Best Boxed Mac And Cheese: Top 5 Delicious Pastas Most Recommended By Experts

It is hard to deny that macaroni and cheese is comfort food, homemade or boxed. There are a variety of boxed macaroni and cheese options out there, some better than others. We researched five of the best boxed mac and cheeses to satisfy your cravings. As you read the reviews, you’ll notice that it came down to cheesiness, pasta type, flavor, and texture.  

If you have been turning to comfort foods more often than usual, check your stress levels. New research out of Australia, however, may have you second-guessing your next trip to the vending machine. Scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have found that when people combine stress with calorie-dense “comfort food,” it can actually spark changes in the brain that boosts cravings for sweets and other junk foods. Such dietary choices, of course, can eventually lead to unhealthy excess weight gain. The research team reports that chronic stress can override the brain’s natural response to satiety (feeling full and satisfied), which can lead to non-stop reward signals promoting the consumption of more highly palatable food. 

That being said, you’ve been warned. If you want to jump in to prepping pasta, though, science may actually tell us how to successfully make the best noodles. It turns out the first step to cooking a delicious pot of pasta is to boil it without a lid. This lets vaporized chlorinated and iodinated compounds leave the food and water. The second way is to strain your noodles from the water they’re cooking in to remove most contaminants. You should also add iodized table salt after cooking the pasta to lower your risk of byproduct formation. Lastly, if you insist on boiling your pasta in salted water, opt for iodine-free salt options like kosher salt and Himalayan salt to avoid harmful chemical reactions.

So get your shopping lists ready because StudyFinds did the work to find the best boxed mac and cheese across 10 expert reviews. If there is one that you need everyone to know about that we missed, please share it below!   

A bowl of mac and cheese shells
A bowl of mac and cheese shells (Photo by P Maxwell Photography on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Boxed Mac and Cheese, According to Experts


1. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

The classic blue box of Kraft macaroni and cheese is probably the most familiar of the bunch, and for good reason: it’s been around since the 1930s. It was a no-brainer for Serious Eats, “The clear winner, it has ‘a nice thin layer of cheese’ that still manages to pack a ‘sharp cheddary taste.’ The noodles themselves were tender and more like good pasta than others. ‘This must be Kraft because it rocks!'”

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese four-pack
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese four-pack

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has held the same classic cheesy taste you know and love. Go Puff advises us to, “Go ahead, and dig in. Your kids may be the perfect age to enjoy the gooey, cheesy boxed mac goodness — but remember, when it comes to Kraft Mac and Cheese, you were there first.”

Kraft is a classic and the taste has been copied several times by other companies. It’s hard to beat that delightful buttery, salty, and sweet taste that places it at number one. “After our initial taste test, editor-in-chief Justine Sterling and I went back in to taste all the macs one more time and we found that Kraft is noticeably sweeter, especially when compared to its competitors. You think it’s just standard, but there’s really nothing quite like it. Plus, something is comforting about its simplicity and stability. And hey, kids love it, too,” shares Sporked

2. Kraft Velveeta Shells & Cheese

Kraft also produces what seems to be the polar opposite of the original Kraft Mac & Cheese, so it may be hard to believe it is as good as the childhood favorite. Turns out, it is. “While we’re sure your preference between the two labels lies mostly in whichever box your mom (or dad) brought home from their grocery store trips, we’ve never been able to completely put out of our mind how strange it is to squeeze out an entire serving of liquid(ish) cheese over a pot of cooked pasta shells. Merely imagining the oozy sauce packet waiting, dormant, in the box of dried shells can send shivers up our spine. However, we admittedly love the undeniably silky texture of the disconcerting sauce — so like many pleasures in the present era (airplane travel in a climate crisis, the iPhone we’re addicted to despite knowing full well how its made), we’re able to separate our pleasure from our trepidation of the ‘liquid gold’ squeeze cheese,” shares Tasting Table

Velveeta Shells & Cheese Original Shell Pasta & Cheese Sauce Meal (3 ct Pack, 12 oz Boxes)

Velveeta is its own entity of macaroni and cheese for its iconic squeezable cheese pouch and shell-shaped noodles. “This is the boxed brand most staffers admitted to cooking as a side dish, and, sure enough, it was voted the tastiest. It had a very creamy consistency – the creamiest of the bunch – some said it had a thicker sauce than others that were tested. One staffer said that she ‘used to love it as a kid, so it [made her] happy’ in a nostalgic way,” shares Southern Living.

