49 Ways to Take Your Mac and Cheese up a Notch
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Mac and cheese is a classic dish that everyone loves. But sometimes it can get a little boring. If you’re looking for how to improve mac and cheese that comes right out of a box, look no further! I’m going to discuss 49 different ways to improve this delicious dish. From adding different types of cheese to using unique spices, there are plenty of ways to make your mac and cheese stand out from the crowd. So get creative and start cooking!
My local HyVee had a sale the other day – their brand of boxed mac and cheese kits was on sale for just $0.19 each. Normally it runs more like $0.79 each so that sixty cents per box drop called for a huge stock up! Five meals for a buck? Even if you wanted to donate to your local food pantry, you are silly if you walk by that price and a few boxes don’t jump into your cart.
It got me thinking about my college student days and living off mac and cheese, ramen noodle packs and making poor-man’s fettuccini Alfredo. Variety was important as even if your belly was full, your palate would get bored with limited selections. Fast forward to adulting, I am still all about a good bowl of comfort food mac and cheese.
What goes well with Mac and Cheese?
I know the broke college student doesn’t always look at this but when dining on plain old macaroni and cheese, you need a little something on the side.
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For us? It is vegetables. Sautéed or roasted vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or even green beans are our adult options, but you could easily try a salad! A spinach salad with strawberries and poppyseed dressing would be a great pairing.
Are you still working with a tight budget? I love the frozen vegetable section of the Dollar Tree – they have a decent selection and often are better priced than your local grocery store for that 12-16 ounce bag.
How to Take Mac and Cheese to the Next Level
The key? Up the ante with great ingredients. With just a few tweaks, you can make your mac and cheese something special that will have everyone asking for seconds. Here are 49 ways to take your mac and cheese dinners up a notch with a few simple extra ingredients.
Mac and Cheese Hacks:
First of all, when using the boxed stuff, you may find the cheese sauce to be lackluster. Here are a few ways to make that flavor of cheese better:
- Add a dollop of sour cream to make it “rich”
- Add a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese to bump up the “cheesiness” and make it smooth
- Add a couple of squirts of Dijon mustard to give it a subtle kick
- Add red pepper flakes and liquid smoke to give it a smoky flavor
- Add some prepared horseradish to give it a kick of extra flavor
- Add a few shakes of Everything Bagel Seasoning
- And, of course, you can always add more cheese – either shredded or cubed. We’re not ones to discriminate!
That is the simple way when looking at how to improve mac and cheese. How do you like to dress up that cheese powder? What do you think is the best way? That being said, if you are looking for more – more flavor, more fillings, more of a meal? Keep reading!
Turn it into a casserole
With any of these ideas you simply make the mac and cheese, add a few mix-ins, put it into a casserole dish, top it all with cheese and either bread crumbs or crumbled crackers of any kind. Bake it all for 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees and you have a meal for the whole family. That golden brown topping is going to have you ripping off those oven mitts and grabbing a fork to test it for yourself!
How to improve mac and cheese:
Let’s look at how to dress up boxed Mac and Cheese! This pantry staple can grow beyond that childhood favorite and be taken to the next level with a few simple tricks and a couple of additional ingredients.
- Bacon Mac and Cheese – simply add some chopped bacon to your cheese sauce, before you fold the drained noodles back in.
- Bacon cheeseburger mac – add bacon bits and ground beef right into the finished dish. Top it all off with more shredded cheddar cheese.
- BBQ Mac and Cheese – top your mac with a little BBQ sauce, dried onion straws, and spicy pickles.
- Black Olive Mac – stir in a can of drained sliced black olives, and shredded white cheddar to top it off
- Broccoli Mac and Cheese – stir in one bag of steamed frozen broccoli
- Buffalo Chicken Mac – Add chicken nuggets that you toss in buffalo sauce to the top of your mac. We like Frank’s Hot Sauce for this.
- Butternut Squash Mac – roast cubes of butternut squash, and then add them to the top of your mac
- Cajun Mac and Cheese – add Cajun seasoning to your creamy sauce, and then stir in some sauteed onions, bell pepper, and celery – then add in a cup of diced ham or chicken
- Carbonara Mac – add frozen peas to your pasta water when cooking it, and then add chopped bacon in after it has all been stirred into the cheese sauce
- Casserole Mac – add more cheese, your choice of meat, and your choice of steamed veggies. The possibilities here are limitless. Maybe start with cheddar + diced ham + peas?
- Chicken Florentine Mac – just add cubed cooked chicken, a few handfuls of fresh spinach, and a little extra cheese
- Crab Mac and Cheese – you can top your mac with either flakes of real or mock crab and we like to add some asparagus cuts
- Cheeseburger Mac – add cooked off ground beef (or turkey) to your dish after you finished the package instructions
- Chicken and Broccoli Mac – use steamed broccoli florets, diced cooked chicken breasts to your sauce, and then top with shredded Swiss cheese
- Chorizo Mac and Cheese – we like to add some cooked chorizo and a little grated chihuahua cheese or queso fresco.
