If your kids are anything like ours, they'd probably eat boxed mac and cheese at every. single. meal. That can get old pretty fast! Here's what to add to mac and cheese to take it to the next level. Ready to think outside the box?

bowl full of hamburger helper and mac and cheese, from Shelf Cooking

We love us some mac and cheese around here! Especially homemade macaroni and cheese. Sometimes, though, it's just so much dang easier to reach for the boxed stuff.

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Whether you've got a pantry full of boxed macaroni and cheese, or kids who refuse the homemade stuff (hey, it happens), we'll show you how to make some magic. These macaroni and cheese add-ins are certified crowd-pleasers!


We're just going to put this out there. You can't go wrong with any type of mac and cheese. And it's pretty hard to mess it up. So, whatever you've got on hand is fair game for an add-in!

Here are just a few ingredients you probably already have that are begging to be added to your boxed mac and cheese:

We could seriously go on. And on. And on. You get the idea, right? Put your shelf cooking principles into practice! Now, if you're looking for more specific inspiration, boy do we have some ideas for you. Check out these seven out-of-the-box ways to take your storebought mac and cheese up a notch.


bowl of macaroni with chili, from Shelf Cooking

We've got a must-try crockpot chili recipe that you can quickly transform into chili mac! You can either use leftover chili or whip up a fresh batch. No official recipe is needed for this one! Make your boxed mac and cheese, then top it with chili, and boom! You're done.

Here are some garnishes we suggest adding to your chili mac:

  • Sour Cream
  • Guacamole
  • Scallions
  • Caramelized Onions
  • Shredded Cheese

A quick word of advice on the shredded cheese front! We know how much easier those bags of pre-shredded cheese are, but did you know that it melts better if you grate your own cheese? Total game changer for mac and cheese! It's a heck of a lot cheaper, too.


Pizza + mac and cheese = the combo you never knew you needed. It's a match made in heaven! We're excited about this one, guys! It may sound a little weird but stick with us. This isn't just tasty, it's also foolproof.

If you're looking for a simple recipe to serve as your guide, this mac-n-cheese pizza from Allrecipes is easy as pie. Pun intended!

You can make this your own by adding your favorite proteins, veggies, and sauces, so be creative! But if you're not feeling adventurous, all you really need is an easy pizza crust recipe and some macaroni and cheese. Seriously. That's it.

Pssst… Looking for a quick and easy homemade pizza sauce? Try this one! It's to die for.


Is there anything more comforting than grilled cheese and tomato soup on a cold, rainy day? Now imagine a toasty, ooey-gooey sandwich FILLED with creamy mac and cheese. Yum!

If you're drooling on your keyboard by now, then take a peek at this grilled cheese recipe from Food Network. Feel free to leave out the hot sauce for the kiddos!

Pro Tip: Make your sandwich even more luxurious with our own easy rustic bread recipe.


fried mac and cheese balls, from Shelf Cooking

This take on mac ‘n cheese gives us total state fair vibes! Try making these in the air fryer for a healthier version. Take Two Tapas has a fried mac and cheese ball recipe that you will LOVE!

Use these tasty creations as a side dish, app, or afternoon snack. If you're looking for the perfect dipping sauce, we suggest making a batch of our own homemade spaghetti sauce.

Speaking of spaghetti, what if you subbed out meatballs and topped your pasta with this mac ‘n cheese balls?! Yeah, that's a lot of carbs, but we're not mad at it.


Who's in for Taco Tuesday?! We promise your kids will love this take on tacos, and we bet you will, too! Gather up your boxed mac, the ground meat of your choice, and some taco seasoning, and you're just minutes away from a hearty, tasty meal.

No taco seasoning on hand? No problemo! We've got a homemade taco seasoning recipe that's perfect in a pinch.

This taco mac and cheese recipe from The Country Cook couldn't be easier! Again, make this your own by tossing in other ingredients you have available. How yummy would this be with some avocado on top?! Serve with chips and salsa, and you've got a super affordable dinner fit for a crowd.

Pro Tip: Never toss another avocado! You can totally freeze your avocados, so you don't have to run to the store the next time it's Taco Tuesday! Here's everything you need to know about how to freeze avocados the right way.


If you've been looking for the perfect game-day dish, then look no further! Toss together some macaroni and cheese, shredded chicken, and buffalo sauce for a fan favorite. Serve alongside veggies and dip to round out the feast!

Use this buffalo chicken mac and cheese recipe from Sugar Spun Run as your guide, with just a few modifications. Sub in the boxed mix mac and to make things even easier, use instant pot shredded chicken.

Alright, one more recipe to go! Who's hungry?!


Any 80s babies out there? We're willing to bet hamburger helper was in heavy rotation in your house growing up. Here's how to make this your own, and make it even better! Check out this one-dish recipe for hamburger helper from The Salty Pot.

We've even got a hack that you can use to cut down on the prep time! Here's everything you need to know about making ground beef ahead of time.


Did you know you can make ahead boxed mac and cheese and pop it in the freezer to eat later? It's a meal prep game changer! Bring your cooked mac and cheese to room temp. Then place it in an airtight container and pop in the freezer. It will last up to a year!

To warm it up, thaw completely and then heat up on the stove. We suggest adding in a splash of milk and a pat of butter to up the creaminess factor!

Pro Tip: Heating up leftover macaroni and cheese in the microwave? Add in a splash of milk to keep the mixture from drying out! Cover with plastic wrap and vent to let the steam out, then microwave for 60-90 seconds, depending on your portion size.

Now for the hard part… Deciding which of these recipes to try first! Let us know your favorite mac and cheese add-ins are in the comments below!

Image with text that reads "what to add to mac and cheese" from Shelf Cooking

Looking for more kid-friendly meal inspiration?

Stay cheesy!