There are few meals as timeless (and easy) as macaroni and cheese. Whether you prefer to make a batch from the signature blue box you probably loved as a kid or you go all out for a totally homemade concoction, you can never go wrong with it for lunch or dinner. But after you have eaten it enough, you might want to explore ways to upgrade basic mac and cheese to something a little more substantial and — gasp — healthy.
While there is nothing inherently healthy about shoveling spoonfuls of noodles and cheese into your mouth, however tasty it might be, you can add some key ingredients to make it more of a meal and less of a guilty pleasure among dieters. Or maybe you want to find a way to sneak vegetables into your toddler’s lunch and want to know the least suspect ones to add to a bowl of mac and cheese. Either way, there are some easy and delicious ways to upgrade a basic mac and cheese into something that will still make you nostalgic for your own childhood lunches.
1. Add Your Favorite Meat
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You could even add some cooked and cut up chicken breast to your mac and cheese. But adding your favorite protein can definitely upgrade your mac and cheese. You could even take it up a notch and add some cooked grilled steak to your mac and cheese and make it extra special.
2. Make It A Tuna Fish Casserole
You might already have a tried and true recipe for tuna fish casserole. But even if that’s the case, you can take a cooked mac and cheese dinner and add tuna fish, peas, and some shredded cheese to it. Then, bake it in the oven and you will have a totally different dish that still incorporates the mac and cheese you know and love.
3. Add French Green Beans
This might not sound like the most appetizing way to change up mac and cheese, but it can be a great way to trick your toddler into having some healthy green veggies. Simple add some drained French green beans from a can to your child’s mac and cheese bowl and chances are, they won’t suspect a thing. Most of the cheese will cover up the color and the beans are so mild in flavor that your toddler will be none the wiser as they gobble it up.
4. Turn It Into A Baked Dish
Another way to upgrade mac and cheese it to add a few key ingredients to make it a casserole on its own, but without any added vegetables or meat. Instead, you add sour cream and cheddar cheese and then top it with some crushed up Ritz crackers for a crunchy outer layer. Then, you bake it and you have something that looks strikingly different from the boxed mac and cheese you started with.
5. Make It A Southwest Meal
You can totally transform your basic mac and cheese by adding ingredients to make it a dish all on its own too, even if you start with a box of mac and cheese first. For this one, you can add black beans, corn, and salsa to make it a southwest mac and cheese variation. Plus, there are bonus points for adding in some healthy fiber with the black beans.
6. Turn It Into A Mediterranean Dish
The last thing you probably think of when you hear mac and cheese is the Mediterranean or any dish that relates to that. With this recipe, however, you can transform the mac and cheese into something else entirely. With a little bit of pesto as well as some sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese, you can make something that is almost unrecognizable as your standard mac and cheese.
7. Make Pizza Mac And Cheese
You could also take a page from the Kraft cook book and turn your box of mac and cheese into a pizza mac and cheese dinner. All you need to add to your prepared mac and cheese are oregano, ketchup, garlic powder, and pepperoni. You can even change it up a bit to include sausage or vegetables you would normally order on pizza. Whatever your choices, it’s a simple but effective way to transform mac and cheese.
8. Add A Little Spice
This probably isn’t the best option for the whole family if not everyone loves buffalo sauce. If you happen to have a thing for buffalo chicken dip, however, this could be the perfect way to upgrade mac and cheese for you. All you need to add is buffalo sauce, cooked chicken, and maybe a little extra cheese and you’re set. You could even add some veggies, but let’s be honest — sometimes when it comes to vegetables, less is more.
9. Turn It Into An Appetizer
If you prefer to save mac and cheese for lunch or dinner, that’s totally fine. But maybe that’s because you never thought of turning your simple boxed mac and cheese into fried mac and cheese balls. You’ll need to be a little more kitchen savvy than the average mac and cheese connoisseur, but if you have a little time and some patience, you can make fried balls of deliciousness out of your already beloved mac and cheese.
You don’t need to do much to make a simple mac and cheese recipe fancy or a little more substantial as a full meal. You could add chicken and broccoli, or even just breadcrumbs on top and totally transform your simple mac and cheese dish into something so much more. Chances are, you will probably still have a special place in your heart for the original basic meal, and that’s OK too. But when you want to gussy it up, these recipes for upgrading mac and cheese will help you out.