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3 Ways to Upgrade Boxed Mac & Cheese

Easy Boxed Mac & Cheese Meal Ideas

yield: 4 SERVINGS

prep time: 10 MINUTES

cook time: 15 MINUTES

total time: 25 MINUTES

Ingredients

1.) Tuna Noodle Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 2- 5 oz. cans of tuna, drained
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 10 oz. frozen peas, defrosted
  • 10-12 Ritz crackers, crushed

2.) Sausage and Broccoli Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 14 oz. cooked rope sausage
  • 10 oz. frozen broccoli, steamed in microwave

3.) Taco Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 taco seasoning packet
  • 15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
  • 10 oz. can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies, drained

Directions

1

For the Tuna Noodle Mac and Cheese:

Add tuna, peas, and extra cheese to already prepared mac & cheese. Turn heat to medium and stir to melt and heat ingredients. Top with crushed crackers.

2

For the Sausage and Broccoli Mac and Cheese:

Slice and brown sausage in a skillet. Add it along with the steamed broccoli to the already prepared mac and cheese, and mix to combine.

3

For the Taco Mac and Cheese:

Cook ground beef, drain grease, and season with taco packet and add 1/3 cup water. Add meat to the already prepared mac and cheese along with Rotel and beans. Stir to combine.

Brought to you by Hip2Save.
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spoonful of taco mac and cheese

Have a couple boxes of mac & cheese hanging out in your pantry?

They can be super convenient and are definitely an inexpensive, kid-friendly meal on days when you just don’t feel like cooking from scratch! Today I’m sharing a few quick and easy frugal family meal ideas that use box mac and cheese, but make it better by upgraded the flavor and taste with some additional ingredients.

woman holding 3 different types of mac and cheese

On some occasions, I will take the time to create mac and cheese from scratch, and then there are other times when lunch or dinner can be solved quickly with some help from our beloved pantry staple – boxed mac and cheese. 🙌

Whether you prefer the classic blue box brand, organic bunnies, or shells & cheese, these are some tasty ideas that can be tossed in with your favorite brand to make a cheesy and oh so comforting meal, not to mention EASY!

All three of these ideas will start off with you preparing two boxes of mac and cheese like you normally would according to the package instructions, and then we’ll add in a protein and veggies!

3 ways to jazz up mac and cheese


1.) Tuna Noodle Casserole Mac and Cheese

tuna mac and cheese

Love mom’s old-fashioned tuna noodle casserole? Get similar flavors by adding in a can of tuna, peas, shredded sharp cheese, and top with crushed Ritz crackers or crispy onions. So yummy and so comforting!

Hip Tip: If you have non-tuna fans in your family, try adding canned chicken instead!

plate of tuna noodle mac and cheese


2.) Sausage and Broccoli Mac and Cheese

broccoli and sausage mac and cheese in a pot

This one is so simple and yet SO GOOD! Here I’ve added some cut up pieces of cooked smoked sausage, and steamed broccoli. It all pairs so nicely with the creamy cheese and noodles, and I love a good 3 ingredient meal!

Hip Tip: You can also throw in some sliced hot dogs or diced ham instead of sausage for a similar version.

sausage and broccoli mac and cheese plate


3.) Taco Mac and Cheese

taco mac and cheese in a pot

Take taco night to the next level by incorporating mac and cheese for a cheesy twist on this family fav! Here I’ve added in yummy taco seasoned ground beef, a can of Rotel tomatoes and chiles, and kidney beans. This one is insanely delicious, and was my family’s favorite idea out of all three!

Hip Tip: I added kidney beans, but of course black beans or pinto beans would be yummy here instead! It’s a great way to use up what’s in your pantry.

plate of taco mac and cheese


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Easy Boxed Mac & Cheese Meal Ideas

yield: 4 SERVINGS

prep time: 10 MINUTES

cook time: 15 MINUTES

total time: 25 MINUTES

Here are 3 simple dinner ideas that start with a box of mac and cheese from the pantry!

