There are few dishes more central to the student experience than macaroni and cheese. It’s easy, nostalgic and can keep you going on even the roughest of weeks. Unfortunately, eating the same old box of Kraft Dinner again and again gets boring quickly.
While the meal is best served with a homemade cheese sauce and al dente elbow macaronies, it’s often too time-consuming and costly for the average student. Luckily enough, boxed mac and cheese has been saving students time and money since its conception, even if it is often not the most delectable meal. Here are five ways to easily improve your next bowl of boxed mac and cheese — which, let’s be real, will likely be tomorrow.
Extra cheese: This one is a no-brainer — the presence of extra cheese in your mac and cheese will simply improve the overall quality and flavour of your meal. Perhaps the most significant effect is that adding a little bit of real cheese lessens how disconcerting it is to eat powdered cheese.
Cheeses like Applewood cheddar can add a smoky flavour to your mac and cheese. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, experimenting with some Gorgonzola blue cheese can make a truly unique bowl of cheesy noodles. On top of adding a nice flavour profile, extra cheese provides texture, structure and integrity not found in boxed mac and cheese.
Bacon: While so many dishes these days are saturated with the stuff, bacon actually can beef up — or pork up — your mac and cheese. Don’t believe what people have to say about how bad bacon is for you — it adds protein to an otherwise nutritionally void dish.
You can use different flavours of bacon, like peppered bacon or Applewood-smoked bacon, to add a little something to your boring old mac and cheese. If money is tight, bacon bits — real or synthetic — are a more affordable and enduring option.
Spices: For students, salt and pepper are generally the most common spices to add to mac and cheese. However, chili powder, paprika and garlic powder can completely change what it means to eat mac and cheese. These spices may be a simple addition, but a little bit of spice can make a huge difference.
Bake it: If time is not of the essence, baking your mac and cheese can take your meal to the next level. After preparing the mac and cheese with the instructions on the box, pour the pasta into the a lightly greased casserole dish and top it with generous layers of breadcrumbs and extra cheese.
Broil it in the oven until a golden-brown crust forms on top of the pasta. A little bit of crunch goes a long way to improving the texture and feel of mac and cheese. If you’re feeling fancy, add some paprika and garnish the dish with your favourite freshly cut herb. These extra steps will impress the pants off your date, your boss, your mom or — most likely — your roommate.
Extras: The sky’s the limit when it comes to things to add to your mac and cheese. Just think about what flavours would complement its savoury, salty and creamy aspects.
Vegetables like onions and shallots complement mac and cheese’s saltiness. Proteins like chicken, steak and nutritional yeast can also bolster your dish. If you’re feeling particularly homesick, find your inner child, push your guilt aside and throw in some hot dogs — we won’t tell.
With these five tips, your next bowl of mac and cheese will be able to satisfy your stomach, maintain the cash level in your bank account and make you forget that you have literally eaten Kraft Dinner every day for the last two months.
If you’re looking for ways to spice up other student staples, check out my article on how to improve your grilled cheese game at thesheaf.com.
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor