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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)!

Join The Discussion

Comments 127

  1. Dee

    In my experience, the Annie’s always tastes like the box it came in. That said, we make the Velveeta shells and cheese when we use a boxed dinner.

    • CAJ

      We do too and we e don’t make it that much so it’s not too much more a month for this kind over the powder. For a few extra dollars, this kind is enjoyed as opposed to the other kind ending up as leftover in my fridge til they start to mild and I toss them!!! Haha!

    • Monique

      Agreed Dee 🙂 my house also makes velveeta it’s the best in my opinion!

    • Ms. Frizzle

      Gross. Velveeta is so fake and unhealthy.

  2. Steph

    Interesting we aren’t Big Mac and cheese fans but my kids have literally gagged on the Annie’s brand. I tried it bc I thought they were just being ridiculous and I agreed with them it was terrible! Maybe we just got a bad box but I won’t be purchasing it anymore to find out lol

    • R

      I think Annie’s brand in general is very overrated. I haven’t tried their standard mac, but I got the white cheddar shells on a deal here once, and it was all we could do to get through all of the boxes (it was like a 12 box multipack). The cheese was so chalky and took forever to smooth out. Towards the end, we just started using the shells in different recipes and chucking the cheese packets. I don’t get the love.

      • rose

        Annies is our favorite, esp the White Cheddar! Are you making it per the directions? I add a little butter to the milk to warm through, then sprinkle the cheese and stir it *before* adding in the drained pasta. Sometimes I keep a little of the pasta water just in case it’s too thick. But yeah, the first time I made it, it was a powdery, chalky mess! Then realized the directions and it’s been a keeper since.

        • Another Shelly

          It’s our favorite, too! My six year old loves it like no other brand.

        • Cyndi

          This is our favorite as well. Directions are key. I think they actually changed the directions on the box. Key is to make a cheese sauce. Stir the milk with the powder and then add to pasta. I also add butter.

        • Snowflake1211

          Annie’s white shells all my daughter will eat and she eats almost the whole box when I make it and she’s little! She won’t eat any of the orange stuff, she says “milk isn’t orange coming out of a cow, that’s gross.” lol

      • Mamarenie

        I agree it is awful! Our Kroger had it for .19 and .29 cents and I said nope.

      • susanwalters

        I agree with R – Annie’s is waaaaayyyy overrated for so many products. I really wanted to like it, but the artificial taste is a no-go for us.

        • Mei

          Glad I am not the only one that thinks that Annies’ products are overratted. Mac and cheese (meh), bought snack mix (birds ate most of it), fruit snacks never seem to move out of the cupboard. Considering the “organic” nature and price of most of these items, I want them to be liked, but not a big fan of this line.

          • Bonn

            We’re not fans of Annie’s either!

            The Cracker Barrel Mac and cheese is fabulous!

            • Pam

              YES,CRACKER BARREll

            • Leavesbegintofall

              The cracker barrell is insanely delicious!!!!

    • Pansy Binz

      Yep, my eight year old won’t eat Annies.

    • Sabrina

      I agree, the Annie’s has a weird powdery texture

    • Morgan

      Yes! Both my kids and I gagged on the new Annie’s mac – the supposedly Yummier Than Ever one. We don’t mind the other varieties, but the new one tasted like straight up manure.

  3. Kim

    I donno, I’ve started buying the food club brand at my local piggly wiggly because they have them for 4/$2 for the spirals and they are VERY comparable for kraft, for that price and little difference I’ll take it. It’s all horrible for you anyways… lol but it tastes good!

    • April

      My kiddos love Food Club Mac and cheese as well.

  4. R

    I don’t buy a lot of name brands, but Kraft is usually the one I pick up 9/10 times because it’s my husband’s preference. That said, I’ll buy Great Value on occasion and no one’s really said they disliked it, just that it’s different, even the picky husband. Kinda surprised it was so universally hated by your testers. Maybe they’ve changed ingredients since I last purchased.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for letting us know what your family likes best, R! We usually prefer the Kraft too!

  5. Marie

    My husband makes the kraft mac and cheese package, but he melts 2-3 american cheese slices over it and mixes it in. Sometimes, he’ll mix canned tuna and peas in to try to make it healthier. 😂

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      LOL! I’ve never tried it that way! Thanks for the suggestion, Marie!

    • Amanda

      My husband adds tuna too! I had never even heard of doing that until I met him

      • Dee

        My husband adds tuna, too. I prefer the two things separate, but hey, if he’s cooking, he can do what he wants. 🙂

    • Dess

      Our grandkids like tuna n peas with their favorite- Kraft Mac n cheese. You

  6. MSmomof5

    We definitely prefer the Mac n cheese with the foil pouch of cheese over the powder cheese for a quick fix. And I usually buy the blue box in it.

  7. Tammy

    My kiddos only like Kraft. I’ve tried secretly switching to different organic ones and they know the difference. 😬

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Same here, Tammy! They always know! Thanks for taking a moment to comment!

  8. Luna

    The shells type of mac n cheese is our favorite

  9. Molly

    We love Cracker Barrel… ridiculously expensive but so yummy!