Ingredients

1.) Tuna Noodle Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 2- 5 oz. cans of tuna, drained
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 10 oz. frozen peas, defrosted
  • 10-12 Ritz crackers, crushed

2.) Sausage and Broccoli Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 14 oz. cooked rope sausage
  • 10 oz. frozen broccoli, steamed in microwave

3.) Taco Mac and Cheese:

  • 2 boxes mac and cheese, prepared
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 taco seasoning packet
  • 15 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed & drained
  • 10 oz. can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies, drained

Directions

1

For the Tuna Noodle Mac and Cheese:

Add tuna, peas, and extra cheese to already prepared mac & cheese. Turn heat to medium and stir to melt and heat ingredients. Top with crushed crackers.

2

For the Sausage and Broccoli Mac and Cheese:

Slice and brown sausage in a skillet. Add it along with the steamed broccoli to the already prepared mac and cheese, and mix to combine.

3

For the Taco Mac and Cheese:

Cook ground beef, drain grease, and season with taco packet and add 1/3 cup water. Add meat to the already prepared mac and cheese along with Rotel and beans. Stir to combine.

Brought to you by Hip2Save.

kid eating taco mac and cheese

Here’s what Hip2Save readers on Facebook recommend for add-ins :

  • Buffalo sauce and cooked chicken
  • a can of chili
  • cream cheese, chives, and bacon
  • pepperoni and pesto
  • cooked ground beef and BBQ sauce
  • chill for a cold pasta salad by adding mayo with lots of chopped veggies

making tuna noodle mac and cheese

These are super yummy ideas, plus easy on the budget, too!

All three of these meals cost under $10 to make and serve 4-5 comfortably. I ordered all my ingredients to make them using Walmart Grocery pickup for under $30. I have to say, if there’s anything at all positive about quarantine, it was me discovering how easy grocery pickup is, and that’s something I’ll continue to do since it’s so convenient, free, and less contact!

mac and cheese with sausage on plate

My team member, Jenna, gave these mac & cheese recipes a test and here’s what she had to say:

“Wow! These are such a fun hack! I love that each idea uses staples from the pantry or freezer. That’s the best way to jazz up a dinner idea! I can’t pick a favorite of these three, but I can tell you each of the kids have a favorite! Super great ideas and so delicious!”


Eating low carb? Check out 3 easy ways to jazz up a frozen bag of cauliflower rice on Hip2Keto.com!

Join The Discussion

Comments 41

  1. Lori

    Mmm…taco mac & cheese looks so good!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      So good!! Thanks Lori!

  2. sweetklouise

    I always make an easy meal during busy Fall weeks-

    chicken
    mac n cheese
    broccoli
    mayo
    bacon crumbles (or real bacon bits)

    i steam the broccoli in the microwave for a couple minutes. cook the mac n cheese as according to box. then just add all together. i use about 1/2 cup mayo. it brings it all together. i sneak tomatoes in there sometimes too. so good!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yum! Thanks for sharing 💕

  3. IB

    I know this may sound weird but I like to add cut raw green bell pepper to my mac and cheese after it is cooked. It just works for me.

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yum! Doesn’t sound weird! Thanks for sharing 👏

    • Deanna

      Sounds yummy and crunchy. I would add some hot sauce to the mix too.

  4. Kay

    This is all my kids want to eat lately. Perfect timing for this post. Thanks so much H2S. I’ll try the sausage n broccoli one. Been using chicken meatballs n frozen peas n carrots, but they don’t like the peas. They will like the broccoli better.

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yum! Yes the broccoli is very tasty like this – thanks Kay!

  5. Lora

    Thank you for these great ideas. I can’t wait to try the taco mac & cheese.

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yes! I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty that is! 💕👏

  6. Brit

    I add cottage cheese instead of milk. Added protein and makes it thicker cheesier

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks for that suggestion!

  7. Veronica

    Mac and Cheese + Bush Beans. Soooooo good

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yum! We will try that next time!