- Cuban Mac and Cheese – stiff in a can of black beans, some onion powder, dried oregano, and 1 cup of cooked, diced smoked ham
- Curry Mac and Cheese – add curry powder and a bag of steamed frozen broccoli
- Extra Cheesy Mac – add extra American cheese. 2-3 slices usually are enough.
- Garlic Mac and Cheese – add either chopped and sauteed garlic or a little garlic powder to kick the layer of flavor up.
- Green Chili Mac – add a small can of chopped green chilies
- Hot Sauce Mac – this is where you add a little sriracha or another brand of your favorite hot sauce. Only enough to give it a little kick
- Jalapeno Popper Mac and Cheese – stir in your chopped bacon and de-seeded and chopped jalapenos
- Kielbasa Mac and Cheese – add cooked and diced kielbasa to your mac, as well as a little extra cheese
- Korean Mac and Cheese – stir in some chopped kimchi and top it with a little shredded moo shu pork or beef
- Loaded Mac and Cheese – add crumbled bacon, chopped green onion, and a cup of cooked diced ham
- Lobster Mac and Cheese – Top your mac with either chunks of cooked lobster meat (that you sprinkle with a little Old Bay seasoning) or canned lobster meat
- Mac and Cheese with Ham – add a cup of cooked diced ham. We like to saute some red pepper, onion, and garlic in a little oil first before adding them all together
- Mushroom Mac n Cheese – we love adding sauteed mushrooms that have been tossed in Worcestershire sauce to our mac
- Old Bay Mac – while most people like this as a seasoning for seafood, we like to add Old Bay Seasoning to our mac and cheese sauce
- Pesto Mac and Cheese – stir in pesto and top with sun-dried tomatoes
- Philly Cheesesteak Mac – add cooked sliced steak (we like ribeyes), sauteed onions and peppers, and a little Worcestershire sauce
- Pizza Mac and Cheese – add pepperoni, sausage crumbles, or diced ham to your dish after you have finished following the package instructions. And don’t forget the cheese!
- Polish Mac and cheese – add 1-2 links of cooked Polish sauce, diced up
- Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese – top with a small batch of pulled pork and then drizzle a little BBQ sauce over it. How to Make Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese
- Ranch Mac – add a can of ranch style beans
- Redneck Mac – add sliced and diced ring baloney and a can of baked beans
- Rotel Mac – stir in a can of Rotel tomatoes
- Shrimp Mac and Cheese – this is where those little salad shrimp come in handy – just thaw, rinse, and stir them in!
- Souper Mac – add a can of concentrated cream of mushroom soup or tomato soup – do not add the water.
- Spaghetti Mac – add a small jar of spaghetti sauce, top with shredded mozzarella cheese
- Spam Mac – add some browned and diced Spam
- Taco Mac and Cheese – top with your seasoned taco meat and shredded lettuce
- Tex Mex Mac – add salsa and ground beef, then top with shredded cheese
- Tomato Mac – add a can of diced tomatoes
- Top Dog Mac – add sliced hotdog coins to your macaroni noodles as they are cooking.
- Tuna Mac – add frozen peas to the box of macaroni when you are cooking the noodles, then add a can of tuna in after you add back into the cheese sauce.
- Veggie Mac and Cheese – add a small can of corn, peas, lima beans, or black beans. You can also add a small bag of frozen mixed veggies.
- Walking Taco Mac and Cheese – this is how you make it: serve the macaroni in a scooped out hamburger bun, top with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, diced avocado, sour cream, and any other desired toppings.
- Zucchini and Tomato Mac – add a can of Italian-style diced zucchini and tomatoes. Del Monte is our go-to brand for this!
We also like to make these for either appetizers or lunch box grabs: 4 Cheese Macaroni and Cheese Bites
How do you work with Mac and Cheese leftovers?
To heat up leftover mac and cheese, we suggest adding a cup of milk to the saucepan and heating it over medium heat until it is hot and bubbly. You can also add a slice or two of American, Swiss, or Provolone cheese to the top while it is reheating.
Reinvent the dish
Are you looking at how to improve mac and cheese after it has already been the main entree? If you want to take what is leftover and turn it into something different? Here’s how we like to use up leftovers, and some of our favorite recipes:
Mac and Cheese Soup – add your leftover macaroni to a slow cooker with chicken, beef, or vegetable broth to cover. Let cook on low for several hours until the flavors meld together into a delicious soup!
French Bread Pizza using leftover macaroni – spread on a little pizza sauce, sprinkle on some shredded mozzarella cheese, top with your leftover macaroni, and bake at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Mac and Cheese Quesadilla – how good does this sound? Just sprinkle a little taco seasoning or salsa in there too. It’s a great way to use up leftovers
That alone gives you enough ideas to make a different meal for dinner for two months straight if you started with a box of mac and cheese! Imagine feeding your family for $2-3 a night!
What do you like to do?
We could seriously go on all day with these combinations! What is your favorite way to make mac and cheese even better? Share them in the comments below!