One expert reviewer referred to the squeezable cheese as “liquid gold.” “There may not be as many varieties of this one compared to other brands, but they do include most of the classics. They have Velveeta Original Shells & Cheese, Velveeta Shells & Cheese With 2% Milk Cheese, Velveeta Shells & Cheese Queso Blanco, and Velveeta Bacon Shells & Cheese. There is also a version with rotini pasta that has creamy Velveeta sauce and broccoli,” says Food Rankers.

3. Annie’s Mac & Cheese

Annie’s has several varieties of mac and cheese on store shelves, and they are all ranked on the expert lists of best-boxed mac and cheese. “Annie’s Deluxe Rich & Creamy has a much creamier sauce than other types of Annie’s macaroni and cheese and has a richer, more decadent feel. The flavor of the sauce itself is only slightly better than Kraft Deluxe, but it is made with all organic and non-GMO ingredients,” says Food Rankers.

Annie’s Macaroni & Classic Cheddar
Annie’s Macaroni & Classic Cheddar

Annie’s is similar to Kraft but has less salt for those looking for healthier mac & cheese. “I don’t like saying that something is ‘better than Kraft’ — I have a lot of loyalty there! — but… this is better. The macaroni stays al dente longer and the flavor is not quite as salty. It actually has more calories but less sodium than Kraft, which is more or less in line with what I expected from the taste,” adds UPROXX.

There are so many varieties of Annie’s in a box, but it’s also offered in single-serving microwavable cups if you want to take your mac & cheese on the go. “We have to admit, there’s something about shell pasta that might be even better than macaroni ones. It just has a more interesting texture. And the aged cheddar flavoring in this product is perfect for a palate that’s slightly more refined than those of Kraft lovers,” shares Mashed.

4. Cracker Barrel Macaroni & Cheese Dinner

Cracker Barrel Macaroni & Cheese had a much lighter color than the neon oranges of Velveeta and Kraft Mac & Cheese, so it looked much more like what Mama would serve at the church potluck. “It tastes like an upgraded version of boxed mac and cheese with soft noodles, ‘good and cheesy’ sauce, and an ‘authentic-looking’ presentation,” shares Southern Living.

Cracker Barrel Macaroni and Cheese, Sharp Cheddar (PACK OF 3)

The majority of opinions about Cracker Barrel is how close it tastes to homemade macaroni and cheese. If you are willing to spend a little more money, it is definitely worth it. Food Rankers tells us how: “If you make it following the instructions on the box, and then bake it in a casserole dish with cheese and breadcrumbs for a few minutes, you could probably fool a crowd!”

What is great about Cracker Barrel is the noodles. They are large and ridged right for holding onto the cheesy sauce. “When it came to taste, we definitely agreed that this macaroni was just a bit more refined than the other brands we tested. The sauce was paler and less artificial-looking (not that bright orange we associate with classic boxed mac). The flavor was also more distinctively cheddar rather than just some sort of generic cheese flavor,” says Taste of Home.

5. Cheetos Bold & Cheesy Mac & Cheese 

It would be a challenge not to try your favorite snack that transformed into a cheesy mac. And it’s actually tasty. “Introducing Cheetos Mac ‘n Cheese; it’s bold, creamy, and full of the Cheetos flavor you crave. It’s the macaroni you’ve been dreaming of for lunch, dinner, and anytime. Get your paws on a box today!” advises Go Puff.

Cheetos Mac’n Cheese – Bold & Cheesy Flavor (Pack of 3)

A common warning we learned from our research is Cheetos Flaming Hot flavor. While the original Cheetos Macaroni and Cheese satisfies the urge to indulge in a comforting bowl of easy-to-make pasta, the flaming hot is scorching. “The fusilli pasta captures the disposition or je ne sais quoi of the Cheetos brand and their lovable, exuberant, burn-out mascot, Chester the Cheetah. The traffic-cone orange cheese dust taps into the yeasty quality of the brand’s beloved puffed snack and blends over every spiraled pasta effortlessly,” adds Tasting Table.

While Cheetos Mac & Cheese is ranked on most expert lists, it is worth mentioning that the flavor is very similar and bold like its snack version. “Cheetos has absolutely nailed it with their new mac and cheese. It’s salty, cheesy, and dense with Cheetos flavor, just like their snacks. The packet of cheese dust that comes with this box is absolute gold. This mac is the perfect mash-up of junk food and comfort food,” boasts Sporked.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.