5 Mind-Blowing Hacks to Transform Mac & Cheese

There’s no denying that most of us get home after a long day and stare at the fridge hoping that something will magically emerge fully cooked, delicious, and hot. But unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. In comes a trusted box of mac and cheese. With its three-step boil, stir, and serve requirement, its easy to reach for it night after night. To jazz it up a bit and make it a complete filling meal, here are some fun and creative ways to make that box of mac and cheese shine.

Pro-tip: the key to making these recipe ideas work is to bump up the liquid and add a bit more seasoning to account for the extra ingredients. Stir in some more milk or broth, more cheese, and a splash of a flavorful sauce or condiment, and you’ll feel like you’ve made a meal from scratch.

Chicken, Broccoli, & Thyme Mac & Cheese

In the last few minutes of boiling the noodles, add 2 cups chopped fresh or frozen broccoli and bring back to a boil. Strain the noodles and veggies and while you’re making your cheese sauce, double the milk, add 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a handful of shredded cheese, such as smoked gouda or Gruyere. When you add the noodles and broccoli back to the pot, add some chopped or shredded cooked chicken too. To make it feel even fancier, serve topped with toasted breadcrumbs.

The Best Tuna Mac

You may have added a can of tuna and peas to your Mac and cheese before but I’m sharing the secret to making it the best tuna Mac and cheese you’ve ever had: fish sauce. Fish sauce, often used in Thai and Southeast Asian food, is the secret ingredient you didn’t know your tuna Mac needed until now. Just 2 teaspoons added with your milk and cheese powder gives such a flavor boost, you’ll be shocked you never added it before. And if that’s not enough, stir in some chopped chives or scallions and you’ll be wishing you made a double batch.

Cacio e Pepe & Carbonara-inspired Mac and Cheese

Traditional cacio e pepe is made with spaghetti, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese while traditional carbonara is made with bacon, eggs, and peas. In this fun riff, I mashed the two classic Italian pasta flavors into my box of Mac and cheese. To make it, season your cheese sauce generously with freshly ground pepper and Pecorino cheese, then stir in cooked chopped bacon and 1/2 cup frozen peas with your cooked noodles.

Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

What happens when you wish you had wings but all you have is a box of Mac and cheese? You “invent” this recipe for buffalo Mac and cheese, then make it feel slightly healthier when you stir in cauliflower and celery. To make it, add 2 cups chopped fresh or frozen cauliflower to the noodles in the last couple minutes of cooking. Strain the cauliflower and noodles into a colander. While you make your cheese sauce, double the milk and stir in 3 tablespoons (or your preferred amount) of hot sauce, 2 tablespoons butter, and 1/4 cup blue cheese until the sauce is smooth. Return the noodles and cauliflower to the pot along with 1/2 cup diced celery.

Garlic & Shrimp Alfredo Mac and Cheese

For the nights when you need some super creamy comfort food, this is your dish. Keeping frozen peeled and cooked shrimp in the freezer makes this dish even easier. During the last few minutes of cooking your noodles, add the frozen shrimp and bring the water back to a boil. Drain your shrimp and noodles in a colander. Instead of using milk in your cheese sauce, use half and half or heavy cream and triple the amount the instructions call for. Add a hefty amount of minced garlic, 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1 cup Parmesan cheese along with the cheese powder. Stir the noodles and shrimp back into the creamy sauce. Serve with chopped scallions.