5 Super Simple Ways To Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

When my kids were little, there were times when we pretty much survived on good old Kraft mac and cheese. Those little blue boxes were a life-saver on more than one occasion, because I knew mac and cheese was one of the few meals that everyone would eat. Plus it was quick and easy to make, and relatively inexpensive too. But as my kids got older and developed bigger appetites, I had to get a little creative to stretch our usual mac and cheese dinners.

My solution was to drain a can of corn or peas and mix it in with the mac and cheese right at the end. It did the trick of making our meals go further, and my kids took the change surprisingly well! In fact, my oldest started preferring it with corn, while my 2nd oldest insisted that it was best with peas. (I started compromising by adding a little of both.)

Looking back now, I wish I would have explored that little glimmer of culinary creativity I’d had with the corn/peas idea. In fact, if I could go back and live our “mac and cheese phase” over again, I would choose to be a lot more experimental with what I would add to our mac! So if you still happen to be in your “mac and cheese phase” as a family (or maybe you just love mac and cheese!) I thought that today I’d share some quick and easy ideas for dressing up your standard mac and cheese dinner. Because age and experience have taught me that dinner can still be quick, easy, and crowd-pleasing without being boring! :-)

Related: 7 Easy Meals To Make When You Have Zero Time

5 Delicious Ways To Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

1. Start With Something You Like

Like I mentioned above, I’m no stranger to that blue box of Kraft mac and cheese. It’s easy and tastes good! There are plenty of other options for boxed mac and cheese too, like Annie’s (which also comes in organic and gluten-free options.) And if you’d rather make your mac and cheese yourself, I’ve got you covered. I’ve included an easy “gourmet” mac and cheese recipe at the end of this post, so be sure to check that out!

2. Add Some Protein

Adding meat, beans, or other protein sources into your mac and cheese will help make it a more substantial meal. If you’re adding a meat product, be sure to cook it separately before adding it in.

  • Bacon bits
  • Diced ham
  • Prosciutto
  • Canned tuna
  • Crab meat
  • Feta cheese
  • Canned chili
  • Black beans
  • Pulled pork

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

3. Add Some Veggies

Adding veggies to your mac and cheese is a quick way to add some more nutritional value to your meal. But plain, unseasoned veggies are sure to make your mac taste a bit bland, so be sure to take that into account. You can always roast your veggies before adding them for tons of added flavor. Or you can season the veggies separately with salt, pepper, and spices, and then stir them into your mac and cheese.

  • Frozen corn
  • Frozen peas
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Canned pumpkin
  • Spinach, kale, or other leafy greens

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

4. Add Something Fresh Or Flavorful

To add freshness, flavor, or even a bit of spice to your mac and cheese, try adding one of these items. Fresh herbs are sure to elevate your meal, and adding things like hot peppers or salsa can give it an added kick of heat to make things interesting!

  • Chives
  • Sage
  • Pesto
  • Jalapeños
  • Salsa

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

5. Add Some Crunch

Soft noodles and creamy cheese can feel a bit boring to some people. One way to add a bit of interest is to top off your mac and cheese with something crunchy! Once your mac and cheese is finished, simply sprinkle one of these items right over the top. Throw the whole thing under your broiler for a few minutes to give it a delicious toasty finish!

  • Breadcrumbs (Italian, panko, etc.)
  • Slivered almonds
  • Crispy noodles
  • Crispy onions
  • Crushed crackers

3 Examples Of Upgraded Mac And Cheese

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Example #1: Southwest Mac

We added corn, salsa verde, and black beans to the macaroni and cheese, and finished it off with a layer of crunchy breadcrumbs. This was a team favorite, and everyone wanted more!

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Example #2: Autumn Mac

We stirred in canned pumpkin, chopped fresh sage leaves, and a handful of slivered almonds into this batch. The flavor of this combo was a little more subtle, but we loved the way the pumpkin made the mac and cheese extra thick and creamy.

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Example #3: Mediterranean Mac

We added feta cheese, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and a big dollop of basil pesto to this batch. This was another crowd-pleaser, and I’d personally make it again in a heartbeat!

As you can see, you can create some truly delicious dishes if you’re willing to experiment a little! Give it a try, and let me know what kind of mac and cheese magic you whip up. :-) But before you go, here’s that tasty mac and cheese recipe I promised!

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Easy Gourmet Mac And Cheese

from Genius Kitchen

Here’s a great basic mac and cheese recipe I found online, if you’re looking to go the homemade route. It’s actually quicker and easier to make than I would have thought, and it tastes creamy and delicious! Give it a try and see what you think!

