I’m sure I’m not the only one who loves mac and cheese. It’s a favorite dinner at our house, and we eat the boxed kind at least once a week.
When Annie’s, our go-to brand, stopped tasting as good as it used to, we went on a hunt for a new favorite. And so, the search began. We taste tested a lot of different brands—some were good, others adequate, and a few were just plain bad. Below are all my thoughts, plus what I look for in the ideal mac and cheese.
What’s the Perfect Boxed Mac and Cheese?
For me, the perfect macaroni is slightly soupy and loaded with cheesy flavor and creaminess. The cheese flavor isn’t too weak or too strong and isn’t artificial tasting. It has a saucy consistency that sticks to the macaroni, which should be tender.
The less desirable mac and cheese is either too rich or too soupy. The cheese powder becomes lumpy when mixed in, making it taste too strong in certain bites. Sometimes I find mac and cheese that would be perfect, except the cheese flavor is barely present. *Cough. Kraft. Cough.*
The 6 Brands of Mac and Cheese I Taste Tested
I tried a variety of brands from stores in my town. All of the brands had two things in common, which evened the playing field:
- They were made with a powdered sauce mix.
- They were regular or white cheddar flavor.
These are the 6 brands:
- Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Original Flavor
- Trader Joe’s Organic Shells and White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
- Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar
- Kroger Mac & Cheese Original
- Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese Classic Cheddar
- Whole Foods 365 Organic White Cheddar Shells & Cheese
My mom and I followed the box instructions to cook them exactly as the brand recommends. I tasted them right after they finished cooking, and then recorded my notes on each brand, ready to be typed up for this story.
My Top 3 Picks Ranked
1. Trader Joe’s Organic Shells and White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese
This mac and cheese hit almost every mark. It was delicious, the cheese flavor tasted genuine, and the pasta itself had a great texture. If I had to be picky, the only flaw was the soupiness of the cheese sauce. It was a bit too watery, though not bad enough to ruin it.
2. Kroger Mac & Cheese Original
Everything about the Kroger-brand macaroni would have been ideal—perfect noodles and an amazing consistency. Unfortunately, it lacked flavor. While present, the cheesiness was slightly lacking and because of this notable flaw, Kroger was bumped down to second. I couldn’t let it fall too far, because everything else (texture, shape, etc.) was great.
3. Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar
Annie’s was once a long-time staple in our home. Why did it drop to third? The artificial flavor. The sauce mixed well and the noodles tasted great, but the cheese tasted fake. Though this is still great and I’d eat it on occasion, it’s no longer the go-to in our home.
Bonus: Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese Bold & Cheesy
Surprise! Cheetos now makes macaroni! I was a bit shocked too. Needless to say, I had to try it. It tastes exactly like pasta with Cheetos flavoring, and it wasn’t bad. It was far too similar to the iconic snack to make a very fulfilling meal. I’d eat it as a snack.