7+ Ways to Dress Up Boxed Mac & Cheese

Don’t get me wrong while reading this article. I love a good baked macaroni and cheese dish. In fact, one of my favorite dishes to bring to a get-together or party when I’m trying to impress people is this amazing Food Network recipe. But there is nothing quite like boxed Macaroni and Cheese.

Let’s face it: recipes for amazing baked macaroni and cheese generally take more time, more ingredients, and more thought, not to mention serious kitchen skills. On the flip side, I bet most of you out there can whip up a box of Kraft in your sleep.

Mac & cheese and I have been good friends since I boiled my first pot of water. As busy kid who had to be carted off to gymnastics practice by a neighborhood carpool before my parents got home from work, I had to learn how to fend for myself when it came to dinner. And as a 12-year-old, my meal of choice was (you guessed it!) boxed macaroni and cheese 9 out of 10 times. It was easy to make, extremely delicious, and I could often enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Though my parents often encouraged me to make other meals and would even leave me several other options, I was not to be deterred from making macaroni and cheese several times a week. My parents used to even scare me a bit by saying that I ate so much mac & cheese that I’d one day turn into one big noodle (and I only kind of believed them). But despite their efforts to sway me from the mac, I never got sick of it – and that statement remains true up to the present. Macaroni and cheese successfully got me through crazy high school weeknights, many late night college study sessions, and countless hectic work days in my early adulthood.

Even now that my tastes have greatly expanded, a week rarely goes when I don’t have mac & cheese at least once. Here are just some of the reasons why the boxed stuff is so awesome:

  • It’s cheap! If you go for the brand name (specifically, Kraft), you can often find 10/$10 deals at chain supermarkets. However, if you opt for the store brand (which I find is usually just as good), you can often find single boxes for $.50 or less, or a package of 6 -10 boxes for under $3.
  • You only need 2 staples to add to boxed mac & cheese: milk and butter. And these 2 ingredients are probably up there with the top 5 kitchen staples out there.
  • You can customize it to fit your dietary needs. For example, I try to make my mac & cheese a bit less fattening by using skim milk and 1/4 of the recommended butter or margarine when I mix up my mac. Sometimes, I’ll even opt for the “whole wheat” mac & cheese if it’s on sale.
  • It’s pantry friendly. Boxed mac & cheese can easily last for a year (probably more) in your pantry, so it’s easy to stock up on sales when you find them.
  • One box can create a meal for 2 or up to 5 side-dish servings.
  • The add-in possibilities are truly endless, as I hope to show in the rest of this article!

Easy Add-In and Toppers

Before we get into the actual recipe ideas, let’s just marvel at the amount of cheap ingredients that you can add to the boxed stuff to make it different each time you prepare it. These are just some of the things I’ve added into my mac over the last couple of decades:

  • Crumbled bacon or Bacon Bits
  • Bread crumbs (great use for day-old bread! Simply crumble up, top your prepared mac and cheese with the crumbs, and even stick it in the oven for a few minutes if you want a crispier texture)
  • Grated parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, etc.)
  • Black pepper
  • Hot sauce
  • Ketchup (great for leftover mac and cheese. May sounds strange, but the kids love it – trust me! Just put a little milk in the leftover mac before heating it up in the microwave. Then add some ketchup in to taste and stir before serving.)
  • Chopped hot dogs or ham
  • Chopped veggies, such as steamed broccoli
  • Peas
  • Canned tuna
  • Ground beef
  • Chopped onion
  • Ranch dressing
  • Garlic salt/powder

Easy Recipes That Make Boxed Mac Even More Incredible

Here are some of the great recipes from around the web that utilize the boxed stuff. Of the following, I’ve either tried them or am extremely excited to test them out for myself!

  • Mac & Cheese and Hot Dog Skillet: I know I mentioned hot dogs in the “easy add-ins” section, but the meal is so cheap, delicious and easy (and kid-friendly!) that it had to be included in full in the recipe section.
  • Dressed Up Mac & Cheese by Busy Cooks: this recipe takes 15 minutes in total to prepare and uses chopped onion, mustard or ranch dressing, and frozen peas.
  • Beef and Mushroom Macaroni and Cheese: 4 cheap ingredients make for a delicious and filling meal. All you need is a box of the mac, 1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup, 1 pound of ground beef (or you could use ground chicken or turkey), and some shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Taco Mac & Cheese: prepare your mac and cheese as you normally would. Next, brown 1 pound of ground chuck, making sure to drain off any grease. Add in 1 packet of taco seasoning mix. Add in the seasoned beef and one cup of cheddar or Mexican cheese to prepared mac. Pour all of this into a casserole dish and top with any of the following ingredients: crumbled tortilla chips, guacamole, tomato, onion, chopped lettuce, sour cream or cilantro.
  • Buffalo Chicken Mac: coat 1 pound of cooked, shredded chicken into your favorite buffalo sauce. Boil the macaroni and drain it as usual. When you mix in the cheese packet, also add in 1 cup of gorgonzola or blue cheese. Finally, add in the chicken and 1/3 cup of diced celery and mix well.
  • Fried Mac and Cheese Balls: this is a delicious way to use either a full box of mac or any leftover mac you couldn’t finish. They make a great, easy appetizer for any gathering as well!
  • Mac and Cheese Sushi Rolls: okay, at first I thought this was just insane. But then I read through the recipe and it’s actually kind of genius. All you need is a sushi roller, seasoned ground beef, some Sriracha sauce and some plastic wrap. Oh, and the mac, of course.

Are you a mac & cheese fiend too? If so, why do you love the boxed stuff so much? What are some creative ways that you dress it up? If you’re not a fan, what’s your argument against it?

We look forward to hearing you weigh in on the subject. Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for being a Tip Hero!