Upgrade Your Mac And Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz macaroni noodles
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 dash pepper
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions:

Start by cooking the macaroni noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain the noodles and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Then stir in the flour, and cook for 3-5 minutes to for a roux. Add the salt, pepper, and milk slowly, and stir well after adding each ingredient.

Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture starts bubbling.

Next, stir in the cheese a small handful at a time until all of the cheese is fully melted.

Then add the drained noodles to the cheese sauce and stir well to coat. Add desired toppings or added ingredients, and serve warm.

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

MORE IDEAS FROM

Food & Recipes

  • Typically, I use the Paula Dean and Sons Mac and Cheese recipe (she adds sour cream and several cheeses, yum!) and I add bacon. It’s a hit everytime! Thanks to everyone, including Jillee for your great ideas.

  • I had the “brilliant” idea a while back, to serve a macaroni and cheese BAR at a big family birthday party. I did a couple huge pots of mac & cheese, and then loaded down our serving bar with toppings. We offered a list of suggested combos too. Taco mac, cheeseburger mac, lasagna mac, ham & swiss mac, mac and broccoli… endless possibilities there! I got such raised-eyebrow results as I mentioned my plan, that I looked it up to see if no one had ever done this before… and found that it was currently popular at weddings,haha! So much for new ideas! I had the last laugh too, because everyone LOVED it. They ask if we’re doing it again when we have gatherings, and the most skeptical of all (my MIL), asked me to do one for our New Year’s Day get-together! It’s an inexpensive menu that covers all tastes, mature to picky-kid!

  • One of the easiest ways to enhance your box mac and cheese is to mix in one of those cheap packets of taco, fajita, or enchilada seasonings. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the the whole packet, just season to taste. Enjoy as is or add other items to it. (i’m thinking the Southwest Mac would be a good option for a packet)

  • I make my mac & cheese with canned cheddar soup and add some sour cream besides milk which makes it extra creamy…finish it with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs that get toasted as it bakes

  • Oooh. We always add a huge handful of cheddar if we make boxed mac – such an easy way to upgrade it. I really want to try the Mediterranean version you included!

  • Love the optiions! Your homemade is like mine except i add a splash or two of Worsestershire sauce and mix in some dry mustard early in the recipe. Yummy!

    • True but a lot of hassle and time. Also if you are cooking for two or only one-nuff said. But yeah boxed (or worse-microved or just-hot water is worse than anything else except creamed chipped beef (frozen).

  • OK now…Here’s my turn…We looooove vegies, so one day I just threw in diced green and red peppers, a red onion, a branch of celery, some dried tomatoes and 1/4 cup of Cheez Whiz! All RAW of course and ‘heated’ only a bit to help the Cheez Whiz melt….Mmmmmmmm. Yummy! Another time I added some Swiss cheese (instead of Cheez Whiz) and a bit of bacon bits. OOOOlala!

  • Simpler, faster way to make the white sauce/roux, used by top chefs: put the flour into a large saucepan, whisk in some of the milk so there are no flour lumps, whisk in the rest and add the butter and any seasonings. Heat it all up, stirring, till it thickens and boils for a couple of minutes, then stir in the grated cheese. No need to “cook” the flour and butter at the beginning.

  • I make mac and cheese by melting 1/4 cup butter in a 9 x 12 casserole dish (while the oven preheats) stir in a box of dry macaroni, add 2 – 3 cups of cheese, 4 cups milk and 4 cups of chicken broth (or 8 cups of milk) plus a good spoonful of deli mustard. Bake it until the top browns (about 45 minutes). Super simple, super easy and fewer things to clean.

      • 350 degrees. Melt the butter in the casserole, stir the raw macaroni in to coat with butter, add cheese, some of the liquid and mustard. I add the remaining liquid once I set it in the oven to avoid spilling it! I said 2-3 cups of cheese but it’s 4 cups! I like using chicken broth to keep it light and it reheats easily.

    • This inspired me to make my husband’s favorite spinach artichoke mac n cheese for dinner tonight, using your method. Due to the extra moisture in the spinach, artichokes and onions I reduced the broth by 1 cup and added 2 tablespoons of flour to the milk. I baked it for 45 minutes in my convection oven on 350 and allowed it to sit for 10 minutes to set before serving. It was perfect. thank you for this new method to make mac n cheese that is so simple.

  • It may seem kinda strange for pasta but I like to scoop mac and cheese varieties leftovers onto leftover hamburger or hot dog buns for a lunch treat. These ideas will certainly enhance the options for a great afternoon meal. Thanks Jillee!

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