19 Ways To Make Boxed Mac And Cheese Taste Better

Boxed mac and cheese can make a quick and easy lunch or dinner. The macaroni noodles don't take long to cook. Once you've finished boiling them, all you have to do is add the powdered cheese and a little milk, and your meal is ready to go. However, while boxed mac and cheeses, such as those from Kraft or Annie's, are very convenient, their taste and texture don't really compare to that of a homemade recipe.

If you're looking for something closer to the taste of homemade mac and cheese without the time commitment, there is another option. You can make a few small changes to the way to prepare a box of mac and cheese or add in a few other ingredients. The good news is that most of the ways to improve the way your package of macaroni and cheese tastes won't take too much time or effort. You can still enjoy the convenience of the meal — but you'll be able to enjoy the finished product even more.

1. Don't overcook or undercook the macaroni

The first step to making a good mac and cheese — whether boxed or homemade — starts with cooking the pasta. You want to avoid overcooking or undercooking it to avoid altering the taste and texture of the finished recipe. Overcooked macaroni noodles will turn into mush when you mix them together, while undercooked ones will be too hard or crunchy.

Never solely rely on the printed cooking time on the box, as it is not always going to be accurate. Instead, to ensure that the noodles are properly cooked, you'll need to keep a close eye on them in the pot. Start checking for doneness (by tasting) a few minutes earlier than the cooking time on the box indicates. You'll know that they've finished cooking when they are softer on the outside with just a touch of firmness on the inside. This texture is referred to as al dente. Once the noodles have finished cooking, drain them right away. If you leave them to sit in the hot pot of water, even if it is removed from the heat, they will continue to cook and end up overdone.

2. Use a fattier milk

While skim milk may be a healthier option for drinking, it isn't going to help you make a rich and creamy sauce for your mac and cheese. To accomplish that, you'll need to use fattier milk, such as whole milk or half-and-half. If you've looked at a glass of whole milk next to a glass of skim milk, the latter should be clear while the former will yield the tastier sauce. Whole milk is so much thicker and creamier than skim milk.

Another tip when adding milk to your macaroni and cheese is to warm it up before adding it to the pan. Pouring cold milk on the hot noodles can mess with the cooking process and will make it take longer for all the ingredients to heat up. Warmer milk will also help ensure that the powdered cheese breaks down properly and doesn't leave behind any clumps.

3. Don't skimp on the butter

If you're really looking to make the creamiest and tastiest mac and cheese, you shouldn't be thinking too much about skimping on certain ingredients. Just as you don't want to use skim milk instead of whole milk, it is also important to make sure you use enough butter — and that you don't try to skip the butter altogether. Butter will help to make the cheese sauce a little thicker and creamier, and will work to bring out the other flavors in the dish. Check the recipe on the box to see how much butter you should use.

You can use either salted or unsalted butter when making mac and cheese, depending on whether you want to add more of a saltier flavor or not. You might also want to experiment with each type of butter to find out which version of mac and cheese you like best.

4. Toss in some more cheese

While each box of mac and cheese you purchase from the grocery store includes the cheese called for in the recipe, there isn't always enough. If you like your mac and cheese ooey and gooey, why not add some more to the pot while everything is still hot?

Check in your cheese drawer — nearly anything will work. A few slices of American cheese, some shredded cheddar or colby jack cheese, or even some mozzarella. Toss the cheese of your choice into the pan after mixing all of the other ingredients, stir it in, and give it a few minutes to melt. The few extra minutes that it will take waiting for the cheese to melt will be worth it when you take your first bite of the extra creamy and delicious mac.

5. Try baking it

Many homemade mac and cheese recipes — perhaps like the one your mom or grandma used to make — involve baking all of the ingredients in the oven. This yields a tray of mac and cheese that is crispy and golden brown on the top, while remaining smooth and creamy on the inside. If this is what you're missing when eating boxed mac and cheese, there is no reason you can't try to recreate it by baking your mac.

