Hacks For Making Boxed Mac And Cheese Better

It's hard not to love the creamy, cheesy, deliciousness that is boxed mac and cheese, particularly the Kraft variety. Aside from being inarguably tasty, boxed mac and cheese makes for an inexpensive, filling meal (or side dish) that's easy to customize and is guaranteed to bring back memories of late-night snacking while in high school or college. Which is exactly why you shouldn't turn to chefs or accomplished cooks for tips on making this comfort food even more comforting; no, you should turn to the real boxed meal heroes — social media warriors on outlets like Reddit and TIkTok. 

These men and women know how to update a cheap meal with cheap ingredients and a lot of creativity in a way that hits the spot in a completely over-indulgent sort of way. And making the most out of boxed mac isn't hard — it really is just about knowing how to implement a few easy "hacks" to amp up the flavor and get the most out of every bite. 

Add cream cheese

So, just think about it — mac and cheese by itself is creamy and cheesy, so by using basic logic, adding more creamy cheese to the mix would only serve to amplify the comforting effect. And actual cream cheese has the added benefit of providing a slightly tangy taste. According to one Redditor, you don't even need much cream cheese to make a significant improvement to the taste and flavor of standard boxed mac and cheese. Simply add a few ounces of an inexpensive store brand cream cheese to your pot of mac, stir it in, and allow it to melt over low heat as the flavors meld. 

Of course, you'll get the best flavor if you purchase full-fat cream cheese rather than reduced-fat or fat-free, although the added ingredient won't exactly make your pot of mac and cheese any healthier. But then again, mac and cheese isn't supposed to be a health food, so if you plan to indulge, might as well go all-in, right? 

Experiment with spices (especially black pepper)

It makes sense that the first mac and cheese hack you consider wouldn't involve adding spices to the mix. In fact, when you think of mac and cheese, you're not exactly thinking about a spicy meal, so why would you add spices? 

But the reality is, even a little bit of pepper can go a long way in amping up the taste sensation of boxed mac and cheese. One Redditor responded to a question about making boxed mac and cheese better by simply stating, "A dash of black pepper. Thank me later." While other proponents of the hack suggested throwing in a lot more than a dash ("no a scoop"), and one Redditor gave the hack high praise by saying, "black pepper is some gourmet work lunchroom s***." Which highlights an important point — adding black pepper couldn't be cheaper or easier since you likely already have the spice on hand, or if you are in the work lunchroom, you can probably dig up some single-use pepper packets leftover from someone's fast food lunch.

Give different proteins a try

Sure, standard boxed mac and cheese has some protein in it already — cheese contains protein, milk has protein, and even pasta has a little bit. But if you're trying to increase protein intake, mac and cheese is an easy "base" for adding any number of different protein options. In one Reddit thread on improving boxed mac and cheese, different users suggested lots of easy options — ground beef, slices of sausage or hot dogs, a can of tuna, bacon (or bacon bits for a budget-friendly option), or even Spam. In fact, MyLilLove, the Redditor who suggested Spam, got pretty specific with the tip, stating, "dice it and get the pieces super crispy... it stretches it and makes it sooo smoky and luxurious." Imitation lobster, crab, clams, and even chorizo also made the list.  Kraft even offers up more complex protein-rich recipes like taco bakes and lasagna. 

Obviously, none of these suggestions are high-end meats, so choose the one that fits with your palate and personal budget. Or, you could always try other options, like shredded chicken or beef. You could even throw in an egg or two and let it cook while you mix in the cheese.

Crush up Cheez-Its to add as a topping

You don't even have to like Cheez-It crackers all that much to appreciate the next-level genius of adding them to your boxed mac and cheese. In another Reddit thread, Reddit user letitdough suggested crushing up the crackers and sprinkling them on top of your prepared mac and cheese; which, let's face it, is going to add a crunchy, cheesy, tangy punch to your mac that you never knew you needed. But letitdough wasn't the only Cheez-It genius to offer up tips. Captobvious789 suggested stirring the Cheez-Its into the cheese sauce, while another Redditor went next-level by saying you should crush the Cheez-Its, mix them with butter, then toast them to make them extra crispy before sprinkling them on top of your pasta. And, of course, you can get creative by trying different flavors of Cheez-Its, such as the hot and spicy ones.

