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How Did Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Become a Household Staple?

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, with its comforting simplicity and quick preparation, won over families during the Great Depression as an affordable, shelf-stable meal. Its iconic blue box became synonymous with convenience and taste, securing a place in American pantries. But there's more to this cheesy phenomenon. What's the secret behind its enduring appeal? Join us as we uncover the story.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Macaroni and cheese has a surprisingly highbrow early history. First documented in 1769, macaroni and cheese was introduced to the United States by Thomas Jefferson, who brought back noodle recipes and a pasta machine (very trendy in those days) from France. He even served macaroni and cheese at an 1802 state dinner.

However, it wasn't until 1937 that macaroni and cheese became the household staple we know (and mostly love) today. That was the year Kraft introduced its Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, or Kraft Dinner, using its patented processed cheese powder. At the height of the Great Depression, it had instant appeal and sold nine million boxes in its first year on the market. According to ads, a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese could feed a family of four for just 19 cents – and took only nine minutes to prepare.

Kraft Mac and Cheese was first marketed during the Great Depression - it could feed a family of four for 19 cents.
Kraft Mac and Cheese was first marketed during the Great Depression - it could feed a family of four for 19 cents.

It grew in popularity during World War II, with more women working outside the home and rationing meaning that fresh dairy products were in short supply. The powdered, shelf-stable cheese was an easy way to incorporate dairy into a family's diet. Plus, people could get two boxes for just one ration coupon. Fifty million boxes were sold during the war.

All about Kraft Macaroni & Cheese:

  • Americans love Kraft Macaroni & Cheese but Canadians really love Kraft Macaroni & Cheese – better known as Kraft Dinner, or just KD, north of the border. Per capita, Canadians eat 55% more of the yellow stuff than Americans, and Canada accounts for 24% of global sales. Some call it the unofficial national dish of Canada.

  • Over the years, the noodle shapes in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese have included characters from Star Wars, Super Mario Bros., SpongeBob and Looney Tunes.

  • That college dorm room staple, single-serving Easy Mac, was introduced in 1999, requiring only water and a microwave for preparation.

  • In 2015, Kraft replaced the artificial dye that made its cheese powder so shockingly yellow-orange with natural alternatives – paprika, annatto, and turmeric.

  • Today, restaurant-style macaroni and cheese comes in all shapes, sizes, and prices, including some rather fancy creations involving lobster, truffle oil, and artisan cheeses.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • Kraft Mac and Cheese was first marketed during the Great Depression - it could feed a family of four for 19 cents.
      By: Mike Mozart
      Kraft Mac and Cheese was first marketed during the Great Depression - it could feed a family of four for 19 cents.