Trying Best Recipes to Upgrade Boxed Macaroni and Cheese + Photos

  • Boxed macaroni and cheese can be transformed into different meals and appetizers. 
  • Some of my favorite upgrades used canned tuna, Buffalo chicken, and chili. 
  • I’d happily make and eat most of these dishes again except for the muffins and pizza-inspired one. 

There are few things as satisfying as a bowl of macaroni and cheese — fortunately, the boxed version can be pretty easy to take to the next level. 

I tried eight ways to upgrade boxed mac and cheese and used Kraft’s deluxe original cheddar, which comes with premade sauce for extra convenience.

Here’s how the dishes turned out, plus which I’d make again:

The first dish involved cooking my macaroni and cheese in the oven and adding a topping to it 

Cheese, sour cream, Ritz crackers, and mac and cheese.

In this recipe, you can top this dish with any crunchy cracker, but Ritz is preferred.

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The recipe I found on suggested I add extra ingredients and a buttery cracker topping to my boxed mac to make it feel more homemade. 

First, I stirred cheddar cheese, sour cream, and pepper into prepared macaroni and cheese.

Mac and cheese in a bowl.

This was super creamy thanks to the sour cream.

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After I mixed the pasta, I spooned it into a greased baking dish and topped it with more cheddar cheese.

Bowl of mac and cheese with crushed crackers on top.

Crackers make for a versatile topping.

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Before placing it in the oven, I combined melted butter and crushed Ritz crackers. I generously topped the macaroni and cheese with the mixture and baked it at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. 

Overall, this was a tasty and easy way to step up macaroni and cheese

A baked bowl of mac and cheese.

The topping got nice and crunchy.

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Each bite was rich and tasted like it was made from scratch. I really enjoyed the crunchy, buttery topping that sealed in the gooey noodles.

I would make this again and incorporate different cheeses, like Gruyere. 

I was skeptical about adding ketchup and pepperoni to my macaroni and cheese

Pepperoni, mac and cheese, and ketchup on a cutting board.

This dish didn’t need many ingredients.

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This Kraft-Heinz recipe from its My Food and Family site is so easy, but I was worried about how it might taste.

Garlic powder and mac and cheese in a bowl.

This is a super straightforward recipe.

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The directions require just two steps: Make the box of macaroni and cheese and mix in the ingredients — chopped pepperoni, ketchup, oregano, and garlic powder.

The dish tasted just like an odd pepperoni pizza

Mac and cheese with pepperoni.

This tasted like a kid’s pepperoni pizza.

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I wouldn’t make this one again unless I used alternative ingredients. 

This would’ve been better if it used real tomato sauce instead of ketchup and Italian sausage instead of pepperoni. I would also add in more cheese and some red-chili flakes for extra flavor.

For what it is, it’s not bad — but it’s not great either.

This butternut-squash-sage macaroni and cheese felt fancy 

Squash, sage, and mac and cheese on a table.

This is a perfect fall-inspired dish.

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I’m a big fan of squash and was excited to try food blogger Kelly Egan’s recipe from her site, A Side of Sweet.

I started by cutting off the bottom of an acorn squash so it would stay level. I chopped the top off, scooped out the seeds and pulp, and oiled the inside.

After seasoning it lightly, I popped it into the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Squashes cut in half on a baking sheet

Roasting the squash was the most time-consuming part of the recipe.

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Then I diced and peeled the squash, drizzled it with olive oil, and seasoned it lightly before sticking it in the oven for 35 minutes.  

I browned fresh sage in butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it started to darken.

The last step involved mixing the macaroni and cheese with the butternut squash and sage and stuffing the acorn squash with the cheesy mixture.

I really enjoyed the presentation and taste of this fancy dish

Scooped out squash with mac and cheese inside.

It came out so presentable.

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I loved the sweet savoriness of the butternut squash combined with the buttery sage and rich macaroni and cheese.

It tasted like an indulgent fall dish made from scratch and looked so cute in the acorn squash. I recommend making this if you have extra time or are looking for an autumnal meal.

If you’re pressed for time, I would skip the acorn squash. 

For the next hack, I needed to deep-fry my macaroni and cheese 

The technique from chef Marc Matsumoto’s blog, No Recipes, started with boiling melted butter and flour to make a roux.

After taking the saucepan off the burner, I whisked it in half and half until there were no lumps.

