Delicious Ingredients That Upgrade Boxed Macaroni And Cheese

While gourmet macaroni and cheese is truly exceptional, sometimes the boxed version hits the spot. If you don't want to make a big production about making a homemade recipe, boxed macaroni and cheese is here to save the day. Whether you prefer a box with a powder packet, a pre-made cheese sauce, or a box from the frozen aisle, they all taste delicious and save you lots of time compared to making it from scratch.

While boxed macaroni and cheese may seem plain or boring to some, an easy way to fix that is to add more ingredients. Thanks to macaroni and cheese's versatile flavor, it goes with just about anything, so there are many drool-worthy veggies, spices, meats, and more you can add to upgrade it from its simple boxed format.

I love all kinds of mac and cheese, but boxed macaroni and cheese is one of my guilty pleasures. So, making a list of the best ingredients that upgrade boxed macaroni and cheese was almost second nature for me. Keep reading to learn about some favorite additions, plus a few more for good measure so the next time you make boxed mac and cheese, you can turn it into something extraordinary.

Extra cheese

One of the reasons we all love mac and cheese so much is because it is cheesy, right? And while boxed mac and cheese isn't always the cheesiest or creamiest, you can easily remedy this by adding some extra cheese to the mix. As a bonus ingredient, it doesn't necessarily have to change flavor a ton, but it definitely enhances texture and amplifies the dish's signature trait, making it more of what we all know and love. Considering all you have to do is mix in some shredded cheese when the box is done, it is also a super simple ingredient to add.

While extra cheese is an outstanding addition to all kinds of boxed mac and cheese, it really makes a difference when mixed into a box with a powdered cheese packet. Best of all, you can use virtually any cheese you like. Some of the most complimentary include parmesan, cheddar, Monterey jack, Colby jack, American, provolone, and Swiss. More decadent, flavor-rich cheeses, like gouda, brie, herbed goat cheese, and pimento cheese, also taste awesome when stirred into boxed mac and cheese. You can even mix in a few spoonfuls of Alfredo or canned cheese sauce to achieve an over-the-top creamy texture.

Bread crumbs or crushed crackers

Bread crumbs are potentially the most popular topping added to gourmet macaroni and cheese, especially in restaurants. So, obviously, it makes a wonderful complement to the boxed version, too. Bread crumbs add a bit of crispiness to the top and enhance texture and depth, something this creamy dish lacks when in its most basic format. Sprinkling a fine layer on the top of your bowl is also incredibly easy, especially if you already have a store-bought canister. Of course, making bread crumbs is not that difficult, either. If you want, you can also toss the topped mac and cheese under the broiler for a minute or two to toast the bread crumbs and enhance the flavor even more.

Bread crumbs are great, and all, but crushed crackers take this classic addition to the next level. Not only do they typically contain more flavor than bread crumbs, but they are also buttery, which we all know is a drool-worthy ingredient of mac and cheese. So, if you don't feel like making bread crumbs or don't have a store-bought canister in your pantry, reach for your crackers instead. Ritz Crackers and Cheez-Its make solid choices, but you can experiment with whatever you have around. Just break them up into smaller chunks and sprinkle them on top. You can crush them as little or as much as you like, but leaving some larger chunks creates the perfect mix of creamy and crunchy.


Some of you may be thinking, avocado and mac and cheese, really? But it is actually an amazing flavor enhancer, and the versatility of both components complement each other perfectly. We already know avocado tastes delicious with cheese because we eat them together in an abundance of Mexican and other Hispanic dishes, so why not try it with macaroni and cheese? The subtle, earthy, buttery, nutty flavor profile of an avocado goes unbelievably well with any cheese. Avocados are also extraordinarily good for you, making your meal more nutritious.

Avocados also improve the creaminess of mac and cheese, something a lot of boxed versions lack. When ripe, avocados have a smooth texture similar to a dense, creamy sauce. So, when you garnish your mac and cheese with a few sliced or diced avocados and gradually stir them in, the result is a velvety combination. Avocados are the ideal added ingredient if you prefer a silky macaroni and cheese without crunch. The bright green hue also adds a pop of color to your bowl, giving it an eye-catching appeal and a fresh look and taste overall.


