Frozen Mac And Cheeses Ranked Worst To Best

Few things are as comforting as a warm, creamy, cheesy macaroni and cheese. A bowl of the good stuff can be an instant mood elevator but after a long day, you may not have the energy to make a big batch the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. Luckily, there are several frozen mac and cheeses on the market that aim to be as satisfying as the homemade stuff and can be ready in a matter of minutes. If the mac and cheese is the main event, all the better.

Here, you'll find a few popular brands, including Stouffer's, Bob Evans, and Amy's that are crowd favorites. We also sampled several healthy-style brands, like Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones to see how they fare against the competition. We included grocery store private label brands including Trader Joe's and the 365 organic line from Whole Foods. There are even a couple of newcomers on the list that you may not already be familiar with.

Ultimately, we were looking for macaroni and cheese that has a great cheese flavor. We wanted a pasta that is perfectly cooked and felt like a good ratio in relation to the cheese sauce. We looked at nutrition information to see if you can enjoy your favorite comfort food with the least amount of guilt possible, and which dishes were made with the least amount of processed ingredients. This is how the most popular brands of frozen mac and cheese stacked up.

12. Lean Cuisine

As soon as the Lean Cuisine Macaroni & Cheese comes out of the microwave, it smells like the classic box of stovetop Velveeta mac and cheese, which was a nostalgic plus for us. But unfortunately, all of that anticipation was wiped out after the first bite. The texture is thick and creamy, but the flavor tastes kinda like plastic it was cooked in or canned asparagus. Gross. Cheddar cheese is listed in the ingredients, so we aren't quite sure what the source of that unappealing flavor is, but after a few bites for posterity, we were finished.

It's understandable that you might be looking for a mac and cheese that doesn't completely break your calorie budget for the day. With the Lean Cuisine, it's convenient that the one 10-ounce package is considered a full serving, and only sets you back 300 calories. It's also got 14 grams of protein, which is a plus. But ultimately, other brands can provide you with similar dietary numbers, without sacrificing flavor. After all, mac and cheese is supposed to make you feel good, not remind you of all of the delicious food you're missing out on.

11. Banquet

While microwaving the Banquet Mac & Cheese, we noticed that the cheese sauce was incredibly watery and looked a little separated. Once it was out of the microwave, we gave it a thorough stirring to bring the sauce back together, and reluctantly gave it a taste. It tasted fine, like boxed stovetop Kraft mac and cheese, but very thin and watery. 

After looking at the ingredients list, it's no surprise as water is the first ingredient listed for the cheese sauce. The ingredient list includes a handful of other heavily processed ingredients that other brands don't rely on, which in the end, didn't really seem to help the cause much. The Banquet mac and cheese lacks the creamy lushness of a more luxurious tasting mac and cheese, and the cheese flavor itself is watered down. If it was what was on the table, we'd eat it, but that's about as exciting as it gets. We'd rather have a box of Kraft mac and cheese.

Like the Lean Cuisine before it, the Banquet mac and cheese comes in a 10-ounce portion, and only sets you back 300 calories. While it has fewer grams of protein, the flavor is a little better overall. What flavor it has undoubtedly comes from the salt content. Surprisingly, it has a whopping 1,160mg of sodium, which is considered about 50% of your daily value of salt. While mac and cheese isn't inherently the healthiest option, that's still a pretty large dose of salt to swallow.

10. Smart Ones (Weight Watchers)

Smart Ones, previously associated with Weight Watchers, is another option for those looking for a lighter comfort food option. This mac and cheese claims to have a blend of cheddar, asiago, and romano cheeses that we thought might add a little bit of variety to the dish. While the cheese flavor is nice, we still found the sauce to be a little more watery than creamy. For those who are familiar with Stouffer's frozen mac and cheese, this cheese sauce tastes strikingly similar to that one, just thinner and wetter (a Stouffer's lite if you will). The noodles on the other hand were a little thicker than we like the pasta to be and extra chewy. With a few little tweaks, this could be a really incredible mac and cheese, but for now, it's really just the best of the "diet" options.

A slightly smaller portion than the previous choices, the Smart Ones Three Cheese Macaroni comes in a 9-ounce portion, but with the same 300 calories found in similar products. It's also got 13 grams of protein, which is a nice addition for those who want to get the most nutrition out of the dish. While Smart Ones doesn't provide any other macaroni and cheese options, there are a few other pasta dishes in the lineup, including a Creamy Rigatoni with Chicken and Broccoli, and Three Cheese Ziti — with or without meatballs — that we'd be curious to try.