Start by preparing the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Then, transfer it to a casserole dish and mix in some extra shredded cheese. Before baking in the oven, sprinkle some bread crumbs over the mac. Bake for about 20 minutes and enjoy. Adding the breadcrumbs will help make the top layer nice and crispy.

6. Mix in some cream cheese

If your goal is to make your mac and cheese as creamy and satisfying as possible, you have probably been overlooking one ingredient that can help you accomplish that goal: cream cheese. Adding cream cheese to mac and cheese can transform the recipe into the ultimate comfort food that you won't be able to get enough of.

When adding cream cheese to your mac, you'll want to leave it on the counter for about 30 minutes to soften it first. Then, whisk the cream cheese with the milk, butter, and powdered cheese to make a thick and creamy sauce. Once the sauce is ready and heated up, add in the cooked macaroni noodles. This recipe idea also lends itself perfectly to baking if you want that crispy outside and extra creamy inside.

7. Try a no-draining-required method

What if we told you that you could make macaroni and cheese without having to drain the noodles and that the resulting dish would be smooth, cheesy, and delicious? Well, when Nikki Gillespie posted this hack on TikTok, it didn't take long for the video to go viral.

Nikki shows how you can combine nearly all of the ingredients needed to make boxed mac and cheese (the macaroni noodles, butter, and water) in the pot before putting it on the stove. Then, once everything is in the pot, give the ingredients a quick stir and heat them over medium heat. Check back to stir occasionally and leave the pan uncovered as everything cooks. Once the majority of the liquid evaporates, stir in a little bit of milk and continue cooking for a few minutes while the sauce thickens.

8. Add taco meat

Adding some taco meat to your mac and cheese can make it more filling and satisfying without losing the benefits of a quick and easy dinner. The taco meat will enhance the flavor and texture of the mac, creating a special treat for your mouth. Simply make the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. While it is cooking, brown some ground beef and mix in your favorite taco seasoning mix and a little water.

After each recipe component has finished cooking, mix them together, serve, and enjoy. Alternatively, you could set up a taco bar complete with taco shells and other toppings, such as lettuce, tomato, and shredded cheese, and let everyone build their own mac and cheese taco.

9. Don't forget a few seasonings

Even if you love boxed mac and cheese, it can get boring eating the same thing over and over again. One simple way to change up the way your mac tastes is to sprinkle on some seasonings.

Depending on your heat tolerance and your mood, you may want to try milder and more subtle, such as Italian seasoning, onion powder, or black pepper. Or, kick things up a notch with some cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. It won't take much seasoning to change the flavor, and you can always add more if desired. Start by adding just ¼ to ½ teaspoon and give it a taste before sprinkling more in.

10. Add in some sour cream

Sour cream is another ingredient you might want to try adding to the pot the next time you whip up a box of mac and cheese. Like cream cheese, it can help you achieve an utterly rich and creamy finished product. It doesn't take much sour cream either — just a few tablespoons is all you'll need.

Another great thing about sour cream is that you can use it in place of milk if you realize you've run out. Even without the milk, the texture of the mac and cheese will be just what you're looking for. The main difference will be the level of creaminess, and who doesn't like creamy mac and cheese?

11. Upgrade it with some lobster meat

Have you ever ordered lobster mac and cheese? It is a menu item you're likely to find at a more upscale restaurant. However, there is no reason you can't make this delectable meal in your own kitchen using a box of mac and cheese as the base.

If you have fresh lobster tails, you can absolutely add the meat from them to this recipe, but you may also be able to find fresh or frozen cooked lobster meat at the grocery store. If you don't have lobster meat, you could even substitute cooked shrimp or lump crab meat. Simply mix in the meat of your choosing into the mac and cheese. To make everything a little richer, try warming the lobster meat up in a little bit of butter before adding it to the mac.

12. Make your own cheese sauce

While the powdered cheese that comes in a box of macaroni and cheese works, we all know that it doesn't taste as good as the real deal. If you want to make a restaurant-worthy mac, you might want to consider making your own cheese sauce. When you make your own cheese sauce, you can even experiment with different types of cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or Colby Jack.

