33 Deliciously Clever Mac and Cheese Add-Ins for Busy Days

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You don’t need a chef to enjoy delicious mac and cheese add-ins at home. It’s not rocket science! You may even have the ingredients in your fridge or pantry right now. Just mix ‘em up in the right ratios, and voila, you’re ready to dig in!

33 ways keto mac and cheese. Low-carb. Keto. Gluten-free.

What if I tell you that I have not one, not two, but 33 different ways to enjoy mac and cheese? These recipes are a breeze for those hectic days when I crave a quick, comforting meal. These give endless inspiration for healthy, family-friendly meal options.

After browsing through this list, be sure to check out Mountain Rose Herbs and stock up on all the spices and seasonings you need in your kitchen. They’re my favorite source of organic herbs and spices, seasoning blends, and tea!

Simple Ways to Upgrade Your Mac and Cheese Recipe

While I always prefer the homemade stuff, there’s something undeniably nostalgic about those blue boxes of Kraft mac and cheese, with their little packet of powdered cheese. I know, they pretty much carried us through our childhoods!

Fast-forward to today, and I like to keep thinking outside the blue box while focusing on fresh, everyday ingredients that make cooking fun and easy. I was inspired to gather this list of creative mac and cheese add-ins to explore new and exciting flavors that completely reinvent a tried-and-true dish. They’re quick and simple and will take an otherwise bland and boring meal into a real event.

33 Mac and Cheese Add-Ins to Upgrade Your Homemade Meal

Whether you’re making the perfect roux or enjoying the convenience of instant mac and cheese, we all want to come home to a big, steaming bowl of mac n cheese at some point. You can make it simple, extravagant, or even healthy – and it’s all down to what you add to it.

Whether a regular, gluten-free, or low-carb keto mac and cheese recipe, the following clever add-ins will take this all-time favorite comfort food classic up a notch. Look for the specific note about using a baked or stovetop cooking method and then get busy. You can also adapt slow-cooked and Instant Pot recipes with the stovetop variation.   Get ready to round up your favorite meats, veggies, herbs and spices, and let’s get started!

Easy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Quick, simple, family-friendly, and low-carb mac and cheese recipe done in just 15 minutes. The perfect side dish to satisfy your comfort food cravings! Instead of the traditionally carb-heavy pasta noodles, I replaced it with one of my favorite unassuming veggies: cauliflower!

Classic Baked Keto Mac and Cheese

This 4-ingredient baked cauliflower mac and cheese recipe lets you enjoy a classic comfort food without a lot of empty carbs. Bake for 30 minutes using cauliflower, freshly shredded cheddar cheese, whipped cream, and cream cheese. Add mustard and seasonings to amp up the flavor.


Make a classic baked mac and cheese, replace the cheddar in the sauce and on top with Fontina cheese. Add 2 teaspoons of dried oregano and 1 teaspoon of basil, then sprinkle garlic powder. Top with ¼ cup each of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and pork rinds (optional) before baking.


Simmer 2 chopped garlic cloves in the cream, use ½ cup cheddar and 8 ounces Brie in the sauce. Add a few splashes of water to thin out the sauce, if needed. 

Increase the mustard to 2 teaspoons (use whole grain if available). Pour over my classic baked mac and cheese or your own recipe, then garnish with the remaining half cup of cheddar.


Prepare an easy stovetop mac and cheese and add 2 teaspoons of spicy brown mustard to the sauce. Finish with ½ cup of cheddar cheese curds.

Mini Spanish

Make a baked mac and cheese and stir in a half teaspoon of chopped thyme, ½ cup of browned, diced, dried chorizo, ½ cup of grated Manchego cheese, and 1 beaten whole egg with the cauliflower florets. Make small ramekins by dividing into 4 to 6 servings. 

Garnish with sliced tomato or piquillo peppers and add more Manchego. Broil until golden.

Cheeseburger Style

Enjoy two comfort food classics in one dish! Brown ½ pound ground beef with a quarter cup each of sugar-free ketchup, chopped onions, and pickles. Transfer half of the pasta noodles or cauliflower to a buttered baking dish, pour in the beef mixture, then add the remaining pasta or cauliflower. 

