10 Easy Ways to Make Boxed Mac and Cheese Better

·4 min read

While we almost always prefer the homemade stuff, there's something undeniably nostalgic about boxed mac and cheese. Those boxes of elbow-shaped noodles, complete with their packet of powdered cheese, carried us through our childhoods. Now, they make for a quick meal that the whole family will love; we like to keep our pantry stocked with a couple boxes of mac at all times for dinnertime emergencies.

Lately, when it comes to mac and cheese, we've been thinking outside the box. Boxed mac and cheese is great all on its own, but we've devised a few creative twists that completely reinvent the tried-and-true dish. These easy, unique, and whimsical ways to upgrade a box of mac and cheese can turn any boring dinner into a real event. Whether you're ditching the powdered cheese packet or adding a few secret ingredients, these boxed mac and cheese hacks will completely change the game. Is it suppertime yet?

box mac and cheese
box mac and cheese

Getty Images

Make It Extra Creamy

We have a trick up our sleeve to make the creamiest mac and cheese ever. Most boxes will instruct you to boil the pasta, then drain and add butter, milk, and cheese powder to the pot, mixing well to form a sauce. To make your mac extra creamy and rich, melt a tablespoon or two of cream cheese into your cheese sauce. You'll thank us later.

Switch Out the Cheese

Instead of using the powdered cheese packet that comes with a box of mac and cheese, take an extra five minutes to make a homemade cheese sauce. You can use any type of cheese, but we prefer sharp Cheddar. For full instructions on how to make homemade cheese sauce, refer to this recipe. Alternatively, stick with the standard powdered cheese-butter-milk combination, but bolster the sauce with a few slices of American cheese or a handful of shredded Cheddar to make it extra cheesy.

Bake It

If you already love the flavor of boxed mac and cheese as-is, but want to make things just a touch fancier, then this hack is for you. Prepare the boxed mac and cheese according to package directions, draining the noodles when they're just barely al dente (slightly undercooked). Make the cheese sauce, then dump the cheesy noodles into a casserole dish. Top with breadcrumbs and a handful of cheese and broil until the top is golden-brown. You've got a fancy-looking, oven-baked dish of mac and cheese.

Brown the Butter

Browned butter is the secret ingredient to multi-dimensional flavor in both baked goods and savory dishes. It adds richness and depth of flavor to boxed mac and cheese—and all it takes is a few extra minutes on the stovetop. Learn how to brown butter here.

Add a Protein Boost

Adding protein to your mac and cheese is a quick, easy way to turn it into a well-rounded meal. Shredded rotisserie chicken, cubed ham, and crumbled bacon would all make fantastic mac and cheese mix-ins. After all, everything's better with bacon.

Go Wild with Mix-Ins

When it comes to boosting the flavor of boxed mac and cheese, adding mix-ins is a great tactic. You can completely change the flavor profile of regular old mac with these fun combinations.

Taco Boxed Mac and Cheese

Taco Tuesday, but make it mac and cheese. Prepare the boxed mac and cheese according to package directions, then mix things up by adding cooked ground beef, shredded pepper Jack cheese, and a packet of taco seasoning to your mac and cheese.

Cajun Boxed Mac and Cheese

If you love gumbo and crawfish, this Cajun twist on boxed mac and cheese is for you. To make Cajun Boxed Mac and Cheese, prepare the pasta according to package directions. Add 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning to the cheese sauce, then fold in the pasta along with sauteed Andouille sausage, onion, and bell peppers. If you really want to go big, ditch the cheese packet and use freshly-shredded pepper Jack cheese.

Pizza Boxed Mac and Cheese

Who needs takeout? Pizza night gets a serious upgrade with pizza-flavored boxed mac and cheese. For this flavor twist, we recommend starting with a box of white cheddar mac and cheese, such as Annie's white cheddar shells. Prepare the mac and cheese according to package directions, then add in shredded mozzarella. Pour the mac and cheese into a casserole dish, then top with marinara sauce, more mozzarella, and pepperoni. Broil until cheese topping is melted and golden brown.

Cacio e Pepe Boxed Mac and Cheese

Hello, Italy. For this flavor twist, we recommend starting with a box of white cheddar mac and cheese, such as Annie's white cheddar shells. Prepare the mac and cheese according to package directions, then add in shredded Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese and a few cranks of black pepper.

Seeking more mac inspiration? Check out some of our favorite macaroni and cheese recipes. Got leftovers? Try one of these creative uses for leftover mac and cheese.