9. Amy's Kitchen

It wasn't that long ago that organic gluten-free frozen food was hard to come by. Those days are long gone, as Amy's can be found in almost every grocery store, and many convenience stores. The selection of Amy's frozen macaroni and cheeses is large, with classic, light, low sodium, gluten-free rice-based pasta, gluten-free cauliflower-based pasta, and chili options. As a controlled option, we tasted the classic macaroni and cheese made with organic pasta.

At first bite, we noticed that the sauce is thick and creamy, and the pasta has a nice texture to it. It's cheesy, but not overly cheesy which might be due to the use of white cheddar in the sauce. But there was something slightly off about the flavor of the mac. We couldn't put our finger on what it was, but it was different than traditional mac and cheese sauce recipes. While it wasn't our favorite flavor, there's no denying that it's popular. So it really boils down to a matter of taste with this one. If you're looking for an organic or gluten-free option that you can find nearly anywhere, try it and see if you like it.

As far as the ingredient list goes, it's about as clean as it gets with most of the same ingredients you'd use at home to make a pot of mac and cheese. The 9-ounce package has 450 calories, 18 grams of protein, and is a perfectly filling entrée for one.

8. Hormel

No, American cheese is not considered gourmet cheese. But the thing is, it's a delicious addition to macaroni and cheese, providing that same gooey and creamy texture that you love when using it in a grilled cheese sandwich. You don't need the majority of your cheese sauce to be made with American cheese, but you might be surprised how much it can contribute to a batch of homemade cheddar mac. Hormel Macaroni and Cheese is one of the few brands that advertise their use of American cheese in the mix, and we're here for it.

The mac and cheese is creamy and cheesy, with a bolder flavor than some of the dishes we've tried up to this point. That may be partially due to the higher sodium content in this pasta, but it works on the tastebuds. The Hormel macaroni and cheese hits all the flavor, texture, and tender pasta notes we're looking for without breaking the mold on the dish. It's perfectly comforting and comes in a package large enough to serve three people as a side dish comfortably. Hormel also makes macaroni and cheese in Chipotle Cheddar and Black Label Bacon Macaroni and Cheese flavors, that we're excited to try out next.

7. Marie Callender's

Marie Callender's has been around since 1948, founded by Marie Callender herself as a bakery specializing in pies. In the 70+ years since then, the brand has been a staple in the frozen dinners market. Famous for the large selection of frozen pot pies they produce, comfort food is clearly the name of the game here. The Creamy Vermont White Cheddar Mac and Cheese is one of the most popular mac and cheese products they offer, and for good reason. The sharpness of the aged white cheddar is made into a perfectly luscious sauce that thickly coats the long shell-style pasta. It's not orange like other macs, but we don't think you'll miss the annatto food coloring in this dish.

The Marie Callender's macaroni and cheese comes in a 13-ounce package, which is large enough for two or three people to share as sides, or one larger-sized entree for one. The calorie count is higher than some of the previous dishes, clocking in at 500 calories for the entire package, with an almost outrageous 1,650mg of sodium. All of that flavor has to come from somewhere, right?

6. Stouffer's

Stouffer's macaroni and cheese is one of the most recognizable frozen mac and cheese brands. It's easy to find in nearly every grocery and convenience store and comes in sizes fit for one, a small family, or for a family reunion. So what makes it so popular? It may be the bold orangey coloring, but the cheese sauce itself tastes like it's been packed with cheddar flavor. The sauce is thick enough to coat the pasta with every spoonful, but not so thick that it glues the noodles together. And every Stouffer's mac and cheese pro knows that if you leave it in the microwave for another 30 seconds, you might just achieve the coveted "grilled cheese"-like crust around the sides of the container.

Unfortunately, the noodles can be a little soft. Especially if you're one of those people who like to overcook it. It's less of an issue if you're baking the mac and cheese, but honestly, very few people are going to spend 45 or so minutes waiting on the oven when microwaving it gets the job done so much faster.

The 12-ounce package suited for one serving runs you 500 calories and 1,200mg of sodium, but that won't deter some diehard fans. Ultimately, you can rest assured that you're going to get the same reliable cheesy flavor with every box of Stouffer's macaroni and cheese that you buy, which is probably one of the most comforting things about it.

5. Blake's

We thought it was bold of Blake's to try to make a microwaveable mac and cheese, finished with a breadcrumb topping to resemble a baked macaroni and cheese. We were impressed when it worked. It wasn't too dry or thick like breadcrumb toppings can sometimes be straight out of the oven, and it had a perfectly creamy white cheddar cheese sauce. Additionally, there are no strange ingredients in this dish, made almost entirely with organic ingredients in the classic béchamel style that you'd use to make macaroni and cheese at home.