    • Amie

      I agree, Cracker Barrel is my fav Mac and cheese too.

    • Shawna

      I saw 5 packs of Cracker Barrel mac n cheese at a store called Ollie’s for $6! I should have got it

    • Desiree

      By far the winner!

    • Kayla

      Yes!!! That’s my favorite too!

  10. Caryn

    So fun! My kids favorite is the Winco spiral kind. I was shocked but at like 44 cents I will keep buying it!

  11. Nicole

    Walmart (great value) has a line of different flavors of shells and cheese. They are so good! It would be awesome if you could do a taste test of all of them.

    • Mel

      The Artisan Crafted Garlic & Herb…my gooooosh!!! It’s the only boxed Mac/shells ‘n cheese I buy.

  12. Sara

    Kraft and the Aldi version of Kraft style both taste good. Not a fan of Walmart’s brand.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the feedback, Sara! I don’t think we’ve tried the Aldi brand yet!

    • Megan

      My kids like the Kraft version at Aldi’s too!

      • Lindsay Dunn

        Yes! We love the Aldi brand and at $.33 a box you can’t go wrong!

  13. Alex

    We buy the other style- like shells and cheese- and both Aldi and Targets are really good (actually HEB’s is great too if you have one)

  14. Heather

    We love the HEB brand macaroni! (The three cheese & shells especially)

    • Amanda

      H-E-B all the way!! Their central market cheesy shells are all we buy now. Way better than velveeta

      • Monique

        HEB!!! I’m so jealous of all of you heb shoppers so many things I miss from this store…

    • llc

      Yes. Heb brand mac is the best. And half the price of velveeta shells.

    • Kira

      Yes!! I use to only buy Kraft and then tried HEB… soo good! I’ve tried several different flavors and all of them are good! And half the price as Kraft!

  15. Another Shelly

    My daughter loves Annie’s and I’m definitely okay with spending a few pennies more for a cleaner product which tastes great.

    • Tina

      Agreed!

  16. Cakes

    My favorite is the Walmart Shells & Cheese 3 cheese. I like it better than Kraft. I also like the Aldis brand Mac & cheese.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Oh cool! Thanks for sharing with us, Cakes! I’ll have to try that one next time!

    • Taylor S.

      Yes!!! My absolute favorite.

  17. Diana

    We just found a Tillamook cheese sauce in the refrigerated section of Target. My daughter makes it will shells, and I think it’s my favorite! The deluxe (blue box) Mac and cheese with cheese sauce and the original Kraft Mac and cheese are among favs at our house.

  18. Pat

    My kids won’t even eat the boxed mac and cheese. They are weird I guess. They will eat the shells and cheddar where the cheese comes in a can though.

  19. Meg

    A few years ago, I started noticing that after eating Kraft, my stomach would get upset. Then I read they changed their powder mix, without making any kind of announcement about it. They were “testing” us to see if we noticed and apparently most people didn’t. I also think the flavor has changed from my younger years. Does anyone else agree?

    • Jodi P

      Kraft got rid of the artificial flavors and colors in the cheese powder a few years ago. They now use turmeric. I actually think it tastes slightly better than before.

      • Dee

        Some of the natural colors and flavors cause a reaction in people. That’s why many brands went to artificial colors and flavors in the first place, because they were designed to not cause allergic reactions. If you color foods with beet juice, for instance, instead, there will be some people who react to beets.

        • Anna

          Very informative thx

    • Sara

      I agree. Kraft isn’t cheesy at all anymore. It was definitely cheesy 10 years ago. It now just has an diluted odd milky flavor. I use 2% milk, and I only add what the box says to add. I sometimes forget how awful it is now and get a craving for it. I then regret my purchase. I can’t finish it. Some of it always ends up in the trash.

  20. Mel

    Love this. Thx!

    • Collin (Mrs. Hip)

      You’re welcome, Mel! Glad you enjoyed this review!

  21. Heather

    I actually think the walmart great value mac n cheese is good but it has to be the thick n creamy one it compares better on taste for me and my family

    • tipaye

      Agreed on the Thick & Creamy variety!

    • Amanda L.

      Yes – only the thick and creamy variety! I’ve found that most brands are actually quite good as long as it’s thick and creamy 🙂

    • Happy Aunt

      I completely agree too! I usually pick some up whenever I’m in the store.

  22. Sarah

    My kids are obsessed with boxed Mac and cheese and won’t hardly touch the homemade version. We’ve tried a ton of different kinds and my kids absolute favorite is an organic version sold at Aldis called Mac and Puppies (dog shaped pasta). We don’t like the regular organic Aldis Mac and Cheese either that was tested as part of this post! But the Mac and Puppies is really good. I live in fear of it disappearing from the shelves one day like so many Aldis products do! 😜

    • Heidi

      My kiddos are the same, would never eat a homemade over the boxed… Wouldn’t matter what the recipe was

    • Adrianne

      My kids are in love with the Mac and Puppies at Aldi. I think it’s better than any boxed we’ve tried as well. It was only a special buy at my local Aldi stores, so we stocked up big time. It’s truly amazing!