  8. Mommyx6

    My co worker eats Mac and cheese mixed with canned peas. She loves it! 🥴

  9. Jean

    Another recipe is Pizza Shells and Cheese. 1 box of shells and cheese, 3/4 lb ground beef and jar of pizza sauce. Make shells and cheese as directed on box. Brown ground beef. Add pizza sauce to ground beef. In a 9×9 dish add one layer of shells and cheese, a layer of ground beef, sprinkle with grated cheese. Repeat layers. Top with grated cheese. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, another 15-20 minutes.

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Wow yum! That’s brilliant – thanks Jean👍💕

  10. Dee

    THE easiest upgrade? CHILI Mac! Just add a can of no bean chili (we prefer Hormel) and stir in. My family loves it!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks for sharing yum!

  11. Deanna

    Ground some beef and season to taste. Meanwhile make mac n cheese according to box. Then stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup and 3/4 can of water or milk. Add ground beef to mixture then pour into baking dish and bake at 350-375 till bubly around edges.. Never have any leftovers.

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks this sounds yum and easy too! Thanks Deanna!

  12. Cindy

    Here is my old college favorite – make mac and cheese according to package directions, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, a drained can of peas, and a drained and flaked can of tuna. So yummy and I’m not even a big tuna fan!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks Cindy! Yum!

  13. mamasweetpea

    i’ve done the first two, and I also sometimes do spinach with mac and cheese as well. Also, there’s chili mac and cheese that’s pretty easy (ground meat, can of chili, sliced onions, cheese).

  14. SavingsMama

    Love these ideas but will use with elbow noodles or ziti etc. Big boxes for less than what I pay for Kraft skinny noodles. We still have a young family member who won’t eat actual cheese sauce, only the powdered stuff lol. Sigh…Another good option for summer is of course, a chilled pasta salad pump up the veggies in it and use leftover chicken or cooked sausage. So good!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yes I love that chilled idea too! Thanks for sharing 💕

  15. ohjodi

    To lighten up mac n cheese, use less water when boiling, drain, but save out 1/2 c pasta water, use that and half the butter. Been doing that since I was a kid, because we were poor, lol Making it the regular way tastes really greasy, to me.

  16. Arie

    I add cooked shredded chicken and sour cream after making the boxed mac and cheese. My family thinks it’s a fancy meal!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Haha that’s smart! Thanks for sharing! Yum.

  17. kimhanson

    How dare you!!! 🤣🤣🤣 j.k. I love my original though… maybe with some hotdogs!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Haha 😆

  18. RnBwDsh789

    To make it super creamy, use 1/4c. heavy cream instead of milk and 2 TBSP of butter instead of 4. Makes the sauce really thick and delicious.
    But I’m keto now and make only cauliflower in cheese sauce. *sad panda*

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yes great tips! I agree about the cream 👌 ha cheesy cauliflower is pretty tasty too!

  19. Erika maxwell

    The instant pot makes the best Mac and cheese. I add broccoli and pinto beans to it.

  20. *Angela-Miles*

    People are going to think this is odd….but I dont like peas, so whenever a recipe calls for them I always substitute carrots. Yes I know LoL…bizarre. But I love carrots and they tasted fine in my tuna casserole. 🥕😁😱
    Thanks for the ideas for mac and cheese Lina! 🧡

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Oh that’s not odd! Ha great idea 👍 sure!

  21. MommySpendsLess

    Thanks! We’ve been in a food rut and it seems like I never feel like cooking lately so we’ll have to give the taco one a try and I appreciate the other readers’ suggestions.
    Whenever we have mac&cheese as a side dish I add extra butter, extra milk and shredded cheese (usually triple cheddar) – makes it creamier and looks/taste more like real mac&cheese, although I suspect it makes it even less healthy. 🙂

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks for the suggestion! You’ll love the taco Mac 👍

  22. Katie

    These all sound amazing! Can’t wait to try them! My 4yo will definitely love the smoked sausage and broccoli one!

    • Lina D (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Yay!! Yes that is yum!

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