No matter how you do it, the gist is the same — take something cheesy, crunchy, and salty and add it as a topping or a mix-in to your cheesy, gooey pasta. Basically, you end up with a comfort food flavor explosion. And if you really don't like Cheez-It? Experiment with other crunchy snack foods, like Goldfish crackers or pretzels.

Make it into deep-fried mac 'n cheese balls

Okay, for the most part, boxed mac and cheese hacks are low-key "recipes" that are easy to add to your cooking routine. But there are a few "gourmet" hacks that are worth test-driving at least a time or two, especially if you're looking for a way to serve cheap foods to your friends while looking like an accomplished chef. That's why you should add deep fried mac and cheese balls to your repertoire. Really, the concept couldn't be easier. Reddit suggests simply making the boxed mix according to the recipe and mixing in jalapenos and bacon bits for extra flavor (or whatever add-ins you personally prefer). Then you form the mac and cheese into balls and refrigerate to "set" the shape in place before coating them in egg and bread crumbs. The last step is to simply fry the coated balls and serve, turning your basic boxed mix into a somewhat "fancier" affair. 

Another Redditor offered the suggestion of spreading the mac and cheese in a pan and cutting it into "bars" before refrigerating, breading, and frying. This way you can serve mac and cheese "bars" to your kids as a simple, on-the-go snack. Bonus points if you mix some veggies into the mac and cheese before frying to at least serve up a few extra nutrients. 

Use the cheese powder with Ramen noodles, instead

In what can only be referred to as a poor student's mac and cheese hack, Redditor continuousBaBa suggests taking two college noodle favorites — packages of ramen and boxed mac and cheese — and pulling a switcheroo on the sauces. The result is a "cheesy ramen [that is] way better." You simply make the cheese sauce according to the mac and cheese directions, but mix the sauce with ramen noodles. Whether you opt to use the ramen noodle flavoring is really up to you — continuousBaBa suggests against it, but some of the other Redditors responding to this hack said that using both types of sauce with both types of noodles (essentially just throwing everything in a pot together) is the best hack around. Granted, you'll probably end up eating enough sodium in one sitting for two or three lifetimes, but if it's an occasional treat? You'll probably survive. 

Try using heavy cream in place of milk

When it comes to boxed mac and cheese hacks, the general goal is to make standard mac and cheese even cheesier, creamier, and more packed with fat and sodium than the original. Which honestly, makes sense. If you're going to eat comfort food, why not make it as indulgent as possible? One way to maximize the creaminess of your mac and cheese is to switch out regular milk for something even creamier, like heavy cream. The result is a thicker, more decadent mac and cheese, according to Redditor HayleyJ1609, who made the hack by mistake (she had already started making the pasta when she realized she didn't have any milk on hand), but said, "Holy cow, it was the most intense mac and cheese ever." 

She's not alone — in the same Reddit thread, another Redditor suggested using heavy cream and additional grated cheese "FTW" (for the win). In other words, take the creaminess and the cheesiness up a notch. As for what type of cheese to add to the mix ... well, that's up to you. 

Get creative with adding different cheeses

The good news is, lots of Redditors have suggestions when it comes to adding additional cheese to boxed mac and cheese to level up the taste experience. You can always "Rob Peter to pay Paul," and steal packets of cheese mix from other boxes of mac and cheese to enjoy twice the cheese, but ultimately, that just messes up your future mac and cheese-making experience. It's better to add small amounts of fresh cheese to the mix. Popular suggestions include cheddar, gouda, and Parmesan cheeses. Although some suggestions offer the simple "shredded cheese" option (apparently any type will do), you could also work in nacho-style cheese dips (you know, the creamy yellow stuff) to make your pasta extra cheesy. 

Granted, no one seemed to suggest fancy cheeses like gorgonzola, feta, or goat cheese. Maybe because it doesn't make sense to spend more money on adding extra cheese than you do on the entire box of mac. But if you happen to have an extra slab of brie sitting around and want to test it out, go ahead and give it a try. Maybe add some prosciutto and scallions while you're at it. Who says boxed mac and cheese can't go gourmet? 

Try using a can of cream of chicken soup in place of the milk

Alright, so adding cream of chicken soup to boxed mac and cheese might seem ... weird ... but if you think about it, cream-based soups are an excellent base for casseroles. And really, boxed mac and cheese is just a few ingredients away from being a casserole. Take Reddit's advice and consider ditching the milk in the standard directions, while adding a can of peas and a can of cream of chicken soup instead. One Redditor said it "changed my life." That's high praise for a hack that's so simple. But it makes sense. 

