The Best Boxed Mac and Cheese Will Make You Feel Like a Kid Again — But Healthier

Whip up one of these best boxed mac and cheese options to score key nutrients and get hit with nostalgia.

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These Best Boxed Mac and Cheeses Will Help You Score Key Nutrients and Feel Like a Kid Again
Photo: Photo by Mariana Ibanez on Unsplash

To fuel your muscles after a workout or soothe a growling, aching stomach, you likely turn to protein shakes and smoothies, dishes loaded with beans or lean protein, or munchies such as hummus or trail mix. While those eats are sure to help boost your gains and quiet the rumbles, there's one easy-to-prepare, protein-packed dish you're likely overlooking: boxed mac and cheese.

Yes, really. One serving of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (Buy It, $1, target.com) offers 9 grams of protein per serving. While your exact protein needs will depend on your activity level and other factors, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends adults following a 2,000-calorie diet aim to score at least 46 grams of the macronutrient. Do a little math wizardry, and that means a helping of the pasta provides you with nearly 20 percent of the recommended dietary allowance.

And hitting that suggested allowance is key. ICYDK, protein is a macronutrient that helps build and repair cells, tissue, and muscle; ensures proper growth and development; and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Since the macronutrient is also digested slower than carbohydrates, for example, it can also make you feel full and satisfied for longer after you've finished eating, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While you could stick with the OG pasta to get your fill, it's not the only protein-packed mac on the market — nor is it necessarily the most delicious (yes, we said it). So before you stock your pantry with the classic, consider snagging one of these best high-protein mac and cheeses, all of which contain at least 12 grams of the macronutrient per serving as packaged.

The Best Healthy Boxed Mac and Cheese to Buy

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese for the Planet: Annie's Organic Macaroni and Classic Cheddar with 12g Protein

Annie's Organic Macaroni and Classic Cheddar with 12g Protein
Amazon

Crafted with noodles made from wheat, golden pea, and whole grain wheat flours, this high-protein mac and cheese offers a whopping 6 grams of fiber per serving, which equates to 21 percent of the RDA. ICYDK, fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can't digest, and it keeps you feeling full and your number twos regular, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just like the name implies, the mac and cheese also provides 12 grams of muscle-building, hunger-quelling protein, or 26 percent of the RDA, per serving. Thanks to those key nutrients, you'll feel satisfied long after you've licked your bowl clean.

If those perks don't convince you to add the high-protein mac and cheese to your pantry, its eco-friendly factors certainly will. The wheat and peas are sourced from a Montana-based farm that uses growing practices designed to remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it in the soil, which helps to reduce the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, according to the company.

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese: Banza Elbows and Classic Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

Banza Elbows and Classic Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese
Target

If one self-described "certified mac expert" reviewer says they're "head over heels" for this high-protein mac and cheese, you know it's gotta be good. Chickpeas, pea starch, and tapioca make up the noodles, while classic ingredients such as cheddar cheese, milk, buttermilk, and butter come together to form a salty, ultra-creamy sauce. The result: a cheesy AF pasta that boasts 15 grams of protein (33 percent of the RDA) and 5 grams of fiber (18 percent of the RDA) per serving and, surprisingly, makes for a perfect post-workout snack. "[It's] way more rewarding/satisfying than a protein shake," wrote another reviewer. (ICYMI, Banza also makes a killer chickpea-crust pizza.)

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese for Plant-Based Eaters: Modern Table Vegan Mac & Cheese

Modern Table Vegan Mac & Cheese
Modern Table

This high-protein mac and cheese may be free of dairy, lactose, and gluten, but it still packs that same nostalgic flavor and bright-orange coloring as its non-vegan counterparts. "The cheese powder tastes [like] very cheap, boxed mac 'n cheese, which is what I'm looking for," wrote one of the 600-plus five-star reviewers. "Foods you grew up eating always hold a special spot inside my gut, and this is the best product to mimic that, but [it's] also 'healthy.'" Plus, the pasta is rich in protein and fiber — providing 15 grams (33 percent of the RDA) and 4 grams (14 percent of the RDA) of each nutrient, respectively — due to the red lentil-, white rice-, and pea protein-based noodles. (Vegan eaters will also one to add this plant-based bolognese to their dinner rotation.)

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese for the Unconventional Eater: Annie's Red Lentil Spirals & White Cheddar

Annie’s Red Lentil Spirals & White Cheddar
Amazon

If you're looking to break with tradition, ditch your classic mac and whip up this innovative pasta instead. The noodles are shaped like spirals — not elbows; the cheese sauce isn't a neon, artificial-looking orange; and the pasta consists of organic red lentils, rather than standard wheat flour, to amp up the dish's protein and fiber content. All in all, you'll nab 13 grams of protein (28 percent of the RDA) and 2 grams of fiber (7 percent of the RDA) in every serving of this boxed mac and cheese. (Related: Are Those Bean and Vegetable Pastas Actually Better for You?)

The Best Boxed Mac and Cheese for a Dose of Nostalgia: Goodles Cheddy Mac

Goodles Cheddy Mac
Goodles

With its bright packaging and bubble lettering, this high-protein mac and cheese is sure to mentally transport you back to the '90s before you take your first bite. The noodles feature a base of wheat flour, chickpea protein, and wheat protein, so you'll bag 14 grams of protein (30 percent of the RDA) and 6 grams of fiber (21 percent of the RDA) per serving. Unlike other macs, Goodles' also contains micronutrients (think: manganese, folate, niacin, etc.) extracted from broccoli, leafy greens, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and more to help you get one step closer to meeting your daily nutritional needs. Even with those additives, the pasta still scores high marks among kids. "It's absolutely amazing," wrote one 8-year-old reviewer. "Ten wasn't high enough. I wanted to rate it 10,000." If that praise isn't convincing enough, know that Gal Gadot is a founding partner for the brand and Blake Lively has previously called the mac "so damn good."

Best Boxed Mac and Cheese to Up Your Veggie Intake: Camp Classic Cheddar Mac' N' Cheese

Camp Classic Cheddar Mac' N' Cheese
Camp

Thanks to Camp, you can have your pasta and eat your veggies, too. The noodles in the high-protein mac and cheese are concocted from corn flour, brown rice, and pea protein, plus zucchini and carrot to take the pasta's nutritional offerings to the next level. In total, one serving of the pasta offers 12 grams of protein (26 percent of the RDA), 3 grams of fiber (11 percent of the RDA), and nearly 67 percent of the RDA for iron — a mineral that's used to make proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and to muscles. And full-fledged adults who have the palette of youngsters can't get enough. "I love Camp!" wrote one five-star shopper. "To be clear, I do eat my veggies... But I also like that I can sneak in even more while still enjoying one of my favorite comfort foods…The cheesiness is just *chef's kiss*." (When you have a hankering for veggie noodles, look to these flavor combos for lunch inspo.)

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