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.