11 Ways to Upgrade Boxed Mac and Cheese with One Ingredient

Everyone loves boxed mac and cheese. It’s kind of hard not to, really. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it’s a foolproof dinner solution. People even have options for variety! You can have original, white shell mac and cheese, or fun shapes. The only downside is that every time you pull a box out of your pantry you know exactly what to expect. While this can be comforting sometimes, other times you desperately want to jazz it up.

For those times when you want to pretend that you are indulging in gourmet macaroni and cheese dish rather than boxed pasta, there are quick solutions. Most of them are actually already in your pantry. What can you use to quickly upgrade your boxed pasta? Here are 11 options to get your going.

1. Canned Tuna

Yes, you may have to fight off your cat who will try to guard their favorite dinner, but tonight is your night!

Tuna adds protein and staying power to your dish. Perfect if you have a long night ahead of you or you just came home from work starving.

2. Peas

There are few places where peas are the perfect addition, but mac and cheese is one of them.

Mix them in when your noodles are hot and they will warm up just enough to be the perfect texture and add some beautiful green to an otherwise orange dish.

3. Pesto

If you like the green-orange color combination, try pesto.

The fresh zing of basil leaves and the sharp tang of parmesan pair exquisitely with boxed creaminess.

4. Jalapeños

Put the hot sauce down. At least give yourself the excuse of pretending to eat green things with your mac and cheese!

Even if you don’t need the excuse, jalapeños are the perfect tangy and spicy complement to creamy mac and cheese.

5. Feta Cheese

My weekend #cheesemaking endeavor produced over a pound of #feta from one gallon of milk. #homemadecheese

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Because why not add extra cheese? Especially if the cheese will give extra depth and contrast to your meal.

6. Ham

bonus mini! sliced ham. (new artisan lorraine thomson wows at #igmaguildschool)

A photo posted by The Daily Miniature (@dailymini) on

If you are in need of additional protein, look no further than a few slices of ham.

This pig product will taste great mixed in, and it will give you just the right amount of extra sustenance.

7. Bacon Bits

Today's project…#baconbits

A photo posted by Chad Johnson (@heychadjohnson) on

Mmmm… bacon. When is it ever not a good idea to sprinkle some crispy, salty morsels onto a dish?

Bonus points if you cook the bacon yourself and then crumble it in.

8. Marinara

Six hour marinara courtesy of @kenjilopezalt @seriouseats

A photo posted by Stacy McCann (@stacymmccann) on

Pasta pairs with marinara sauce. That’s all there is to it. Who cares if there is already cheese?

It just means that you are going to have cheesy marinara sauce and what’s not to love about that?

9. Artichoke Hearts

#artichokes #artichokehearts #food #foodporn #carciofi #cuoridicarciofo #vegetables #veg #carciofiepatate (senza patate)

A photo posted by Fabrizio Fadda (@sciman_sky) on

Artichoke hearts grace many a high-class dish.

Therefore, it is logical that if you add them to your bowl of macaroni and cheese, your meal will pretty much become the definition of elegance.

10. Garlic

Every classic Italian pasta dish includes garlic. Why shouldn’t an American classic have some too?

11. Hot Dog

This one is a classic addition from grade school.

However, you can change it up a bit by putting the mac and cheese on the hotdog instead.

Read More: 15 Weekend Meal Prep Ingredients Best Cooked in Big Batches