Unexpected shortfall in U.S. cheese sauce reserves triggers chaos in pasta futures market

Last Friday, my wife had a date with a younger man. She took our six-year-old to a Mother-Son event at school.

With Mommy and Big Brother gone, Buster, New Baby, and I were left to our own boys’ night out. Incidentally, New Baby turned 1, so we should probably invent a new nickname.

I gave Buster the choice between his three favorite foods (i.e. things he will eat) for dinner: pizza, chicken strips, or mac & cheese. After a half hour distracted by LEGOs, he chose mac & cheese.

Normally, I would grab the elbows and the block of Velveeta and get to work, but since Big Brother was getting his night out, I decided we would go to Panera for dinner.

The anti-Panera

Not all fancy-pants like Panera, but the kids like it, especially when I sprinkle in some actual cheese.

We’d already discovered we cannot afford to feed the entire family at Panera. The misleading appearance of the go-up-to-the-counter-and-get-your-food-yourself façade of affordability crumbled during our first visit.

But we would only be getting a kid’s mac & cheese and a little something for me to share with New Baby. This was our chance to enjoy Panera on the cheap.

I got a half Panini and a half mac & cheese to go with Buster’s kids’ mac & cheese. We opted for water from the fountain. This was gonna be awesome; we were gonna do Panera on McDonald’s funds.

Can you hear the buzzer? That loud, long one that sounds like WROOOONG!

Two little bowls of macaroni and half a flat sandwich: $15.23.

As we went to get our water, Buster said, “I no want water. I want juice.”

“They don’t have juice here,” I lied. None that your kind can afford, I thought.

Even the water at Panera must be made from gold. They allow you a dental rinse cup. That’s fine for the kids, but since I’d be filling up on water tonight, I’d like a bigger cup.

You know how some restaurants make up for higher prices with large portions?  You know, a kid’s plate of chicken fingers an adult couldn’t finish? Panera has never heard of those places.

Buster’s and my dishes were the same size. They each contained about as much macaroni as he can hold in one of his three-year-old hands.  My $4.79 half Panini came out 21 cents short of a dollar per bite.

mining for pasta

Panera employees digging out precious nuggets of macaroni.

New Baby ate most of my macaroni and some of my sandwich. He was still hungry. I asked Buster, the skinny kid who never finishes his dinner, if his brother could have some of his. “No!” he replied, protecting his rare and precious noodles with his arms.


He sighed. “One.” Raising his index finger, he stressed, “One macaroni.”

After that, I resorted to scraping up the remaining cheese sauce from my bowl for New Baby.  That sauce was probably worth upwards of $3 on the open market and I felt fiscally irresponsible for overlooking it before.

There's cheese in them thar hills

Little-known fact: When cheese sauce is first pumped out of the ground, it has a dark color. It only acquires its lighter hue during the dangerous and expensive refining process.

Buster’s kids’ “meal” came with a little tube of yogurt. I’ve never seen him attack a side item with such greed. He twisted that tube into a knot eking out every last bit of sustenance.

We cleaned our plates as if our food were made of silk and pearls, which are probably less expensive per ounce. Then I did the wholesome, fatherly thing: I took them to get filled up on ice cream.





26 comments on “Unexpected shortfall in U.S. cheese sauce reserves triggers chaos in pasta futures market

  1. A.PROMPTreply says:

    Hah! I love this….my view exactly on Panera! I always walk in there thinking, well there’s only 2 of us this time, it won’t be that bad and OMG it’s just outrageous! But am impressed at you taking the boys out on your own and even ice cream! That’s alot better than just snoozing on the sofa! 🙂

    • My boys aren’t too embarrassed to be seen with me in public so we do go out from time to time. We just won’t be going to Panera again until one of us wins the lottery.

      • A.PROMPTreply says:

        Yes, but it’s my experience that alot of fathers would not venture out on their own with 2 hungry boys that are so young! You are a brave soul! Do agree on the Panera though….too much for not nearly enough.

  2. Lots of painful chuckles here. For the past ten years my son has been the “are you going to eat that” kid. His sister never finished her meals and she would rather throw food away than share it with her brother so I know the frustration of not sharing the Mac n cheese. I have a feeling your family meal dynamics are going to provide a great deal of material for your blog.

    • The thing is, Buster normally has no problem giving away his food. But the changed economics of eating at Panera taught him a few things about scarcity and his belated sense of self-preservation kicked in. Since his little brother is a voracious eater, that dynamic does not bode well for “brotherly love.”

  3. markbialczak says:

    Yeah, Scott, I avoid Panera because of the P words. Price and Portion. Agree across the board. For a half-sandwich and cup of soup that you carry to your own table, eight bucks? Wait. Nine? And it’s chicken noodle soup and a turkey sandwich, for cripes sake.

    I can’t afford it. That mac and cheese looks good. I’ll eat with you and the boys, any time.

  4. That’s right- you’ve got to top it off with Ice Cream! We’ve found for the little ones (when ours were little) and still at 9 and 11- Del Taco. Bean and cheese burritos (no sauce) or a bean cup (no sauce) – that’s the only time they will eat beans- or cheese quesedilla (no green chilis) or a cheesburger (plain) – no kidding. Cheap and life saver … especially with all the running back-n-forth to sporting events. I think I’ve gone to Panera once, maybe twice and felt ripped off.

    First time visiting. Enjoyed my stop here.


  5. pieterk515 says:

    Come to SA for a visit, you can have a large bowl of Mac and Cheese for around USD 4. You might even afford a cola, as it would set you back another buck. Then you also wouldn’t have to lie to your kids…

    With US 15 I can afford three bottles of GREAT wine. I love third-world countries…

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