Although it’s hard to make an already perfect dish better, eating boxed mac and cheese every night can get boring quickly. Boxed mac is a staple of college (or young adult) living and that is just a fact of life! No matter what kind of boxed mac and cheese you like, a few simple ingredients can take it from lame to wow! Whether you want to keep the integrity of the mac or want to make a completely new dish, you can spend a little extra to make a great meal. From simply adding some spices to making a completely different meal, try these ideas out to make your mac and cheese even better!
1. Fresh Cracked Pepper
When I was a little, my dad would make us Kraft mac and cheese with a secret ingredient that made us believe it was extra special mac and cheese. But when we got older, we discovered that it was just good old fashioned cracked pepper added in as the magic ingredient! If you want to add just a little kick of flavor, fresh pepper is the best! Just a hint of spice makes your mac and cheese pop!
If you want to make your mac and cheese a little extra comforting, you can’t go wrong with adding breadcrumbs! First, saute some onions in butter then mix into the mac. Then, top with either store-bought breadcrumbs or make your own by toasting the heck out of your favorite bread. Mix those crumbs of goodness with butter and cover the top. The perfect ratio is 50% mac, 50% bread. Put under the broiler to toast the breadcrumbs. This dish is a winner because it’s adding delicious crunchy carbs on top of cheesy carbs. Win, win.
3. Hot Sauce
When it comes to hot sauce, either you love it or you LOVE it. The great thing about hot sauce is there are so many different varieties, you can find one that the right level of spice and flavor for you. Once you find your ride or die (mine is Cholula or Valentina) all you have to do is simply add it to your mac! Add just a dash for a little kick or make it a punch in the face to wake you up!
4. Bacon And Chives
Another way to make mac and cheese even more of a comfort food-ADD BACON! Cook up your favorite brand and either mix in or add on top for a great crunch. To add another element of flavor, add some freshly chopped chives for some freshness (and some greenery). The best part of this one is you can always save a little bacon from breakfast and then have it on top of your lunch or dinner mac! Easy, peasy, bacon cheesy goodness!
If you are needing to make your mac more filling or perhaps serving you and a friend, try making a Buffalo chicken mac! Add some cooked chicken, either sliced or pulled depending on your preference, some Red’s Buffalo sauce, a dollop of cream cheese and mix! This legit tastes like a classic Buffalo chicken dip you’d have at a party, but with the added mac, it’s clearly superior!
6. Hot Dogs
Here’s another childhood favorite that is 100% acceptable to eat like an adult and call it a meal. Simply grab a package of your favorite hot dogs, (no judgment if it’s the cheap brand!) slice and add into your cooked mac for an ultra comforting and delicious meal. Despite several food allergies that prevent me from eating mac and cheese, when I indulge I always end up making this because it brings me back to childhood and you can’t beat that feeling!
7. Margarita Mac
Feeling a little fancy? Try making a Margarita version of your mac! Slice up tomatoes (little baby ones are best), chop up some fresh basil and add some fresh mozzarella for a yummy fresh version of your boxed mac. I love this one because it is so simple but tastes so good. With the fresh tomatoes and basil, you can almost trick yourself into believing it’s a salad!
8. Taco Meat
This was a staple in both my childhood home and as an adult in college. If you are looking to “beef” up your mac, try this taco mac! Cook some ground beef (or turkey if you like it lean) and add a packet of taco season. Mix the meat into the pre-made mac then add to a casserole dish and cover with a blend of cheese. Pop in the oven until the cheese is melted then top with chives, sour cream, and salsa if you want to spice it up. If you want to make it even more fun, you can add crushed tortilla chips on top.
9. Peas, Ham and Extra Cheese
If you’re from the Midwest, you’ve probably had a version of this at some point in your life. From the land of casseroles comes this maximum comforting dish. Add cubed ham, peas and extra cheese to your mac and let bake until it is all nice and toasty. This dish is perfect for when it is cold and cloudy out or a chilly rainy day.
10. Extra Cheese
Finally, if you are truly lost for ideas, you simply can’t go wrong with adding more cheese! No matter what kind of boxed mix you grab, all can be improved with adding more shredded cheese. If you are going with a classic Kraft box, I recommend staying adding a mix of cheeses. For something fancier like Annie’s or Cracker Barrel, I’d try bringing out the flavor of cheese already in the mix with more fresh cheddar or whatever cheese featured in the mix. No matter what, adding cheese is always a safe bet to make your mac and cheese even better of a meal.
What is your favorite kind of mac and cheese? Do you add anything to yours? Let us know in the comments below!
Emily Bell is a graduate of Central Michigan University with a degree in Journalism with a Public Relations concentration. She currently lives with her husband and dog on the coast in Florida.