7 Ways To Instantly Upgrade Your Mac & Cheese

If there is one meal that epitomizes the “I am a broke college student with limited time, funds, and access to a full-functioning kitchen,” it is a box of macaroni and cheese. Believe it or not, there are ways to make instant macaroni and cheese taste better, which is good to know, since this go-to food staple isn’t really winning any culinary points for flavor. Don't get me wrong, instant mac and cheese isn't terrible, but this is more just fuel to get you through another hour of midterm studying than it is an actual meal. But on those nights when you want to enjoy the homemade taste of macaroni and cheese, rest easy knowing that there are hacks to make your life seem a little more delicious.

Food like Easy Mac is great, because it's cheap, and it only takes literal minutes to throw together — but it is time for an upgrade to our beloved mac and cheese. Upgrading our classic mac doesn't need to be expensive or time-consuming. With a couple of additional ingredients like veggies, meats, and spices, your mac and cheese can be more satisfying than a late-night trip through the drive-through, or instant ramen noodles. Below are seven hacks to make your boxed mac and cheese taste even better than before.

1. Spice Up Your Plain Mac

Throwing in spices to your macaroni and cheese might be the easiest and most affordable way to add in additional flavor. Basic spices that you may already have in your pantry that would work well include red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, Italian seasoning, chili, onion, and garlic powder. If you're willing to take a trip to the store, spices like cumin, curry powder, dry mustard, and paprika are all wonderful additions. But whether you choose to season or not, black pepper is always a must.

2. Add In Some Veggies

Adding in vegetables to your mac and cheese is not only going to make your meal more sustaining and nutritious, it's also going to make you feel like the adult that you are — if only to yourself and your roommates. Try adding broccoli florets, peas, red peppers, mushrooms, and sauteed onions. Canned green chiles and salsa are also great additions. Try a jalapeño pepper and broccoli combination like Stephanie Le from I Am a Food Blog.

3. Don't Forget Your Leafy Greens

Fiber, folate, iron, calcium, and vitamins C and K do your mind and body good, and they are all found in dark, leafy greens. If you have some time, try sauteing kale, spinach, collard greens, or swiss chard, and adding them to your mac bowl. Spinach and red peppers is a great mac and cheese combination.

4. Put In Protein

Adding in chicken, pork, tuna, and even black beans to your macaroni and cheese can help keep you fuller longer. The problem is meat can take up a considerable portion of your grocery budget. Canned tuna and black beans are going to be your most inexpensive option, but buying a precooked rotisserie chicken or fully cooked sausage links (Trader Joe's makes great-tasting and inexpensive chicken sausage) will not only help you save time, but can last through multiple meals in a week. Try this recipe by Climbing Grier Mountain, which includes Guinness and seasoned ground beef.

5. Load Up On Bacon

Yes, bacon is a protein, but it truly deserves a category of its own. Bacon adds a rich, salty, and indulgent flavor to an otherwise one-dimensional dish. Throw some brussels sprouts into your bacon mac and cheese like How Sweet It Is, and you've got yourself a complete meal.

6. Throw In Some Leftovers

For the rare occasions when you do cook, or come back home on Sunday evening with Mom or Dad's leftovers, throw them into your macaroni and cheese. This can include beef or bean chili, meatballs, meatloaf, pot roast — anything that your mom sent you back to the dorms with in a Tupperware container is fair game.

7. Or Just Put It On A Pizza

Yep, this just happened. Make your own macaroni and cheese pizza by buying a store-bought crust, and topping it with Easy Mac. Jazz it up with some extra cheddar cheese and bacon. You won't be able to resist.

Looking for some more fun food ideas? Visit Bustle on YouTube!

Images: ; The Kitchen (2); i am a food blog; Climbing Grier Mountain; How Sweet It Is; Damn Delicious; Kelly Garbato/Flickr