We Taste Tested 5 Boxed Mac and Cheese Brands, And We’ve Got a Clear Winner (& Loser)

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girl gibing the thumbs up and boy giving the thumbs down over mac and cheese

In case you didn’t know, National Mac and Cheese Day (July 14) is totally a thing. To help you celebrate what is arguably the most comforting of all comfort foods, we’ve gathered a bunch of hungry kids to help us taste test five of the most popular boxed mac and cheese brands you can buy right off the shelf.

Our mac and cheese boxed test used real, live pros.

three kids taking a taste test of different macaroni and cheese brands

As a fun (and not even almost scientifically valid) way to ring in National Mac and Cheese Day, we pulled together five mac and cheese pros (hungry kids ages 6-9).

Upgrade your boxed mac & cheese 3 different ways with these easy add-ins

boxed macaroni and cheese lineup behind five bowls of macaroni and cheese

Our macaroni and cheese taste test rules were simple.

To make this boxed dinner taste test as fair as possible, we:

  • Chose an assortment of name-brand, store-brand, conventional, and organic macaroni and cheese boxed dinners.
  • Limited ourselves to just the standard elbow noodles with the powdery orange sauce instead of the other varieties (white cheddar, goat cheese, shells, etc.).
  • Followed each recipe according to the exact directions on the box – no add-ins or extras.
  • Gave our taste testers a “blind” sampling of the mac and cheese, so they wouldn’t be influenced by factors like Kraft’s iconic blue box or Annie’s adorable bunny.

Here’s how these boxed mac & cheese dinners ranked (from worst to best):

Great Value macaroni and cheese box

5. The worst:  Great Value Original Macaroni & Cheese (sold at Walmart)

More than one of our young taste-testers noticed right away that the Great Value Macaroni & Cheese had a “weird taste,” and the grown-ups had to agree. Although the expiration date on the box was almost a year away, it had a faint stale, almost freezer-burnt taste to it.

While it didn’t taste any saltier than the other brands, it contained the most sodium by far – 690 mg per serving! That’s over 100 mg of sodium more than any other contender in our taste test, and 30% of the recommended daily value! This was our least favorite brand of the five we tested, by unanimous decision.

Simply Nature macaroni and cheese boxes at Aldi

4. Simply Nature Organic Macaroni & Cheese (sold at Aldi)

We really wanted to like this boxed mac & cheese. Simply Nature is Aldi’s line of organic foods, and many of their other organic items are both affordable and delicious. Unfortunately, this macaroni and cheese didn’t quite pass the “delicious” test.

Much as the Great Value brand had a “weird taste,” our taste-testers were quick to point out that this one had an “extra taste.” One helpful 9-year-old suggested that “It’s probably because they’re hiding vegetables in there somewhere. Grown-ups do that sort of thing.”

A quick scan of the ingredients didn’t reveal any hidden veggies, but he was right. It did taste as though it had been made from vegetable pasta. This would have been fine in another setting, but it definitely stood out as being different from the other brands (and not in a good way).

Market Pantry macaroni and cheese boxes at Target

3. Market Pantry Macaroni & Cheese (sold at Target)

This had the mouth-feel of mac and cheese, but it didn’t really taste like much of anything at all. At 400 calories per serving (the most of any brand we tested), we were definitely expecting the Market Pantry version to be a lot more flavorful.

Our little taste-testers expected more from this brand, too. They didn’t have much to say about it one way or another. We did count a couple of blank looks and a shrug, so I suppose that says it all.

Annie's macaroni and cheese box

2. Annie’s Classic Mild Cheddar Mac & Cheese

This one got mixed reviews.

The kids loved Annie’s mac & cheese, which they eagerly pointed out was the orangest of all the brands we tested. They also said that it smelled and tasted the cheesiest, and they liked the taste and texture.

The adults in our group certainly loved the fact that Annie’s mac & cheese is made from organic pasta, but we weren’t too sure about the cheese flavor. To me, it tasted exactly like the orange cheese that comes inside the 6-packs of Lance sandwich crackers. But, hey – it’s made with organic ingredients and the kids really liked it, so this one is going in the winner’s circle.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese in bowl next to box

1. Our winner: Kraft Original Flavor Macaroni & Cheese

When you hear the phrase “boxed mac and cheese,” this is probably the one you’re picturing. It’s the gold standard, and not just because of the cheerful color of its sauce!

