I believe that the hardest part of second year is adapting to grocery shopping and cooking for yourself. I know I struggled to motivate myself to cook complicated or healthy meals on top of the stress of school. Whether I was cramming for a huge midterm, panic-writing an essay due at 11:59 pm, or scrambling to get my stats assignment submitted, I found that some days made it impossible to cook a full meal. 

Now I love boxed mac n' cheese as much as the next girl – it's quick, super easy, and similar to the wonderful dish my mom used to make. It's pure simplicity and classic taste have designated it my "stress dinner" for when school work feels impossible. There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of cheesy, creamy goodness on panic study nights. 

When I began grocery shopping for myself, I noticed that I would always grab a box of Kraft Dinner off the shelf without a second thought. Eventually, I began to wonder if Kraft Dinner is really the best brand out there. So many companies have adapted to compete with Kraft Dinner's massive success, but I realized I had never tasted any of them. So, after two weeks of tasting countless boxed mac n' cheeses, here are my top five and where to find them:

5. Great Value – Cheddar  

Walmart $0.57

Katherine Perry

Walmart's Great Value produced a LOT of pasta but with little flavour. The cheese preparation is bland, and the sauce was thick yet chunky. The long, thin tubes of pasta were reminiscent of Kraft Dinner, but this dish somehow tasted faker.

The recipe called for 3 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine and 1/3 cup of skim milk, much more margarine/butter than any other brand. While the low, low price of $0.57 may entice some shoppers, I absolutely do not recommend this brand unless you're looking for a lot of chunky, bland pasta. 

4. Selection – Cheddar

Metro $1.29

Katherine Perry

If I could rank Metro's Selection Cheddar alongside Great Value's formula, I would. In a similar manner to Great Value, this brand makes almost double the pasta compared to other formulas but seriously lacks in every other aspect. As for flavour, this pasta was bland and seemed to be "trying to taste like Kraft Dinner" more than it was "cheesy". Instead of a creamy sauce, this formula produced watery and thin cheese preparation, in which floated very long tubes of pasta.

This boxed Mac and Cheese is about as far away from homemade as you could get, with the exception of Great Value. The recipe boasts "added parmesan" with no artificial flavours, and recommends 1 tbsp of margarine and 1/3 cup of skim milk with the cheese powder. This product disappointed me and I was unable to finish the bowl; I do not recommend this brand. 

3. Kraft Dinner – Cheddar

Zehrs $1.99

Katherine Perry

Ah, the classic Kraft Dinner brand. I found this brand to end up surprisingly low on the list, considering its cheesy goodness. I found the flavour to be too light, and more diffuse than other products. This formula made for a super creamy, thinner cheese sauce which tastes less like homemade Mac and Cheese. The pasta is thin, long tubes which makes for a mostly filling meal.

The box proudly declares that this new formula lacks artificial flavours, preservatives, or colours and recommends 1 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine and 1/3 cup of skim milk to form the cheese sauce. I would always recommend this brand, as the Mac and Cheese it produces is a timeless classic. But it's time to talk about the brands that blew Kraft Dinner out of the water...

2. Annie's Homegrown – Classic Cheddar 

 Walmart $2.20

Katherine Perry

I think everyone has heard of Annie's Homegrown by now, as its mostly organic formula has dominated grocery store shelves. I understand why this is the case, as their classic cheddar formula beat Kraft Dinner at its own game. The pasta was cheesy and flavourful, although somewhat sweet. Thin tubes of slightly chewy pasta (possibly a result of organic ingredients) coated in this thick, creamy cheese preparation were closer to a homemade taste than most others I tasted.

The box promotes its 80% organic composition and recommends a different preparation than most; 1/4 cup of reduced-fat milk, 2 tbsp of salted butter and cheese powder which are mixed together in a warm saucepan, then the pasta is added. This brand made for an enjoyable, although pricy meal and I recommend it to those who enjoy the classic Kraft Dinner experience. 

1. President's Choice – White Cheddar

No Frill's $0.87

Katherine Perry

Now, I know this is White Cheddar as opposed to regular but I received high recommendations for this flavour/brand from friends. I realized why upon trying it; this brand really makes "deluxe macaroni and cheese dinner". Not only is the cheese mix bold and flavourful, but produces the creamiest, thickest texture. For all these reasons, I believe that President's Choice White Cheddar was the closest to homemade Mac and Cheese. The pasta was thick and elbow shaped just like home, making for the most filling product.

This recipe boasts no artificial colours or flavours and recommends; 1 tbsp non-hydrogenated margarine, 1/3 cup skim milk in combination with the cheese preparation. If you haven't tasted President's Choice brand Mac and Cheese, I highly, highly recommend it! Absolutely life-changing, in a way that only boxed Mac and Cheese could be.

Next time you're at the grocery store, don't settle for the same brand out of habit. Try out one of the other options on this list and you may just find a new favourite!