Peas and cream of chicken soup basically turn the standard mac and cheese into a simple casserole. Throw in some diced pieces of chicken, extra veggies, and a layer of breadcrumbs (or crushed Cheez-Its) on top if you really want to transform the basic pasta into a full-on meal. And for the full casserole effect, throw the whole thing in an oven-safe dish and cook for about 30 minutes at 350 F — it'll make those breadcrumbs (or Cheez-Its) and the top layer of cheese and pasta nice and crispy.

Turn it into a grilled mac 'n cheese sandwich

If mac and cheese is good, and if grilled cheese sandwiches are good, then what could be better than combining the two into the ultimate starchy, cheesey, hand-held meal? While the Redditor who made this suggestion kept the "recipe" a simple "put mac and cheese between two pieces of grilled bread," it's not hard to think of ways to make the experience even better. 

For instance, make sure you're not just using toasted bread — load those slices up with butter or mayonnaise before you grill them to amp up the flavor. Of course, don't stop at piling in the mac and cheese, throw some extra sliced cheese in there — sharp cheddar or jalapeno jack might give the sandwich an extra bite. And if you feel you need a little more protein, grill up some bacon, or grab a few slices of roast beef you can add to your sandwich. Basically, if the add-in tastes good in a sandwich or with mac and cheese, it'll probably taste delicious in your mac and cheese sandwich, too.

Use a TikTok hack to make your cheese sauce creamier

It's not just Redditors who know a thing or two about mac and cheese hacks. The social media giant, TikTok, is filled with video tips to make mac and cheese better. For instance, TikTok user, @saucedupfoods, says that to make a creamier, cheesier pot of pasta, you shouldn't follow the cooking directions as listed on the box. Typically, you would make the cheese sauce with butter and milk separate from the pasta. But with this hack, you add the powdered cheese directly to the boiling pasta water. This way, the cheese melts and cooks into the pasta as the pasta is cooking, rather than being added to the pasta after it's done. 

Of course, this TikTok user also added extra shredded cheese to the recipe, so you have to assume that at least some of the boxed-version improvement comes from the added cheese. But a writer who test-drove the hack for The Kitchn admitted that the "hacked" mac and cheese preparation did offer a slight (although almost indiscernible) improvement to the overall texture and flavor of the meal.

Get every ounce of cheese out of the liquid packets with another TikTok hack

If you happen to pick up a box of mac and cheese that comes with squeezable, liquid cheese instead of the powdered variety, then you're in luck — there's another TikTok hack for that. As with most squeezable, amorphous products (ketchup packets, toothpaste, and the like), it can be hard to get every last drop of the product out of the container. And if you've ever felt gipped out of a little extra cheese when trying to squeeze the cheese out of the packet, all you need is this TikTok hack shared by Emily Phillips on Facebook

Simply cut open one end of the sauce packet and place the opposite end of the sauce packet on the edge of your pot (with your macaroni already cooked and drained inside and the open end of the sauce packet inside the pot). Then place your pot lid securely on top of the edge of the packet, leaving just enough room to grip the closed end with your hand. Press down on the pot lid to keep it in place, then pull the packet toward you (out of the pot), using the pot's lid to squeeze out every last drop of the cheese. 

And of course, don't forget to add a few veggies

While most boxed mac and cheese hacks don't do anything to improve the nutrient content of the dish, that doesn't mean you can't opt for a (somewhat) healthier mac and cheese dish. Just as you can add almost any protein to boxed mac and cheese, you can also add practically any cooked veggie. Canned peas are one option that has already gotten a mention, but don't confine yourself to the little round veggies. Try throwing in sautéed onions, or cooked broccoli or zucchini. And of course, Redditors aren't short on other possible suggestions. For instance, roasted cauliflower, fried okra, diced bell peppers, chopped tomato, sun dried tomatoes, and ketchup (that counts as a vegetable, right?), all made this list

So if you start to think of your boxed mac and cheese as a simple base for a full-fledged meal, all you have to do is identify the proteins and veggies you like most with your pasta, and mix them right in. You don't have to mess with the original, but if you're looking for ways to improve the experience, all while on a budget, it's not a bad way to start.