Kraft mac and cheese also received the most favorable reviews from our testers. Almost everyone agreed that it was the creamiest and most flavorful of all the brands we tried.

macaroni and cheese in a white bowl with 2 forks

Some of the adults thought the flavor of the Kraft version seemed a little heavy on the American cheese side, while they would have preferred it to taste more “cheddary.” But I suspect this is the taste most people want when they buy a box of macaroni and cheese.

Even though it was the most highly rated of all the boxed versions, our taste testers agreed that not even this mac and cheese icon could come close to the decadent goodness of the homemade version.

At the end of our experiment, one of our 6-year-old testers exclaimed, “This stuff makes me hungry for real mac & cheese,” and I know exactly what she means. I also know exactly what I’m making for dinner tonight… 👇

homemade macaroni and cheese in a casserole dish

Get the recipe for Lina’s classic mac and cheese (pictured above)!

About the writer:

Jenna has a Bachelor's Degree from Lycoming College and her Master's from Penn State, holding 4 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and Hip2Save.

Join The Discussion

Comments 127

  1. Susan B

    So so so MUCH better before they changed it! The orange powdery cheese was the best!

    • patricialavenz-goff

      They had to take out the cancer causing ingredient. They took it out of the European one years ago because they had to. LOL

  2. Tara Hoesten

    We live Kraft Sprials they now have larger noodles and it is still mixed with butter, milk and the powder. Only.one my kid will eat. Guess I mix it the best.

  3. John

    Prepare the Great Value mac & cheese with significantly less milk (like 1/10 a cup of milk instead of the recommended 1/4 cup) and it will taste even better than Kraft. Too much milk = too much liquid = the powder mix gets too diluted and the mac & cheese become tasteless.

    You will literally notice no or minimal difference in “wetness” of the final product due to the 1/4 cup margarine which when melted into the pasta serves as a hydrator.

    Prepared this way with less milk the final product has a much stronger sharp cheddar cheese taste (but not too sharp). Source: someone who has eaten an unholy amount of boxed mac and cheese over many years. *Always* add less milk than recommended to any type of boxed mac & cheese when a powder mix is involved for maximum flavor.

    • Lo

      I agree about less milk. My fave is kraft original and I add less milk

      • Lori

        We dont even add milk, just butter & the powdered cheese then stir stir stir!!

  4. lisaleo

    Back to Nature MAC and Cheese particularly the CrazyBugs are the best

  5. Amy

    Annie’s shells real aged cheddar is far and away my favorite boxed Mac and cheese!

  6. Luv2save2

    I agree Kraft is the best. I tried other boxed ones, but I went back to Kraft.

  7. llc

    HEB brand is the best for kind that come without the powder (like velvetta) but less than 50% the cost. I personally think it’s better than velvetta.

  8. Tati

    Agree, Kraft is the best boxes mac and cheese!

  9. LisaMarieRose

    One day when I was young and broke in college, I made macaroni (with shell pasta) and dumped in some frozen peas. I loved it SO much, when you mix, many of the peas end up cupped inside the shell, and you get a big burst when you bite down! My son is now 27, and my daughter now 15, and she asks me literally everyday during Covid for shells and peas 🙂 It really is THAT good!! (PS I put the still-frozen peas in after draining the noodles, so the hot noodles stop cooking and warm up the peas. If needed I put the flame on low while mixing in the milk/butter etc to keep the peas “defrosting” without overcooking them.

    • Karen

      That sounds delicious! I’m going to try this tomorrow for lunch! Thanks!

  10. ashroosen

    The Kraft Deluxe is amazing!!! It’s like Velveeta shells and cheese but better

    • Lana

      For that amount of money I can make some good homemade.

  11. mamasweetpea

    We recently discovered and tasted Cracker Barrel Mac & Cheese. It’s a bit pricier, but the whole family enjoyed it. It did not taste like boxed mac and cheese at all. Just another suggestion to try 😉

  12. laceygd

    My family loves the Kraft sharp cheddar Mac and cheese

  13. Sallys

    The boxed Kroger 3 cheese shells shaped mac and cheese is really good, and is 79 cents. I think Kroger brand would have done well in this taste test. It is my family’s favorite.

  14. patricialavenz-goff

    I didn’t know it was cheese day. Now I know why the radio announcer said he loved the Cracker Barrell mac and cheese the best. They buy it at Kroger he said. Might have to pick up a box tonight. One of my brothers can’t eat it but my other brother and I can….. LOL

  15. Meemarie

    My kids LOVE Annie’s. They like it better than my homemade Mac n cheese grrrr

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