One 8-ounce package of Blake's Farmhouse Mac & Cheese will only cost you 300 calories, which makes us think long and hard about why someone would bother with one of the "diet-friendly" choices further back in the list when you can have something so fulfilling for most of the same nutritional value, and all of the comfort that comes with it. For those looking for a gluten-free option, Blake's has one of those for you as well, without the breadcrumbs and made with gluten-free pasta in the same white cheddar sauce as the farmhouse version.

4. Devour

While not as well-known as some of the other brands on this list, Devour is a newcomer that's making a splash when it comes to frozen mac and cheese. You're not going to find your mom's macaroni and cheese in their lineup. Instead, Devour offers a handful of mac and cheese options for those looking for something a little different. Buffalo chicken mac and cheese is studded with blue cheese and buffalo chicken pieces. Chicken Cordon Bleu mac and cheese is made with a Swiss and provolone cheese sauce, that's got both ham and grilled chicken pieces folded into the mix. So much more than a simple mac, Devour aims to present you with an entire meal in one package.

For the time being, there are no vegetarian or gluten-free options. Even the Sharp Cheddar mac and cheese comes with bacon bits sprinkled into it. Nutritionally speaking, most of these meals come with a higher calorie count than other options (typically over 470 calories) but should be seen as a complete meal, not just a side dish.

3. 365 (Whole Foods)

This relatively non-descript store brand macaroni and cheese from Whole Foods honestly surprised us. Going into the microwave, the mix looked a little dry, and there aren't any special descriptions on the packaging other than a nice picture and a casual mention of "Three Cheeses Sauce" in small print that set it apart from the competition. It's organic, which is nice — but hardly a rarity on this list. So when it came out of the microwave and we gave it one last stir, we were giddy to see real stretchy cheese pulling with every forkful. Not only is it a real cheese sauce, but the seasonings are unlike anything we'd encountered so far. The black pepper and nutmeg in the sauce are apparent, and add such a special touch to the final product. (On the other hand, if you don't like black pepper and nutmeg in your mac, this one probably isn't for you.

While the package states that the three kinds of cheese used are organic cheddar cheese, organic mozzarella, and organic aged hard cheese, we're not entirely sure what kind of aged hard cheese is used exactly. But whatever it is, we like it. The noodles are thick and in a slightly different shape than any we've tried so far. Overall, one 9-ounce package of the 365 Brand organic macaroni and cheese is 490 calories and packs a comforting gourmet punch that we think you'll really enjoy.

2. Bob Evans

Bob Evans macaroni and cheese is technically a refrigerated dish, not a frozen one. But it's prepared exactly the same way that all of the others are in the microwave, so we gave it a shot. Known for their selection of pre-made homestyle breakfast meals and side dishes in the refrigerated section at the grocery store, we expected this mac and cheese to be comforting. We weren't expecting it to be exceptionally thick and creamy, with perfectly cooked noodles that made sharing difficult. The classic cheddar macaroni and cheese is jam-packed with flavor, and while it might not taste like 100% real cheese, it's got the ultimate cheddary sauce mac and cheese taste that's next to impossible to duplicate at home. Even the most staunch Stouffer's lover may be converted with a taste of Bob Evans.

As far as calories go, a single-serving container of this mac and cheese clocks in at 220 calories, which is less than most other frozen macs per serving. While the serving size is also a bit smaller than most of the other packages at 6 ounces, you're getting a better-tasting mac than most of the other options, and you're not obligated to share with anyone else. The original macaroni and cheese come in single servings, a 20-ounce package for two to three people, and a 28-ounce package for three or more people.

1. Trader Joe's

It's no secret that Trader Joe's has developed a devoted cult-like following for their private label frozen and prepared foods. But we weren't just going to take their word for it. Stacked in the freezer case, we found at least three different types of macaroni and cheese but opted to taste the "Joe's Diner" mac 'n cheese since it presented itself as the most comforting classic option. Made with four kinds of cheese, including cheddar, Swiss, Havarti, and gouda, this macaroni and cheese dish is positively overflowing with cheese. Granted, it looks a little odd straight out of the microwave with the cheeses all melted and clumped in the middle of the cooked pasta. But a minute or two of stirring brings it all together into an authentic cheesy dish that true cheese lovers won't be able to resist.

Like most diner meals, this particular package is large and comes prepared to serve two people or one very hungry person. The genuinely authentic cheesy nature of this dish also lends itself to any additions you'd like to make to it. It would be perfect for folding in some broccoli, scallions, and bacon pieces, grilled chicken, or even topping with breadcrumbs and tossing into the oven to cook. This mac tastes so homemade that you might never make it from scratch again. Believe the hype.