Boxed macaroni and cheese seems to be the perfect college non-perishable food staple. There is only one problem: it can get boring after eating it for the fifth day in a row. Luckily for our favorite college food, it is incredibly easy to upgrade mac and cheese with just a couple of extra ingredients. It naturally lends itself well to additional spices, fresh, canned or frozen veggies, and leftover meat. Here is a list of some of my personal favorite ingredients and ideas for some next-level mac: 

1. Pesto

herb, basil, olive oil, vegetable, oil
Jocelyn Hsu

If you have any leftover pesto sitting in the fridge from that one time you made Pesto Salmon Spaghetti, adding just a couple of tablespoons will add some great complexity with its naturally herbaceous and nutty flavors. Throw in some halved cherry tomatoes, shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, and pepper to give a new twist on the classic caprese salad. 

2. Mushrooms

chocolate, cake
Kimberly Kao

If you want to make Meatless Mondays more exciting, mushrooms are a hearty, earthy addition to boxed mac. Sautée  mushrooms with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and onions. Add the mixture to any pot of mac and cheese. If you are feeling extra, add some Gruyere cheese or shaved Parmesan cheese; it never fails to make me feel slightly bougie while watching my current Netflix show in pajamas. 

3. Chorizo

tacos, chorizo, beef, chili
Reilly Farrell

If you were a huge fan of Hamburger Helper as a kid, this is a kicked-up Tex-Mex version of a classic. Cook your preferred chorizo (like this veggie chorizo), canned Ortega chilies and diced onions in a sauce pan and add to your mac and cheese. The spicy seasoning of the chorizo surprises the taste buds along with some texture from the chilies and the onion. Add some chopped tomatoes and Mexican blend cheese on top for extra color and freshness. 

#SpoonTip: Be sure to drain as much oil from the pan as possible if you are using beef or pork chorizo; oily mac and cheese isn't good in any scenario.

4. Peas

pea, vegetable, legume, pasture, snap pea, snow pea
Spoon University

Frozen peas might get a bad rep as the boring required side dish at dinner time, but they are a simple, cheap, yet exciting addition to mac and cheese. Just make your preferred mac and cheese according to the instructions, add half a cup to a cup of peas and a handful of shredded meltable cheese to the pot, and stir gently to let the peas warm through. The peas add a bite of sweetness, color, and much needed texture. 

5. Breadcrumbs

pie, casserole, macaroni, cheese, Mac And Cheese, Macaroni and cheese
Julia Gilman

If you are lucky enough to have an oven, the panko breadcrumbs taking up space in your pantry can take your mac and cheese to restaurant-level deliciousness. Set your oven to broil or 550 degrees Fahrenheit while making your mac and cheese. Then add the finished product to a non-stick baking pan, add bread crumbs on top and bake until golden brown and crispy. This topping is the most versatile ingredient upgrade so feel free to add it to any version of mac and cheese you happen to create.

#SpoonTip:Add grated Parmesan cheese to the bread crumb topping for extra cheese and a complimentary nutty flavor. 

6. Extra Cheese

#photography, #cheese, #food, #cheesegrater, #cooking
Yasmeen Aboulhawa

While this seems like an obvious upgrade, you'd be surprised how much flavor and complexity extra cheese adds to the thin cheese sauce boxed mac is known for. There is something so satisfying seeing boxed mac and cheese go from saucy to cheesy in just a few seconds. Add shredded sharp cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack cheese to make a three cheese mac with a cheese pull that is Instagram-worthy. 

#SpoonTip:Revitalize dry leftover mac and cheese with a little bit of milk. This works on the stove or the microwave.

7. Bacon

pork, meat, barbecue, bacon, beef, sauce, sausage, chicken
Jocelyn Hsu

Was there any doubt bacon wouldn't make it on this list? Bacon gets added to everything and for good reason; it's crispy, fatty and flavorful. Freshly cooked or leftover extra-crispy bacon can be perfectly paired with sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, and peas. 

All these ingredients are just a few ideas on how to be creative with a blank-slate food like boxed mac. Cheap foods don't have to be boring if you know how to reinvent them. If my list proves anything, it's that boxed mac and cheese can be as versatile as pre-packaged ramen: just a few ingredients can make a boring college staple food into something incredible to eat.