Mac and cheese is my struggle meal of choice. It’s cheap (especially if you opt for boxed) and it’s easy to make when you’ve had a long day and actually cooking is just too much to ask. Mac and cheese is great on its own, but it’s even better when you go the extra mile to zshush it up a little bit—and by “go the extra mile,” I mean have some other foods on hand you can simple toss atop your piping-hot pot of mac and cheese. From canned tomatoes to shredded cheese (yes, more cheese), these are the best toppings for mac and cheese. Make that struggle meal feel like a gourmet dinner, dammit.
- Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar Farmstyle Shreds
If you are lactose intolerant, we apologize because things are about to get extra cheesy. When you aren’t willing to make mac and cheese from scratch (who can blame you?), cheat by throwing a heaping handful of Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar Farmstyle Shreds on you bowl of boxed mac. If you’re really feeling sassy, you can dump your prepared boxed mac and cheese into an oven safe dish with a little extra milk, top it with this creamy, tasty shredded cheese—which taste tester Justine Sterling found to be “tangier and sharper” than Tillamook’s orange shredded cheddar—and pop it in the oven until the cheese starts to brown. Yes, more cheese is one of the best mac and cheese toppings, and we stand by that!
Read the full ranking of the best shredded cheddar cheese
- Muir Glen Fire Roasted Organic Diced Tomatoes
Move over, entire country of Italy, because we’re about to blow every other pasta dish out of the water with this next pairing. Elevate the category-dominating Kraft Deluxe White Cheddar & Cracked Black Peppercorn with a heap of smoky, meaty Muir Glen Fire Roasted Organic Diced Tomatoes for what’s quite possibly one of the greatest meals you can make with two items straight from your pantry. There’s no extra work and, quite frankly, it shouldn’t be this easy to create such a delicious pairing, but the next time you don’t feel like cooking, this is a great way to trick your tongue into thinking you’re experiencing fine dining.
Read the full ranking of the best canned tomatoes
- Kooshy Croutons Poco Picante
I’m a sucker for seasoned bread crumbs on mac and cheese, but they don’t hit the same when you aren’t making a baked mac and cheese. Hack that textural experience by crushing up some seasoned croutons and sprinkling them on your bowl of boxed mac and cheese. Kooshy Poco Picante croutons are a fun pick. They’re made with lime leaf and aji amarillo chilies, so they’re a little spicy and a little tangy and super different from most seasoned croutons. If you like heat, these would be the perfect mac and cheese topping for a box of Flamin’ Hot boxed mac and cheese.
Read the full ranking of the best croutons
- Kroger Diced Ham
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more satisfying in the realm of savory food pairings than ham and cheese. In an empanada? Give me 12. Chicken Cordon Bleu? F*ck me up with that Frankenstein monstrosity. So, naturally, ham is one of my go-to mac and cheese toppings. When I need a quick hit of salty, cheesy goodness I reach for Kroger Diced Ham and an ooey-gooey box of Velveeta Shells & Cheese. It’s simple to prepare (you don’t even have to cut up the ham!) and the added blast of protein in each bite makes for a more filling meal, so prepare to go hog wild!
Read the full ranking of the best ham
- Whole Catch Black Peppercorn Shrimp Poppers
As Sporked contributor Danny Palumbo astutely pointed out, you should be salting and peppering your boxed mac and cheese, so this pairing really makes sense. These fried shrimp from Whole Foods are coated in a deeply peppery breading that goes so well with a creamy, cheesy dish like mac and cheese. The shrimp poppers are so black peppery that it almost reads as heat, but cheese sauce really balances things out. This one requires a little extra work—yes, you have to preheat the oven—but it’s a nice way to end even the crummiest day.
Read the full ranking of the best frozen fried shrimp