Thickening sauce in a bowl.

Make sure the sauce is smooth.

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Once I returned the sauce to the heat, I continued to stir it with a spatula until it was a thick sauce. 

I combined my prepared macaroni and cheese with the roux and let the mixture cool.

Mac and cheese shaped into balls on a cutting board.

I shaped the macaroni and cheese into small spheres.

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I scooped out enough to roll out 1 1/2-inch balls. I coated each one in a layer of flour, egg, and bread crumbs.

I deep-fried each ball in a pot filled with about 2 inches of hot oil until they were golden brown. After two to three minutes, I turned them. 

Ball of mac and cheese in egg.

Make sure each ball is evenly coated.

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Once done, I placed each ball on a rack lined with paper towels to cool.

These fried balls of cheesy goodness were worth the effort 

Fried mac and cheese in hot oil.

Dip these in hot sauce for extra flavor.

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These were crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

They had great texture and an indulgent taste. I loved them even more with hot sauce and I’ll definitely make these again.

Mac and cheese, fried and shaped into balls.

They’re a perfect party appetizer.

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Deep-frying these required a bit of effort, but overall this was a simple way to make a party snack everyone will enjoy.

This recipe seemed perfect for fans of Buffalo chicken 

Mac and cheese, hot sauce, chicken, cheese, and wing sauce on a table.

For this dish, I added chicken.

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This straightforward recipe from the Food Network layers macaroni and cheese with Buffalo sauce, cheese, and chicken. I used premade popcorn chicken that I baked in my toaster oven.

I layered the macaroni and cheese with chicken and cheese and popped it into the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes.

Chicken mixed in with mac and cheese.

I mixed the chicken and macaroni together.

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Then I sprinkled blue cheese and more Buffalo sauce on top and baked it until the cheese melted, about five minutes.

 I can’t wait to make this hearty dish again 

Mac and cheese layered with cheese, chicken, and sauce.

I couldn’t stop eating this Buffalo mac and cheese.

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Each bite was super rich and tasty, especially with a side of carrots and celery sticks. I loved the spice and vinegar flavor combined with the creaminess of the cheese.

This casserole-style macaroni and cheese required canned tuna

Cream of broccoli soup, onions, tuna, bitter, peas, and mac and cheese on a table.

You don’t need the oven for this dish.

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I didn’t grow up eating tuna casserole, so I was curious to try this recipe from Taste of Home.

I added milk, a can of tuna, frozen peas, chopped onions, butter, and cream of broccoli soup into a prepared box of macaroni and cheese.

Cheese, tuna, peas, onions, macaroni, and butter in a bowl.

If you’re a fan of tuna melts, you’ll probably love this.

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This didn’t have a crunchy topping, so the oven wasn’t necessary.

This was one of my favorite dishes and it left me feeling full 

Mac and cheese with peas and tuna in a bowl.

I loved the addition of peas.

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It was cheesy but felt like a well-rounded meal thanks to the protein from the tuna.

I thought this would be too fishy, but it wasn’t. I would absolutely make it again.

These muffin-tin macaroni-and-cheese cups seemed cute

A muffin tin topped  with a mixture of Italian breadcrumbs, parsley and butter.

For these muffins, I needed to make a topping.

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These muffins from Betty Crocker seemed simple to make. I started by spooning macaroni and cheese into a muffin tin and topped each one with a mixture of Italian bread crumbs, parsley, and butter.

I baked each muffin for 20 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. 

I would only make these again for a party

Baked mac and cheese in a muffin tin.

It came out with a nice and crunchy exterior.

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The flavor and crunch were good, but nothing special. I’d prefer to bake the macaroni and cheese and skip the muffin-pan part.

Chili pairs well with macaroni and cheese

Chili, mac and cheese, and a bag of shredded cheese.

This dish couldn’t be easier to make.

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The easiest way to turn macaroni and cheese into a meal is to add in a can of chili and extra cheese.

I’ve seen this trick many times before and decided to use a turkey-based canned chili this time. 

I knew I’d like this easy, satisfying dish 

Chili and mac and cheese.

Chili is a delicious addition.

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It’s hearty, filling, and packed with flavor, depending on what kind of chili you like.

I loved the textures, flavors, and combination of peppers, meat, and cheese in this dish. I would make it again if I had a craving for chili.

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