Cheese and broccoli are an iconic pair. They go together like, well, mac and cheese, so why not combine them all? Adding broccoli to macaroni and cheese is nothing new. In fact, it's likely you tried this duo before, whether at home or in a restaurant. Like other green vegetables, broccoli adds a complimentary burst of color to the dish, making it aesthetically appealing. Plus, broccoli contains a range of antioxidants, lots of vitamins C and K, iron, calcium, potassium, and more, so it adds a bunch of nutrition. Broccoli also boosts immunity, reduces inflammation, promotes heart health, and helps regulate blood sugar. So, if you feel you need a healthy addition, it makes a solid choice.

Broccoli also gives macaroni and cheese a more complex texture without overtaking the creamy appeal. Broccoli florets soak up cheese while simultaneously contributing a subtle crunch to the mix. It is also easy to make and add broccoli to macaroni and cheese. You can saute, steam, air fry, roast, or even boil it, although that's not the recommended route. Either way, it'll taste fantastic in boxed mac and cheese. Whether you use broccoli as a finishing garnish or mix it in, it'll prove to be a crowd-pleasing favorite.


Peas are another outstanding ingredient to add to boxed mac and cheese. Again, they add a touch of green color while improving the dish's nutritional value overall. They are also incredibly simple to incorporate. You can use fresh peas, but canned and frozen peas are the easiest because they come pre-cooked, so they just need to be heated up in the microwave or on the stovetop. Or, for the most effortless combination of all, simply toss some peas into the boiling water with the noodles during the last three minutes of cooking. Then, all you have to do is strain them along with the noodles and mix the cheese sauce up, and you're good to go.

Peas are a touch sweet, so even picky kids tend to like them. As a result, peas are a fantastic way to sneak vegetables into their meals, mac and cheese included. Their soft texture mixes in without changing the consistency a considerable amount, something discerning kids can appreciate. If you are a creamy mac and cheese purist, peas probably appeal to you for the same reason. Peas and macaroni and cheese may be somewhat unexpected, but give them a try together, and we're guessing you'll be pleasantly surprised.


Cauliflower and broccoli look a lot alike and share some of the same nutritional value, but for some reason, people don't often think to add it to macaroni and cheese. Maybe it is because it lacks a vibrant color or has a pungent aroma. Either way, it still tastes super yummy when added to boxed macaroni and cheese. If you cook it until it is really soft, it blends into the mix effortlessly, but it also tastes delicious if you retain some of its crunch and use it more like an abundant garnish. Try topping your mac and cheese with air-fried or roasted cauliflower, and it'll add a bit of smoky char flavor, too. If you can't get over the lack of color, feel free to experiment with green, orange, and purple cauliflower. They have a similar taste and eye-catching appeal.

According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, cauliflower is a nutrition superstar. It is packed full of vitamins K and C, low in sodium, cholesterol-free, and fat-free. So not only does it taste delicious in mac and cheese, but it is nutritious, too. Admittedly, mac and cheese isn't the healthiest food all by itself, but adding ingredients like cauliflower makes a big difference. A hearty veggie like cauliflower also adds some volume to your bowl, allowing you to fill up without overdoing the noodles and cheese.

Spicy peppers

Spicy peppers make a phenomenal addition to macaroni and cheese. They turn a typically soothing dish into a spicy delight with lots of depth and vibrant flavor. From red or green chilis to jalapenos to habaneros, they all make boxed mac and cheese more exciting. Of course, spicy peppers should probably be avoided if you're making mac and cheese for kids. But, for everyone else, they often add the perfect amount of flavor, spice, and depth needed to make it a satisfying meal.

If you enjoy a bit of a kick but find too much heat overwhelming, you'll probably want to choose milder peppers, like Anaheim or Poblano. Some hatch chilis are also mild, but it is hard to know which until you try them. You can also remove the seeds and the soft white membrane inside extra spicy peppers to cut the spice out. This step allows you to enjoy the crunch that comes with added peppers without being in pain from too much heat. Hot sauce is a tremendous second-place option if you don't have any hot peppers in the kitchen. It won't add any crunch, but it'll definitely turn up the heat and add unique flavor. It also makes it easier to monitor exactly how spicy your mac and cheese will turn out.

Caramelized or fried onions

Onions are the backbone of more dishes than we count, so, obviously, they go great with macaroni and cheese, too. However, instead of using them as the base of the flavor, you can add caramelized onions to boxed mac and cheese as a savory garnish. You could use browned or lightly sauteed onions, too, but caramelized onions have a rich, sweet taste that knocks other onions out of the water, particularly regarding mac and cheese. Making caramelized onions does take a bit of time, about 45 minutes, but the resulting flavor is totally worth the extra time and effort.

