7 Ways to Upgrade Boxed Mac & Cheese

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Let’s face it, some nights there’s just not enough time or energy to make a balanced dinner that the whole family will enjoy. No need to worry, we’ve got you covered with seven simple ways to upgrade a family pantry staple: boxed mac & cheese! Simply start by making your favorite boxed mac & cheese, then choose your favorite variation out of the seven listed below to “upgrade” the nutrition quality and flavor. And, voila! You have a nutrient-packed and satisfying dinner the whole family can enjoy.

Smoked Ham & Peas

Not only do smoked ham and peas add a delicious and hearty texture to mac & cheese, it also adds a hefty serving of protein and fiber. While mac & cheese is delicious it’s typically lacking in the protein and fiber departments, two essential components to satisfying hunger and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • ½ pound smoked ham, diced (this can be found in the meat or deli section of most grocery stores)
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, add non-stick cooking spray. Add smoked ham and saute until browned. Add peas and stir until warm. Fold into your mac & cheese (the finished product), and enjoy!

Pesto

The wonderful thing about adding pesto to mac & cheese is that you don’t have to do any extra cooking (unless you prefer to make your own pesto). Made with heart-healthy olive oil and basil, pesto adds some extra flavor and antioxidants to this dish. Simply add about two tablespoons of your favorite pesto to your mac & cheese (the finished product) and mix in thoroughly.

Mushrooms and Sage

Mushrooms are packed with antioxidants and fiber, and the sage really elevates this dish to make it a bit more sophisticated! If you want to add a little extra protein, you can serve this alongside grilled chicken or your favorite meat.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tbsp sage, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, add non-stick cooking spray. Add garlic and saute until slightly browned. Add in sage and mushrooms, and saute until mushrooms are browned, or until the desired texture. Then, fold into your mac & cheese (the finished product), and enjoy!

Salsa and Black Beans

If your family loves Mexican food, they’ll love this variation on a classic! Adding protein and fiber rich black beans helps to make this meal more filling, and adding in salsa is a quick and easy way to add a variety of veggies to a typically veggie-free dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1, 15 oz can black beans, drained, rinsed, and dried
  • ½ cup salsa
  • 1 tsp taco seasoning
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, add black beans and salsa. Cook until warmed and some of the water from the salsa has been cooked off. Fold this, along with the taco seasoning, into your mac & cheese (the finished product), and enjoy! Top with cilantro (optional) for added flavor and antioxidants!

Spinach and Artichoke

It’s no secret that the easiest way to turn a spinach-hater into a spinach-lover is to smother the spinach in cheese! This variation is a winning combination of mac & cheese, and spinach and artichoke dip.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh spinach, or 1 cup frozen spinach (thawed and drained), chopped
  • 1, 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained, dried, and chopped
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, add non-stick cooking spray. Add garlic and saute until slightly browned. Add in artichoke hearts and spinach, and saute until spinach is wilted and water is cooked off. Fold into mac & cheese (the finished product) and top with parmesan cheese.

Butternut Squash

If there is no way your kids are going to let you mix spinach into their mac & cheese, you can try this milder alternative. Adding diced butternut squash is a simple and delicious way to add fiber and a fun fall flavor to mac & cheese, without completely shocking your family with your idea to “upgrade”.

Ingredients:

  • ½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Add non-stick cooking spray to a large baking sheet. In a large bowl add butternut squash, olive oil, salt, and cinnamon. Stir until well coated, then add to baking sheet. Make sure cubes of squash don’t overlap. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender. Then, fold into your mac & cheese (the finished product), and enjoy!

Sausage and Pepper

This is a simple way to pack a punch of flavor with just two ingredients! Not only do you get all of the spices that are already  included in the sausage, the pepper adds some mild heat without completely shocking your kids.

Ingredients:

  • 3 mild or spicy Italian sausages, sliced into 1-inch rounds
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • Non-stick cooking spray

Method:

In a skillet over medium heat, add non-stick cooking spray. Add Italian sausage and pepper, and saute until sausage is cooked and pepper is soft. Then, fold into your mac & cheese (the finished product), and enjoy!

Which one of these variations are you excited to try? Let us know which is your favorite, and if you have any ideas for new variations, in the comments below!