Growing up my mom loved to make scalloped potatoes when entertaining. Not that kind from a box. The real deal. Boy did those potatoes taste good!
Like many homemade recipe traditions, though, over the years highly processed options have made their way into most kitchens. While these boxed versions do mimic the taste of homemade, they’re anything but real. Have you looked at what’s in those boxes of Hungry Jack or Betty Crocker Cheesy Scalloped potatoes? They contain a lot of ingredients that you simply can’t find in any kitchen.
Just look at that list of common ingredients. It’s crazy! Here’s a quick rundown of the most concerning additives:
- Trans fats are STILL in some brands of boxed scalloped potatoes. Yes, in June 2015 the FDA finally made the determination that trans fats are a dangerous additive and no longer a GRAS (generally recognized as safe). However, they’ve given the food industry 3 years (June 2018) to reformulate products. So don’t look for the ban to help you anytime soon. One more word of caution—don’t look for trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel since Big Food companies lobbied the FDA many years ago for a loophole (if trans fats are less than 0.5g per serving, 0g is printed on the label). So if a box, bag, or can of processed food has “partially hydrogenated” anything in the ingredient list, just put the item down.
- Various dairy ingredients are added to these shelf-stable potatoes in hopes of giving them a more homemade, cheesy taste. Unfortunately, most of the dairy ingredients come from dairy cattle living on factory farms, and are pumped with growth hormones to increase milk production, regularly treated with antibiotics, fed genetically modified corn.
- High sodium levels probably aren’t that surprising. But when you consider a 1/2 cup serving has over 400mg of sodium, you can see how these highly processed potatoes take salt to a truly alarming place.
- MSG and its disguised look-a-likes such as yeast extracts, malted barley, and other hydrolyzed vegetable protein are common additives to boxed potatoes—all in hopes of increasing flavor. While food companies, the FDA believe MSG and these high-glutamic acid alternatives are all safe, many people claim to still have adverse reactions to them. While most the fact-based research around MSG supports it’s generally safe, I consider it a canary in the coal mine—an ingredient that warns me of a highly processed food item.
- All different types of phosphates are packaged into these boxed scalloped potatoes and all types of processed foods. While most of these phosphate additives are considered safe, their overuse has created concern with “Doctors … linking [phosphates] to higher rates of chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and premature death.” 1
- Emulsifiers and thickeners also make their way into boxed potatoes. Emulsifiers (such as lecithin) may start to receive increased scrutiny as recent studies have linked them to increased incidence of metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Lots of GMOs are also snuck into these potatoes in the form of oils, sugars, corn starch, maltodextrin, and soy ingredients. If your family has made the decision to eliminate GMOs, most boxed potatoes should be on your “avoid” list.
How about the potatoes?
Beyond the issue of all the additives in these boxes, potatoes are one of the vegetables that I always try to buy organic. Why? They’re notorious for being a fairly pesticide-intensive crop. A 2006 USDA report showed that over 80% of potatoes still contained a significant amount of pesticides even after being washed and peeled. The Environmental Working Group’s research confirms these concerns with potatoes ranking high in pesticide residues earning them the dubious honor of repeat-offender status on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of produce. So even if you avoid boxed scalloped potatoes and make homemade, do yourself the extra favor and choose organic potatoes!
My Homemade Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes Recipe
I won’t lie to you. Homemade scalloped potatoes do take a little bit of time. Let’s face it, though—even if they’re homemade they’re not exactly healthy. So, I reserve this recipe for special occasions when I usually have a little extra time, and I’m cooking for a crowd.
So get out your casserole dish and start slicing some potatoes. I think your friends and family will really enjoy this dish at your next get together!
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
- 4 pounds potatoes peeled (if desired) and sliced into 1/8-inch discs (russet or Yukon Gold work great)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 1/2 cups grated medium or sharp cheddar cheese divided—1 cup, 1 cup, 1/2 cup
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1 medium onion chopped finely
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives green onions, or parsley
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a large saucepan melt butter and add oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent (4-5 minutes). Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in flour until it is thoroughly mixed in with the garlic and onions. Whisk in the stock. Then pour in milk, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste (usually about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper). Cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce starts to gently simmer and thicken (don't let it boil). Remove from heat and set the sauce aside.
- Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter or olive oil. Spread half of the potatoes evenly in the bottom of the pan. Top with half the cream sauce and 1 cup of the shredded cheddar cheese and all of the Parmesan/Romano cheese. Add the remaining potatoes and top with the rest of the cream sauce and 1 cup of cheddar cheese.
- Cover the pan with foil and place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and add the remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered for 25-30 more minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the potatoes are fork tender.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven and let cool. Garnish, if desired. Serve warm.
Kitchen Tips and Resources:
- While a simple Pyrex baking dish covered with foil works great for these scalloped potatoes, I also love using my white baking dishes from Crate & Barrel.
- A great shredder for cheese makes this recipe soooo much easier. So either plug in a great food processor like this Cuisinart or check out this super microplane coarse cheese grater.
- A whisk that’s built for sauces is a big help when you’re making the sauce for these scalloped potatoes.