In addition to caramelized onions, fried onions make a drool-worthy garnish for boxed mac and cheese. Unlike sautéed onions, they add a crispy element to the smooth mix, similar to bread crumbs but with way more depth. Fried onions also come pre-made in a canister, so all you have to do is open them up and sprinkle them on top of your bowl for an instant flavor enhancement. Lastly, fried onions tend to be pretty salty, so their yummy taste spreads throughout the entire dish.


For a super fresh and vibrant upgrade to your boxed mac and cheese, top it with raw spinach leaves. Or, you could make a bed of spinach and put your macaroni on top. Either way, the leaves bulk up your meal, creating a more filling option without as much cheese and pasta. The opposing textures of macaroni, cheese, and raw spinach produce a pleasing contrast. In addition, there's no additional prep work required, except for maybe rinsing the spinach. Of course, spinach seriously improves the overall nutritional value of mac and cheese, too. It is rich in vitamins E and C, potassium, iron, and magnesium. It also benefits the immune and digestive systems, (via Medical News Today).

You can use cooked spinach if raw spinach isn't your first pick. The softer texture mixes into boxed macaroni and cheese with ease. It also creates more of a smooth texture than raw spinach, which you may find preferable. When cooking spinach, remember that it will shrink down a significant amount, so portion it out accordingly. Frozen spinach also makes a great addition, and it's relatively inexpensive considering how much you get in each package.


Boxed macaroni and cheese isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of pasta and tomatoes, but it actually makes a fantastic combination. Whether you prefer slices of fresh tomato, diced tomato, or halved cherry tomatoes, they all taste and look incredible when added to the top of a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Unlike other raw veggies, they are moist and juicy, so they won't dry out your pasta. They also add a bright-tasting, acidic component to the other heavier ingredients, creating a nice balance of acid, salt, and fat overall.

If you don't have any fresh tomatoes on hand, you can always add canned tomatoes. Or, if you want to take a more gourmet approach, try garnishing your boxed macaroni and cheese with sun-dried tomatoes. They have a sweet, tangy taste and a chewy texture that goes exceptionally well with cheese and pasta. Sun-dried tomatoes are also marinated in oil and an array of spices that enhance flavor. You could even try adding a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce to a serving of boxed macaroni and cheese in a pinch. It quickly transforms lower-quality boxed options that don't have a lot of flavor into something tasty.

Artichoke hearts

Tasty and nutritious, artichoke hearts are a delightful ingredient upgrade for boxed macaroni and cheese. They add both a touch of creaminess and a fibrous texture that breaks up the smooth consistency of plain mac and cheese. Artichoke hearts are also rich in antioxidants and potassium, which are good for lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and heart health. So, really, you have nothing to lose with this unique combination.

Preparing and using fresh artichoke hearts can be somewhat labor intensive. You have to cook the plant, remove the petals, and then scrape out a single heart. While you can enjoy the petals and eat an artichoke without wasting any, the majority of the plant cannot be used in macaroni and cheese. With this in mind, canned and frozen artichoke hearts make a much better choice. They are easier to add and give you more of what you want: The heart of the plant. Plus, they are often less expensive, and some come marinated in yummy herbs that also mix well with macaroni and cheese.

Herbs and spices

As you can probably tell by now, macaroni and cheese's crowd-pleasing taste goes with countless flavors. So, it may seem obvious, but it pairs wonderfully with a world of different herbs and spices. In truth, they're the quickest, easiest way to add a punch of flavor to your macaroni and cheese, especially if you use dried spices. Fresh herbs and spices take a tiny bit more effort, but they have a much brighter flavor, giving your bowl a more intense flavor upgrade. Even so, sometimes it is simpler to just sprinkle some dried spices in, mix, and enjoy.

If you want to keep your macaroni and cheese somewhat traditional, add spices and herbs found in common homemade recipes, like mustard powder, garlic, black pepper, onion powder, and salt. You can also put salt in the boiling water with the noodles to infuse the pasta itself with flavor. Other incredible savory spice options include rosemary, basil, thyme, sage, and dill. Nutmeg in small amounts also brings out the nutty flavors in the cheese. Or, if you enjoy spicy foods, chili powder, red chili flakes, and cayenne pepper all make fantastic choices.