  23. Denise

    I agree nothing compares to homemade! I’m going to try your recipe Lina…thank you

    • Lina

      Enjoy Denise! Thanks for stopping by!

  24. Christine

    Funny—my 12 year old LOVES Great Value regular M&C. He told me recently not to buy any other brand. Maybe in our region the product is from a different factory. My kids have never liked Annie’s. Kraft isn’t worth the money. I was buying Wegmans brand but have never liked it and neither did my 12 year old. Great Value doesn’t have many weird ingredients and at 29 cents you can’t beat the price. I like it better than Wegmans brand but still prefer homemade.

  25. Memeof5

    Trader Joe’s all the way.

  26. just me

    The Kraft Cauliflower Mac and Cheese is sooooo good! I bought 10 boxes to keep in the pantry to have on hand for those nights when I don’t want to cook. I LOVE that it’s a little healthier and we do not taste the cauliflower at all even though our family loves cauliflower. Try it!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks, I’m going to look for that, just me! It is sold in the regular store by the mac and cheese?

      • just me

        I get it at my local Kroger in the regular boxed mac and cheese section.

        • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

          Thanks!

    • Amy

      I really liked the cauliflower one is as well. I catch it on s&s occasionally for about a dollar

  27. Cindy

    We love the Wacky Mac and Cheese. It’s located in strange sections of the store though. Can’t find them with the Mac and cheese but the kids love them.

  28. karen

    I love the bear creek mac and cheese

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      YES! They make great soups as well, karen!

  29. Denise

    My kids love the velveeta shells and cheese!

  30. todd

    That was kinda a no brainer. Kraft is definately gonna be the best and Walmart brand products always suck.

  31. Kara

    The Gluten Free Great Value box is my favorite gluten free mac & cheese. My boys will eat it as well and favor it over Annie’s

  32. Desiree

    For those who have issues with nitrates and can’t eat velveeta — I’ve had positive experiences with Cracker Barrel boxed macaroni & cheese, just leave extra water (~1/4C) in the pasta if you like it creamier or plan to rehear later. Doesn’t give me headaches like the velveeta cheese does 👍

  33. Megan

    Has anyone tried the boxed ALDI goat cheese Mac and cheese? I believe it’s their simply nature brand! Just curious before I make a trip there!

  34. Jessica

    67 comments. wow, people are passionate about box Mac n cheese! 🤣

  35. Melissa

    Homemade people, it’s really not much more work and has no extra junk in it. Google “easy stovetop homemade mac & cheese” and you’ll find oodles of recipes.

    • R

      Oh, let people enjoy things – most of us buy it for occasional convenience. I make homemade mac and cheese frequently because hubby and I do think it tastes better, and while it’s hardly difficult, you’re comparing an 8 min process to about 30 mins. Not to mention the expense of a $.25-$1 box vs loads of cheese and milk (the recipe I use calls for 4 cups of each), which aren’t exactly cheap or healthier!

  36. sissi

    I couldn’t say because i just cant leave things alone or follow a recipe lol. I always add goat cheese and shredded cheese to my box mac lol. Half the time i boil the pasta in half milk and water lol.

  37. Boymamato4

    Kroger Shells and Cheese is REALLY good, and super cheap.

  38. Jenn

    Fun post, we love blind taste tests, and so then all the time at home. 😊 It’s Annie’s all the way for us!

  39. Stephanie

    I highly recommend the Trader Joe’s Rice Pasta and Cheddar. It is very tasty and you don’t even notice that it is Gluten Free.

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for the recommendation! I haven’t tried that one!

  40. Amy

    With Annie’s, you need to try the Homestyle version that comes in the wide box. It’s so delicious!

  41. Happy Aunt

    I’ve been buying the HyVee brand to save money and I think it’s fine for a cheap meal. It has to be the actual HyVee brand in the blue box and not their other generic. With sales, I never pay more than .50 a box.

  42. Susan

    I have always liked Annie’s white cheddar mac and cheese. Way better than the yellow

  43. Sara

    It’s too bad you don’t have a Wegmans over there. Their brand of spiral mac and cheese is a huge hit in our house. Plus the price is 3/.99 which is awesome. We prefer it over alot of mac and cheese box kinds. We also love Aldi Shells and Cheese.

  44. Julie Reeves

    I really like HEB brand.

  45. Pat

    Everyone has their own opinion, I think Kraft is the worst since they eliminated some ingredients to make it “natural”. HyVee brand is now my favorite.

  46. Boss babe

    The Giant brand gluten free is actually our favorite. It’s amazing and you’d never ever know it was gluten free!

  47. SJ

    I only eat Annie’s anymore

  48. Elizabeth

    Wegmans spirals used to be my favorite mac and cheese.. they said they changed their recipe and I have not tried it since.

  49. Sharon

    Does anybody like the canned mac and cheese from Chef Boyardee? My dad used to get that as he lived alone and didn’t need a whole big box of it nor the trouble of mixing and stirring and adding in milk and so forth as he got older and his eyesight was not so good. We tried it at his house and really liked it.

  50. Tiffany

    We don’t like the taste of Kraft original Mac & cheese anymore but we love the Kraft 3 cheese with the shells. It’s a house favorite.

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