Garnish with remaining ½ cup cheddar and bake at 400 F for 15 minutes.

Philly Cheesesteak Style

Enjoy a unique twist to another classic deli favorite! Sauté 1 sliced onion and 2 sliced bell peppers in butter; stir in a half pound of shredded sliced roast beef, then pour over your cheesy dish.

Alfredo Style

Sauté 1 garlic clove in unsalted butter. Make a stovetop recipe and use 1 cup of Asiago and 1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese for the sauce.

Onion Lovers’ Choice

Prepare two slices of caramelized large onions for 15 minutes and mix them into a baked mac and cheese recipe. Top with a bunch of chopped scallions, then bake. Optionally, garnish with ½ cup of crushed pork rinds.

Smoked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Enjoy a rich, smoky flavor with tender, roasted cauliflower coated with velvety cheddar and creamy Gouda cheese sauce. Finish with a pinch of smoked salt or any of these mineral-rich salt.

Smoked Mozzarella

Make a baked mac and cheese with half a cup of sliced roasted red peppers and diced smoked mozzarella. Add toppings according to the recipe and broil until fully melted.

Broccoli and Havarti Mix

Enhance a stovetop recipe with an additional 2 cups of tender broccoli florets. Use Havarti cheese in place of cheddar, and add freshly chopped parsley for an herb-y kick. Optionally, add a splash of soy-free soy sauce for a unique flavor.

Garlic and Herbs Mix

Cook 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon each of chopped basil, parsley, chives, and thyme in butter. Add to the cheese sauce and pour over cooked noodles or cauliflower. Finally, bake and serve warm.

Walnut and Blue Cheese Mix

Toast ¼ cup chopped walnuts over dry heat. Make Alfredo-style mac and cheese or classic cauliflower mac and cheese, then add ¼ cup soft blue cheese and Parmesan. Top with the walnut mixture.

Butternut and Blue Cheese Mix

Peel and cube 1 small butternut squash then roast at 425 F until tender, for 20 minutes. Prepare classic baked mac and cheese with 2 cups of cheddar in the sauce. 

Add the squash, top with 1 cup of crumbled blue cheese, then bake. Finish with ¼ cup each cheddar and broil until melted.

Mushroom and Leek Mix

Bring some earthy vibes to a baked mac dish by adding 1 slice of cooked leek, 3 cups of sliced mushrooms, and a teaspoon of chopped thyme in butter. Replace cheddar with a half cup of grated Havarti and a half cup of Parmesan cheese. 

Transfer to a buttered baking dish, top with remaining Havarti, and broil until golden.

Tuna and Veggie Mix

Make your favorite stovetop recipe and stir in 1 can of drained wild-caught fish and 1½ cups of cooked mixed veggies.

Chicken and Sage Mix

Cook 2 tablespoons of buttered, chopped sage, sprinkle into a baked mac and cheese, and pour a full cup of heavy cream. Stir in 1 ½ cups of shredded cooked chicken, transfer to a buttered baking dish, bake, then broil for 3 to 5 minutes.

Spinach and Artichoke Mix

Stir in one 6-ounce jar of chopped marinated artichoke hearts and 2 cups of chopped baby spinach. Pour over cooked pasta or cauliflower and transfer to a buttered baking dish. Mix 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan and chopped parsley, then sprinkle on top. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes.

Bacon and Chipotle Mix

For the sauce, combine 1 cup cheddar and 1 cup chipotle cheddar; add 2 tablespoons chopped chipotles in adobo sauce and 8 slices crumbled cooked bacon. Pour over cauliflower mac, adding 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika before serving.

Sun-Dried Tomato

Bring in Mediterranean flavors by stirring in 4 ounces of goat cheese, a quarter cup of chopped, sun-dried tomatoes, and a handful of fresh basil. Add some chopped garlic and drizzle with olive oil for a unique spin on mac and cheese that’s set to impress!

