10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese Magic

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Those ubiquitous boxes of macaroni and cheese powder never fail to remind me of one of the most broke points in my life when the 33 cent (at the time) boxes were all we had standing between us and real hunger.

Now, boxed mac & cheese isn’t the healthiest food in the world, but there are quite a few ways you can jazz it up, use it to extend leftovers that aren’t enough to feed the whole family, or feed a large group of kids.

10 Tips for Boxed Macaroni and Cheese

  • Go organic. If you’re concerned about the icky ingredients in the cheap store brand, watch for sales on the organic brands like Annie’s and Horizon. I’ve gotten them recently for as low as a dollar per box. If your family avoids wheat, there are also gluten-free options.
  • Serve it as a side dish. My kids to this day love a side dish of boxed mac & cheese. Personally, I prefer the homemade baked kind with a crunchy topping, but if they’re willing to go cheap-o, sometimes it’s nice to have that choice.
  • Hack homemade mac & cheese. Speaking of the homemade kind, that stuff is pricey with all the real cheddar, cream, and butter you need. But, you can hack it inexpensively using a boxed kit as the base. Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the instructions on the box. Butter a baking dish and spread the prepared mac & cheese into it. Stir in half a cup of cream cheese. Top it with a good quality shredded sharp cheddar and some bread crumbs, crushed potato chips, or cracker crumbs. Bake it at 350, uncovered for 25 minutes. You’ll love the gooey goodness that tastes really close to homemade at a fraction of the price.
  • Use condiments. My kids grew up in Canada where everyone puts ketchup on their mac & cheese. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it! I like to jazz mine up with barbecue sauce or hot sauce.
  • Turn it into a more flavorful side dish. Have you ever used those “Sidekick” packages of pasta? My daughter recently recreated one of her childhood favorites using white cheddar mac & cheese, garlic powder, onion powder, and parsley flakes.
  • Turn it into primavera. Throw in a bag of the frozen mixed vegetables of your choice while the pasta is cooking. My family likes the California mix with broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. I’m allergic to broccoli but love it with cauliflower and lots of black pepper.
  • Stir in a fancy cheese. Use just a little bit of a more expensive cheese to add a whole new flavor. We’ve tried this with smoked gouda, extra sharp cheddar, sundried tomato Havarti, fresh Parmesan, and garlic goat cheese. Remember, a little goes a long way!
  • Make it Mexican. Do you have leftover taco meat or leftover chili but not enough to feed the whole fam? Stir it into prepared mac & cheese and heat it all together into it’s hot and bubbly. This is sort of reminiscent of Hamburger Helper, but yummier.
  • Make your mac & cheese blush. Add some marinara sauce to prepared mac & cheese for a nice blush sauce. If you have leftover spaghetti sauce with meat, it’s like an Italian version of Hamburger Helper.
  • Hide some veggies. If you’re trying to hide vegetables to get your kids to eat them without complaint, cook and puree carrots or cauliflower and mix them into the sauce. They’re hardly noticeable.

How do you make mac & cheese?

Do you have any ways to jazz up your plain, ordinary macaroni and cheese? Share your tips in the comments.

10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese Magic
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

21 thoughts on “10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese Magic”

  1. My folks used to always add some nutritional yeast to mac and cheese. It’s still good that way if you can find a cheap source for it. Many natural food stores have it in bulk and it adds protein and vitamins. A can of tuna can also be nice to add flavor and staying power.

  2. I’ve added a can of tuna and a half can of peas (or two cans tuna + a full can of peas to two boxes of mac & cheese when our family was bigger). I also like to halve cherry tomatoes and toss them in during the last few minutes on the heat. Bacon bits on top are good too – if you do it with the tomatoes, it’s like a BLT minus the L. ?

  3. Fry some lean hamburger, drain if needed, prepare mac and cheese, stir hamburger into it, stir in some ketchup, a little mustard, now you have ultimate cheeseburger! Yummy! If you don’t want the hamburger in it use veggi-burger, still good, kids love it!