Basil pesto is fresh, savory, bright, and, above all, incredibly tasty. The traditional recipe contains lots of fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan, and garlic blended into a rustic sauce. When all of these elements combine, they have the ability to turn bland boxed macaroni and cheese into an amazingly flavorful dish. Basil pesto incorporates a tantalizing taste throughout and leaves you wanting more. It only takes a small amount to do the trick, too. It is so yummy that you may want to skip it if you're trying to reduce portion size. Seriously, it is unbelievably good. Consider yourself warned.

What some of you may not know is that pesto actually refers to a type of sauce as a whole, not just the basil pesto we know and love. We may use the term pesto to refer to basil pesto, but it is much more than that. What this means is that there are other kinds of pesto, and many of them taste great with boxed macaroni and cheese. From cilantro pesto to roasted corn pesto to sun-dried tomato pesto to parsley pesto, the possibilities are limitless.

Buffalo sauce

If you love wing sauce, aka buffalo sauce, as much as we do, you've most likely tried adding it to things other than chicken wings before. Maybe mac and cheese was one of the foods you tried to experiment with, but if not, now's the time to start. Its bold, tangy, spicy taste makes a wonderful addition to creamy pasta and cheese. Just like hot sauce, it can easily and quickly be sprinkled on top right at the end, and you can use as little or as much as you like. The finished dish bursts with flavor and adds a complex layer of heat you won't soon forget.

If you want to go the easy route, store-bought buffalo sauce is a fantastic option. After all, you're making boxed macaroni and cheese, so minimal effort has quite a bit of appeal. Plus, a range of delicious premade buffalo sauces are available at most grocery stores. Frank's Red Hot Wings is the most recognizable buffalo sauce, but Sweet Baby Ray's Buffalo Wing Sauce is a strong contender. Sample a few until you find the perfect one for your taste.

Green chili sauce

Green chili is technically a sauce, but in the Southwest, they like it so much they eat it like soup and add it to everything imaginable; macaroni and cheese included. It is savory, spicy, and rich with flavor. A classic green chili sauce contains onions, tomatoes, fire-roasted green chilis, and a few spices to taste. Many are also made with pork. Either way, the resulting sauce has all the elements needed to make boxed macaroni and cheese a complex, drool-worthy dish. In fact, many restaurants in the West serve it this way.

We know you can't get store-bought green chili sauce everywhere because it's a regional cuisine. If you can't find it at your grocery store but still want to try something similar, don't worry. You can substitute a few things and get the same effect. For example, salsa and salsa verde have similar flavor profiles, and bonus, they don't need to be heated up. Red and green enchilada sauces also taste incredible when added to boxed macaroni and cheese. Even if these substitutions are not quite the same as green chili, they make pretty yummy second choices.

Truffle oil

The most decadent ingredient addition for boxed macaroni and cheese on our list is truffle oil. Truffles are considered a rare delicacy, and their price reflects that, so adding truffle oil to an inexpensive boxed product may seem somewhat indulgent. We don't care, though. It is so amazingly tasty and complimentary you are likely to fall in love with the combination. We did. Many upscale restaurants put a dash of truffle oil in their macaroni and cheese, so this flavor pairing is not groundbreaking. However, it is definitely rich and mouth-wateringly delicious.

Conveniently enough, truffle oil shouldn't be cooked. Simply add a slight drizzle of truffle oil to your boxed macaroni and cheese, stir, and the bold flavor will spread throughout. Just remember that truffle oil has a super strong taste and an intense aroma, so use it sparingly. If you add too much, it can easily take over the entire dish. Additionally, make sure to purchase quality truffle oil. Inexpensive options won't taste anywhere near as good, and they are significantly less potent. So, instead of adding flavor, they mostly add oil.


Thanks to the extreme versatility of boxed mac and cheese, you can add almost any meat to create more of a bite and enhance flavor. Topping or mixing in various types of meat also has the potential to turn mac and cheese into a hearty entrée. Let's face it: Even without meat, we don't always eat mac and cheese as a side dish, but including some extra protein definitely makes us feel better about our choices.

Some of the most popular meats restaurants add to mac and cheese include chicken, bacon, steak, and shrimp, and they all taste phenomenal when added to boxed versions as well. Other fantastic options include pulled pork, lobster, or, for the kid in us, sliced hot dogs. Whichever meat you choose, you can add them to the top after plating, which allows you to blend the ingredients together just how you like, or mix them in from the start so they are well combined. Whichever way you decide to approach adding meat, the extra salt, protein, and flavor are sure to be big winners.