To make a cheese sauce, start with a roux, which is a thickening agent made using butter (or oil) and flour. After whisking the butter and flour until you have a thick roux, slowly pour in some milk and continue whisking everything together. Wait until the sauce is smooth and thick to add the cheese. You don't want to add it too early, or it could harden or turn gummy. Stir the macaroni noodles into your cheese sauce and dig in.

13. Stir in some crispy bacon

Who doesn't love bacon? If you're one of the many people who enjoy this crispy and delicious food, why not add some to your mac and cheese next time you make it? The bacon will add a nice crunch to the mac, make it more filling, and give the taste a nice upgrade.

Cook your bacon to your desired crispiness — you can even use your air fryer to simplify things when you're focused on cooking the mac and cheese on the stove. Once it has finished cooking, crumble it up and mix it in with the mac or add it as a topping. So simple — but such a game changer.

14. Top your burger with it

Cheeseburgers are good and all, but what about a mac and cheeseburger? Topping a hamburger with some mac and cheese is certainly one way to make sure you don't end up hungry at the end of the meal. The creaminess of the noodles will offer a nice complement to the taste of a grilled burger, giving your taste buds a real treat.

Customize the rest of the ingredients you add to the burger to match your preferences. Like things hot and spicy? Mix in some hot sauce with the mac before putting it on the burger. Want an extra crunch? Try some bacon or lettuce. The possibilities are endless. 

15. Add it to a bowl of chili

When the weather is cold or snowy outside, and you have no desire to do anything other than cuddle up under a warm blanket, consider making a pot of chili mac and cheese. The warm and creamy noodles paired with the beans and ground beef or turkey will make for the ultimate comfort food.

You can make this idea as easy or involved as you want. If you have a favorite chili recipe, by all means, whip up a batch of it. But, if you want to minimize your time in the kitchen, try heating up one of the best canned chilis and mixing it into the pot of mac and cheese.

16. Up your veggies for the day

Not all of the ideas for making boxed mac and cheese better rely on adding fatty ingredients to it. You can also make your mac more satisfying and delicious by mixing in some cooked veggies.

There are not "bad" vegetables to add to mac and cheese, so think about what you like and try combining it with the noodles. A few popular options to try include broccoli (always tasty when cheesy), peas, spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots. You could even mix in some cooked butternut squash to the sauce for a special treat.

17. Turn it into mac and cheese bites

Looking for a fancy appetizer to serve at your next gathering? Or are you simply getting tired of eating the same boxed mac and cheese recipe and are ready to try something else? Either way, you should consider making macaroni and cheese bites – basically fried (or oven-fried) mac and cheese.

After cooking the macaroni and cheese, give it a few hours to cool in the fridge. Then, use your hands to press the mac and cheese together to form small balls. Roll each ball into a seasoned breadcrumb mixture and bake them in your air fryer or oven. You can also deep-fry them, if you prefer.

18. Use it to stuff zucchinis, peppers, or squash

Most stuffed peppers or squash recipes typically call for using a mixture of ground beef for the stuffing. However, there is no rule saying that you can't stuff other ingredients into your peppers or zucchini. Why not try using some mac and cheese?

Cook the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the box, and remove the seeds from the peppers or slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and hull out the center. Fill the squash or peppers with the mac and cheese, top them with some bread crumbs, and bake until soft. Each bite will offer a nice mix of gooey mac and cheese and tender vegetable.

19. Stuff it between two slices of bread for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich

You've made a grilled cheese sandwich before, but have you made a grilled mac and cheese sandwich? If not, it's definitely something you'll want to try the next time you're looking to experiment with a box of mac and cheese.

After preparing the mac and cheese, scoop it on top of a slice of buttered bread (buttered on both sides). Top it with another slice of bread, and cook it over medium heat until the bread crisps up. Add enough mac and cheese to the bread to make a hearty sandwich, but be careful not to add too much that it ends up dripping out of the sides. It is also a good idea to choose a heartier, thicker-cut bread for this recipe. You'll need it to support the weight of the mac and cheese.