  4. My family loves smoking a pork butt and turning that into several meals, and I’ve made a BBQ pork mac n cheese a few times that was really good! With the addition of the meat it becomes a full meal instead of just a side 😉

  5. Boxed Mac and cheese got me through my college days only back then it was 19 cents a box. I don’t recommend NOT using milk and butter, but did so a few times. My go to protein source back then was canned Spam fried then cut up and added to the prepared Mac and cheese.

  6. I used to make a homemade one years ago with breadcrumbs & cheese on top. We eat the box one from time to time , my kids call it camping food and when I had all my Christmas food shopping stolen out the back of my ute when we first moved in here it helped me out of a tight spot as I didn’t have any food to fall back on because I lost alot in the move .

  7. We like to use a can of tuna, drained. cubed turkey Spam lightly fried is a good mix in too. A 15 oz can of drained diced tomatoes or frozen mixed veggies thawed mixed in, is a good way to get extra nutrition.

  8. Vicky from maine

    Cooked Mac and cheese with spam on top baked in the oven then some marinara on top after baking! Even my kids loved it back in the day now the grandkids do. Quick and easy.

  9. 1. Per box saute 1/2 lb. hamburger with 1 small chopped onion & 1 small chopped bell pepper or a 4 oz. can chopped chilies. Stir into prepared mac & cheese & heat through. 2. A can of drained tuna & 2 cups frozen peas & carrots. Heat through.
    3. This concept also works well with a box of rice mix (i.e. spanish rice or rice a roni).

    1. I stretch my box Mac and cheese by adding an extra cup of elbow noodles. If it’s not saucy enough, add a tablespoon of margarine. It works.

  10. Growing up homemade mac and cheese had sliced tomatoes as a layer or two added ( I do it to this day when I make homemade). Now when I use a boxed mac and cheese if I have fresh I’ll chop some tomatoes into it. In the winter I’ll drain some canned tomatoes and add them. ( guess thats a another version of your kids and their ketchup lol).
    I’ve added diced fried spam and I’ve added bacon bits that needed used up. Haven’t tried bbq meat yet but I bet it tastes good.
    I add things to the boxed rice-a-roni too and the Lipton sides packets. Anything to stretch the grocery money

  11. I like the Panera’s Mac & Cheese. They put the Mac on the bottom of the bowl, add chopped up chicken over it, drizzle BBQ sauce on the chicken and top it all off with a sprinkle of French fried onions. Yum! Great taste combo.

  12. I make a variation of …well… pasta and cheese sauce… or pasta and basically any sauce I can imagine. And it is pretty healthy, easy and cheap (at least in my central european country). Just sauté some chopped onions,garlic and zucchini. Then add some water/milk/broth and stew it a little. When it softens, mash it with a hand mixer to make a soft sauce. Add cheese, some seasonings, ham, pickles… whatever you choose. It is more filling with some wholemeal pasta. 🙂
    Sorry for my bad English… O:-)

  13. I chop up onion and saute it, add one of those small (8 oz?) cans of drained corn kernels, some cumin, and any leftover meat (sausage works well) then mix it all into the mac&cheese. And yes, in college I too ate it made only with water, no milk or butter!

  14. I really enjoy Panera’s BBQ Chicken Mac & Cheese so I make it at home. For a personal serving place hot mac & cheese in a bowl, sprinkle chopped up chicken breast on top, drizzle with warm BBQ sauce, scatter French fried onions (canned) over the top. Great taste combo!

  15. I add a cup of elbow pasta to the boxed noodles. It stretches the amount of Mac and cheese without changing the flavor.

  16. I cook chopped onion and green and red pepper with the pasta. Then I mix extra milk and shredded cheese to finish out the mac and cheese.

  17. My little ones love Mac and Cheese, but I avoid it like the plague. Largely because I used to combine a box with some milk and a can of chili to make chili mac. That was a luxury after rice and beans and rice and beans and rice and beans. (No, I don’t eat rice and beans either.) I graduated college 40 years ago and the taste still lingers.

  18. Bit of bacon, mushrooms, onions, spinach. Think of it as a base and add away – you don’t need a lot of any ingredient. Restaurants offer it with veggies as well as shrimp, steak, and/or chicken. Seafood might be readily available in some areas (read: inexpensive). Not uncommon to have a bit of chicken leftover or to use packaged chicken (it too comes in pouches which IMHO, has a better flavor than canned).

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