac & Cheese at work is a toaster oven. If you have a toaster oven available at work then we recommend using mini casserole dish to store and heat your Mac & Cheese. We recommend a 3-cup rectangle Pyrex casserole dish (see image). This allows you to store, freeze, thaw, bake, and serve all in one dish. This casserole dish also fits perfectly into most insulated lunch bags. When making Mac & Cheese casseroles for work we recommend you do not “bake” your Mac & Cheese until you’re at work and ready to heat & eat it.
To get your Mac & Cheese ready to take to work just prepare it on the stove top as you normally would, transfer it to your mini casserole (for baking in a toaster oven at work), and be sure to prepare it for baking exactly as you would if you were to bake it at home; that includes any toppings the recipe may call for. Pop on the top, place in a lunch bag and you’re good to go. Or, if you’re not ready to go to work let cool then place in the fridge (for up to 2 days) or freezer (for up to 6 months if tightly sealed) until you’re ready to pack it up for work. Just make sure you thaw frozen casseroles before taking to work so you don’t spend your whole lunch break heating up your meal.
When you’re ready to heat & eat just take off the lid, place it in the toaster oven at about 325 degrees and bake until all hot and bubbly and browned on top.
Microwave Oven: The second best way to reheat Mac & Cheese is in a microwave oven, but we don’t recommend using a microwave if you can do it in a toaster oven because most foods just tastes better heated in a toaster oven. If you’re going to reheat Mac & Cheese in a microwave oven we recommend you bake it first, at home in the mini casserole dish you’ll be taking to work. You want to do this at home in a regular oven because microwave baking isn’t as good as regular baking. You can’t get that moist inside and crisp browned top when reheating in a microwave. But when you bake it at home for reheating in a microwave later be sure not to over bake. If you over bake at home (making it too well done or very crusty and brown on top) it may get all dried out when you nuke it at work.*
* The best way to keep food from drying out when reheated in a microwave oven is if you keep it covered tightly while heating. And the only way to do that properly in a microwave is with a tight fitting glass, silicone or plastic lid, or tightly wrapped with plastic wrap. Most casserole dishes you buy these days do not come with a tight fitting glass top, so we’ll assume you don’t have a glass top. The Pyrex casserole dish shown in the image above comes with a silicone lid. Although the FDA approves using food grade plastic or silicon we don’t recommend using either when using heat or long term storage. But this is our personal preference. If you feel safe using plastic or silicone covers in a microwave oven then you can certainly bake your Mac & Cheese completely at home, then cover the dish with plastic or silicone lid to keep it moist when reheating in the microwave at work.
Whether you’re just reheating already baked & browned Mac & Cheese or attempting to bake in a microwave, you should only nuke it until it’s hot and bubbly. Any longer and you’ll end up with burnt, tough, rubbery food. Cooking times for microwaves vary greatly and can range anywhere from 2 minutes to 5 minutes depending on the size of the casserole, the size and power of the microwave, and how cold the food is when you put it in the microwave oven.
No Way To Heat Up Food: Lastly, if there will be no way to heat up your Mac & Cheese at work (or while on the road) you should prepare it at home as you would if you were going to eat it at home, just before you leave for work, making sure it’s super hot and bubbly and browned from the oven, then immediately transfer it to a Thermos food jar, which should keep in warm until you’re ready to eat it.