Creamy Vegetable

The perfect way to add veggies to your kids’ favorite meal. Add 2 cups of cooked mixed veggies and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley to your baked cauliflower mac and cheese. This works best with a blend of sharp cheddar and Gouda, as well as other melty cheeses like Colby Jack, Fontina, and Provolone. Add a splash of sour cream or whole milk for extra creaminess. 


Make stovetop mac and cheese, add minced shallot in butter, then bring in the extra cheese with ¼ cup each of shredded mozzarella, Asiago, Gruyere, and diced taleggio cheese. Garnish with chopped parsley.


A fail-proof dish with a creamy texture and just the right amount of heat. Top your baked mac and cheese with 4 ounces of cream cheese and 2/3 cup salsa sauce blend, then finish with crushed pork rinds. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately and enjoy!


Make a quick, protein-packed mac and cheese for the oven and top with an additional 8 slices of cooked crumbled bacon before baking. Add a generous amount of freshly grated cheddar cheese and garnish with a little chopped parsley. Optionally, add a splash of whole milk for the creamiest sauce. Ooh-la-la!


Stir in some grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons of pesto, unsalted butter, heavy cream, and a handful of chopped fresh basil to make a creamy pesto sauce. Pour the luxurious sauce over your cooked macaroni, add a couple handfuls of spinach, and enjoy the most delicious creamy pesto mac and cheese. 


Sauté 1 pound of sliced mushrooms in olive oil until browned. Replace the cheddar in the sauce with 2 cups of freshly grated truffle cheese. Add the mushrooms, then top with ¼ cup of Gruyere cheese.


Prep a baked mac and cheese, replacing the cheddar in the sauce and on top with horseradish or spicy cheddar. Add 12 ounces of browned diced kielbasa, then top with 1 cup of crushed pork rinds before baking.


Get a baked mac and cheese going, but add 12 ounces of chopped cooked lobster. Top with the cheese, a quarter cup of chopped chives, and 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Bake and broil to finish, if desired.


Enjoy an easy skillet mac and cheese with the legendary flavors of pimento cheese folded in. To make the sauce, use 1/3 cup of sour cream instead of heavy whipping cream, then add 1/2 cup pimentos and minced cilantro. The familiar, comforting flavors will bring an otherwise ho-hum mac and cheese recipe back to life!

Southern Greens

Here’s another for the oven.  Add 2 cups of cooked, chopped collard greens to the sauce, then garnish with hot sauce and chili powder to taste.

Baked Mini Macs

Whisk 4 large eggs into the cheese sauce before combining it with a baked recipe. Divide among 12 buttered muffin cups. Sprinkle tops with cheese, then bake at 400 F until golden and puffed, for 12 to 15 minutes.

More Pasta Substitutions to Try

Apart from cauliflower, you can tweak your traditional macaroni pasta with other ingredients like spiralized zucchini and gluten-free noodles. These substitutes create the same delicious, cheesy goodness as real mac and cheese, minus the carb overload! Here are more alternatives to enhance the flavors of your dish and ride on a guilt-free dining experience alongside your mac and cheese add-ins:

  • Broccoli florets: If you can’t access cauliflower, this is the next best thing. They’re nutritious and add a delightful crunch to your cheesy recipe.
  •  Zucchini noodles: Spiralized zukes work great as a pasta sub for your mac and cheese. They bring a nice veggie twist, with a uniquely refreshing taste that boosts the flavor of your dish.
  • Portobello mushrooms: For your base, toss in sautéed or grilled chopped portobello mushrooms for a savory flavor that amps up the richness of the dish. 
  • Shirataki noodles: Made with konjac yam, this virtually carb-free option will elevate your mac and cheese game.
  • Kelp noodles: A grain-free seaweed option that gives an umami flavor and chewy texture to your upgraded mac and cheese recipe.
  • Eggplant layers: Get creative and throw in some thinly sliced roasted eggplant to your dish. These vegetables add an awesome savory flavor that pairs perfectly with creamy, cheesy sauce, giving your mac and cheese a unique, tasty dimension.

What’s your favorite way to upgrade your homemade mac and cheese? If you try any of these delicious mac and cheese add-ins, please leave a comment.

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