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I Turned Boxed Mac 'N' Cheese Into 6 Amazing Meals

Hack your way to a delicious, home-cooked meal.

Hey there, I'm Hannah, and if I had to pick my last meal on earth, there's a strong chance I'd choose mac 'n' cheese.

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I mean, truthfully, what could be more satisfying than carbs covered in cheese? I'll wait...

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And while I love a bowl of homemade, fancy mac 'n' cheese, sometimes I'm feeling lazy and opt for the boxed version. So I started thinking about ways to transform the store-bought stuff into an actually gourmet meal.

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Here are six recipes for upgrading your boxed mac 'n' cheese into a meal that's impressive, satisfying, and most importantly, easy.

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These are just six ideas to get you started, but get creative and add your favorite veggies, cheeses, proteins, and spices. I used Trader Joe's shells and white cheddar at the base of my meals, but any boxed or even frozen mac 'n' cheese will do the trick!

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All of these recipes can be made in under 25 minutes and require just a handful of ingredients. And each makes about 2 servings. So let's get cooking.

1.

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If you love Italian flavors like mozzarella, sun dried tomato, pesto, and basil, you won't be able to get enough of this caprese mac 'n' cheese recipe. Make the pesto from scratch, or opt for a store-bought kale or basil pesto. For the cheese, shredded mozzarella tastes great, but if you're feeling ambitious, fresh, sliced bocconcini take things to the next level.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

2 oz mozzarella cheese (shredded or sliced), plus more to taste

2 tbsp sun dried tomatoes

3 tbsp pesto

1 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter, if using. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the grape tomatoes, salt, and pepper and sauté until blistered, about seven minutes. Add the sautéed grape tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, sliced or shredded mozzarella, and pesto to the prepared macaroni. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mozzarella is melted and all of the ingredients are combined. Top with red pepper flakes and fresh basil, and serve.

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2.

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Mac 'n' cheese and spinach artichoke are two of the most classic comfort foods around. So when you combine them into one extra cheesy, rich recipe, you know you're in for something delicious.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

4 oz. fresh spinach

2 oz goat cheese, plus more to taste

1 7oz can artichoke hearts, drained and cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter if using. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach, salt, and pepper, and sauté until wilted, about 2 minutes. Chop the artichoke hearts into small pieces. Add the sautéed spinach, artichokes, goat cheese, and Parmesan cheese to the prepared macaroni, and stir until the goat cheese is creamy all of the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

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3.

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Not for the faint of heart (or stomach), this rustic and seriously rich combination combines fatty bacon, savory mushrooms, and luscious Brie cheese into one irresistible bowl.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

2-3 strips bacon

8 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed and cheese cubed

1 cup mixed fresh mushrooms (cremini, portobello, or shiitake), sliced

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh thyme, leaves for topping

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Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter if using. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until tender and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the rind from the Brie and slice it into cubes. Fry the bacon in a skillet. Add the sautéed mushrooms, bacon, and Brie to the prepared macaroni, and stir until Brie is melted and all of the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with fresh thyme leaves.

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4.

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Imagine the flavors of a sizzling fajita, but in mac 'n' cheese form. Feel free to get fancy and add any more Mexican-inspired toppings from ground beef and sliced jalapeño to black beans or tortilla strips for some crunch.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

1/4 cup small yellow onion, diced

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup bell pepper, diced

4 ounces canned corn, drained

1/2 avocado, sliced

1/4 cup cotija cheese, crumbled, plus more for topping

Cayenne pepper

Red pepper flakes

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Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter if using. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about two minutes minutes. Add the bell pepper and sauté until tender, about five minutes minutes. Add corn and cook, stirring, until heated through, then stir in the cayenne and red pepper flakes to taste. Add the sautéed onion mixture and 1/3 cup cotija cheese to the prepared macaroni and cook over low heat, stirring, until cheese is melted and all of the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with sliced avocado and crumbled cotija cheese.

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5.

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This Mac 'n' cheese will immediately transport you to summer time. The nutty Gruyère cheese combined with the buttery breadcrumbs is a real winner. You can always swap out the crab for any other seafood like shrimp or even lobster meat.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

1/2 cup lump crab meat, picked over, any shells discarded

1/3 cup Gruyère cheese, finely grated

1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs, plus more for topping

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (optional)

Fresh parsley, finely chopped, for topping

Kosher salt and

Freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter if using. Add the lump crab meat, Gruyère cheese, bread crumbs, and Old Bay seasoning to the prepared macaroni and cook over low heat, stirring, until all ingredients are combined and heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with bread crumbs, parsley, and avocado.

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6.

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If you can't swing a trip to NOLA this week, you can whip up a Cajun-inspired meal at home. This mac 'n' cheese is full of spicy andouille sausage and vegetables, but you can also add shrimp and/or chicken for a riff on jambalaya.

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What you'll need:

1 6 oz box mac 'n' cheese

3 tbsp milk (any kind)

2 tsp butter (optional)

1/2 pound cooked andouille sausage or chicken sausage, sliced

1 scallion, chopped into white and pale green, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup onion, diced

1/4 cup bell pepper, diced

1/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning

Coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Preparation:

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and return to saucepan along with cheese packet, milk, and butter if using. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and green onion and sauté until translucent and fragrant, two minutes. Add the bell pepper and sauté until tender, about five minutes. Add pre-cooked andouille sausage and cook just until heated through. Season with cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning to taste. Add the sausage and vegetable mixture to the prepared macaroni. Stir in the Monterey Jack cheese and cook over low heat, stirring, until the cheese is melted and all of the ingredients are combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with green onion.

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For more easy weeknight dinner hacks, check out these posts:

16 Boderline Genius Ways To Upgrade Frozen Foods

17 Easy Pantry Meals You Can Whip Up On Busy Nights

23 Dorm Room Meals You Can Make In A Microwave

Need easy dinner ideas?

These meals will make your weeknights way simpler. (And tastier!)

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Need easy dinner ideas?

These meals will make your weeknights way simpler. (And tastier!)

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