Macaroni and Cheese with chili powder

20 Super Simple Twists on Boxed Mac and Cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese with chili powder

Maximum Mac

Boxed mac and cheese is a standby favorite, but after a few meals it could use a little sprucing up. Simple additions of canned food or frozen goods you have on hand can transform the dish with minimal effort, and there are some more elaborate routes that can make it downright gourmet. This mix of additions and recipes ensures your supply of mac and cheese boxes will be diverse and enjoyable.

Related: We Tried 13 Kinds of Store-Brand Mac and Cheese and These Are the Best

Mac and Cheese Taco Skillet

Mac and Cheese Taco Skillet

This Tex-Mex inspired hack uses ground beef for a taco-flavored, one-pan meal. Other proteins, such as chicken or mushrooms, would also work well as a substitution — or even be omitted entirely, leaving the seasonings to do the work.

Recipe: The Country Cook

Pepperoni Macaroni and Cheese

Pepperoni Mac and Cheese

Pepperoni adds zestiness and an extra layer of satisfying flavor, and can stand in for a pizza craving. You could chop it up and mix it, in or layer it on top and place the entire dish under the broiler for a bit of textural contrast.

Related: How to Make Homemade Pizza for Under $10

Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese Cups
Green Chile Mac and Cheese
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Green Chile Mac and Cheese

Stir in a can of green diced chiles or some salsa verde for a spicy southwestern kick. Fresh chilies also work, though you'll probably want to sauté them a bit before making the cheese sauce in the same pan — it will reduce the spiciness of fresh hot peppers.

Related: Can You Handle These 15 Hot and Spicy Dishes?

Bacon Mac and Cheese

Bacon Mac and Cheese

Bacon and cheese are natural complements, and mac and cheese is no exception. Anything from bacon bits to thick-cut strips will work well with the base of noodles and cheese. You can even cook bacon in the pan and use its rendered fat to lend extra flavor to the cheese sauce.

Related: 26 Amazing Bacon Dishes Across America

Macaroni and Cheese Bites
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Fried Mac and Cheese Balls

How do you make mac and cheese even more cravable? Fry it into golden delicious balls of cheesy goodness. These are almost too easy to make, but are definitely not an everyday food — just a once-in-a-while indulgence that can be a real mood-lifter.

Recipe: Damn Delicious

Cheese Nachos

Mac and Cheese Nachos

Combine favorites by using the mac and cheese in place of the traditional nacho cheese — a smart pantry hack for when the craving strikes for either (or both).

Recipe: Insider

spinach macaroni and cheese

Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese

A tasty, gourmet spin. This recipe gets bonus points for using only five ingredients; adding artichokes and spinach, rather than a premade mix, cuts down on extra salt.

Recipe: Zen & Spice

Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich

Grilled Mac and Cheese Sandwich

Take grilled cheese to the next level. The double dose of cheese and carbs is sure to be ultra satisfying and poke the dopamine centers of the brain for an enjoyable and indulgent snack.

Recipe: Kirbie Cravings

Mac and Cheese Soup
Mexican Macaroni & Cheese

Mexican Macaroni & Cheese

This recipe is packed with more cheese, tons of veggies, and seasonings to give it a Mexican-inspired flavor. Dressing it up with these ingredients can be a side dish in a Mexican-themed menu or a meal all on its own.

Recipe: Kraft

Mac and Cheese With Ground Beef

Mac and Cheese With Ground Beef

Leftover hamburger meat can be crumbled, or fresh ground beef can be cooked and seasoned and mixed into the mac and cheese once it is prepared. This adds protein and creates a cheeseburger-like flavor, adding indulgence and heartiness to the pantry staple.

Macaroni and Cheese French Fries

French Fries Mac and Cheese

You could simply pour your steaming mac and cheese over a bed of french fries for a variation on cheese fries or a very downscale poutine — but it's so much better to mix the two thoroughly and let the french fries add heft and crunch to your creamy bowl, almost like a baked mac and cheese from within.

Related: 26 Outrageous French Fries You Need to Try

roasted vegetables

Roasted Veggies Mac and Cheese

Leftover vegetables? Combining roasted veggies with a box of mac and cheese is a satisfying way to use them up while adding nutrition to the dish. Any vegetable works, from broccoli or Brussels sprouts to potato or onions. Try chopping the vegetables into bite-sized pieces for the best integration of ingredients.

Tomato Sauce Mac and Cheese
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Tomato Sauce Mac and Cheese

Create a chili-style dish by adding tomato sauce. Add a lot of sauce for a spoonable dish, or just a little to give the extra depth of tomato flavor to the cheese sauce. Topping it with some red chili flakes or oregano could even give it a pizza vibe.

Related: 13 Regional Chili Recipes to Feed to the Family

Scrambled Eggs

Eggy Mac and Cheese

Breakfast mac and cheese? No problem. Top your mac with a fried egg, or scrambled, or poached if you're feeling fancy, and call it brunch. Add your favorite hot sauce or some extra cheese and enjoy with toast points to round it out.

Related: 30 Cheap, Easy Breakfast Ideas to Start the Day Right

Tuna Mac and Cheese

Tuna Mac and Cheese

Turn boxed mac and cheese into a tuna melt casserole by mixing in a can of drained tuna. It's best to mix the tuna in with the hot drained pasta to heat it through and for even distribution of the cheese sauce.

Related: 15 Old-School Dishes Making a Comeback at Restaurants

Traditional Macaroni Salad

Macaroni & Cheese Pasta Salad

Great as a side dish or for celebratory spreads as the weather heats up, this pasta salad uses boxed mac and cheese as the base. This dish can easily accommodate substitutions and twists to make it your own, from unique seasonings blends to a different mix of veggies.

Recipe: Plain Chicken

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Mac and Cheese With Crackers

Crumble crackers on top for crunch, like the homemade kind baked in the oven. Eat as is, or place under the broiler to combine the elements even more.

Mac and Cheese With Frozen Veggies

Mac and Cheese With Frozen Veggies

A bag of frozen veggies plus a box of mac and cheese can be a nutritious and satisfying meal. Anything works well, from peas and carrots to broccoli or spinach. You can throw the veggies in the pasta water just before straining to warm them through, or get some extra flavor by sautéing them with some spices in the pan before making the cheese sauce.