What’s the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese? We Tested 11—These Are the Top 5

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Few convenience foods are more iconic than good old boxed macaroni. Who didn’t enjoy a version at some point in their childhood? We’ll be the first to admit that it never lives up to the decadent cheesiness of a homemade batch, but that’s not what we’re looking for. Nope, we want powdered cheese and tiny noodles that we can inhale by the bowlful when only comfort food will do. So, we set out with a near impossible task: to find the best boxed mac and cheese money can buy. After tasting our way through 11 types, here’s what earned the top five spots.

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese, at a Glance:

Our Methodology:

Behind every good ranking is a taste-tester committed to their task. When reviewing our boxed mac and cheese, here are the categories we examined:

  • Texture: Did the pasta cook up al dente, or was it mushy? Was the sauce creamy or gritty?
  • Flavor: Did the final product taste like real cheese? Was the sauce balanced, bland or overly salty?
  • Quality: This was scored on a combination of the texture, flavor and overall impressions of the boxed mac and cheese.
  • Value: Simply put, was it worth the money?
  • Nostalgia Factor: Let’s be honest, we weren’t looking for a boxed mac that tasted like homemade—they simply don’t. Instead, we looked for brands that tasted like the golden years of eating mac and cheese after school, after soccer practice or on “sick” days spent at home. In short, did it taste as good as we remembered it?

Our Picks for the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese of 2023:

best boxed mac and cheese: annie's shells and real aged cheddar macaroni and cheese
  • Texture: 19/20
  • Flavor: 20/20
  • Quality: 19/20
  • Value: 20/20
  • Nostalgia Factor: 19/20
  • TOTAL: 97/100

For us, the best boxed mac and cheese should come with a cheese powder that dissolves smoothly, a sauce that isn’t watery but isn’t too rich in texture and noodles that deliver the perfect tender bite and creamy, cheesy goodness. Annie’s Shells & Real Aged Cheddar hit all these marks, boasting a flavor that was both recognizable and slightly gourmet thanks to the sharp, aged cheese. Pushing it over the edge was a recognizable ingredient list and a higher protein content than other brands.

best boxed mac and cheese: trader joe's organic shells and white cheddar macaroni and cheese
Trader Joe’s

Best White Cheddar

2. Trader Joe’s Organic Shells & White Cheddar

Trader Joe’s

  • Texture: 19/20
  • Flavor: 19/20
  • Quality: 19/20
  • Value: 20/20
  • Nostalgia Factor: 16/20
  • TOTAL: 93/100

Some folks prefer white cheddar to the orange stuff because it doesn’t contain added coloring for that dayglow hue. Others claim it has a different, milder flavor altogether. The jury is out: We think it tastes awfully similar to its orange cheddar counterparts…but we still reach for Trader Joe’s Shells & White Cheddar nine times out of ten. The sauce is slightly sharp and neither watery nor overly gooey. The pasta cooks to an al dente consistency with ease and the shell shape catches all that cheese better than a standard elbow. Plus, it’s organic and incredibly affordable. (We snagged a box for $1 at our store.)

best boxed mac and cheese: goodles vegan is believin' plant-based macaroni and cheese
  • Texture: 18/20
  • Flavor: 17/20
  • Quality: 17/20
  • Value: 16/20
  • Nostalgia Factor: 16/20
  • TOTAL: 84/100

New among boxed mac and cheese brands, Goodles prides itself for being “healthier” than its competitors. True, servings contain 12 to14 grams of protein and 6 to 7 grams of fiber each, thanks to the addition of chickpea and wheat proteins and nutrients extracted from vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale and sweet potato. The vegan variety stood out for a couple reasons: It was surprisingly cheesy and creamy (chalk that up to the cashew-based sauce) and it offered more filling fiber than other vegan brands. It’s definitively more expensive, but if you’re vegan, it might be worth the splurge.

best boxed mac and cheese: annie's deluxe rich and creamy shells and classic cheddar macaroni and cheese
  • Texture: 17/20
  • Flavor: 18/20
  • Quality: 18/20
  • Value: 18/20
  • Nostalgia Factor: 16/20
  • TOTAL: 87/100

If your fondest memories of eating boxed mac and cheese involve a packet of ultra-rich cheese sauce instead of the typical powder, you’re best off snagging a box of Annie’s “deluxe” mac and cheese. It earned its high marks for containing actual cheese as the third ingredient, along with a sauce texture that was thick without seeming plasticky.

best boxed mac and cheese kraft macaroni and cheese dinner gluten free original
  • Texture: 15/20
  • Flavor: 19/20
  • Quality: 18/20
  • Value: 19/20
  • Nostalgia Factor: 19/20
  • TOTAL: 90/100

Gluten free pasta is tricky: All too often, it’s either too dense or it disintegrates into mush at the sight of water. Amazingly, Kraft’s gluten free mac manages to taste nearly identical to the original version with a texture that satisfies. The elbow-shaped pasta is made from a blend of brown rice and corn, which, if you make sure to follow the package instructions to a T (don’t overcook it!), holds its shape and retains some firmness.

Plus, The Honorable Mentions:

Truth be told, there are a lot of boxed mac and cheese options on the market. Here are the others we tried, but that didn’t make the top spots.

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Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City restaurants. She used to sling sugary desserts in a pastry kitchen, but now she’s an avid home cook and fanatic baker.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...