sMACkdown: We Rank the Best Instant Macaroni and Cheese

Staff Writer
sMACkdown: We Rank the Best Instant Macaroni and Cheese

Photo by Kai Huang

Whoever invented instant macaroni and cheese should get a medal, but whoever decided to substitute colored plastic for cheese should be exiled. We tested five cheap varieties of instant cheesy gratification to help you choose the best late night comfort snack without breaking a sweat or the bank.

5. Everyday Essentials Mac & Cheese ($0.89 per cup)
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Photo by Kai Huang

This is the cheapest instant macaroni and cheese you can buy from Jewel, and hey, you get what you pay for. While the noodles are tender, there’s a slight aftertaste of the container and the watery sauce tastes like a dusty memory of long lost cheese.

4. Velveeta Shells & Cheese ($1.19 per cup)
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Photo by Kai Huang

Ok, so this isn’t strictly mac and cheese, but the shells actually picked up cheese about as well as instant macaroni. Velveeta’s cheese sauce is a paste, rather than a powder. This is an upgrade that really shows when you mix it with the noodles because the sauce actually strings a little like real cheese would. The pasta, however, is nothing special, and the sauce isn’t quite as cheesy one might hope.

3. Kraft Easy Mac ($1.19 per cup)
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Photo by Kai Huang

Oh, Easy Mac… There’s something to be said for this go-to instant mac’s consistency, even though it’s not extraordinary. The noodles have a reasonable bite, and the sauce is just cheesy enough to satisfy a small craving. Surprisingly, the powdered sauce is actually cheesier than the Velveeta sauce and just as stringy.

2. Trader Joe’s Wisconsin Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese ($0.99 per box)
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Photo by Kai Huang

Even though Trader Joe’s doesn’t have instant macaroni and cheese in a cup, their boxed version microwaves and is convenient enough for a quick snack. The macaroni was significantly better than the other competitors. However, the cheese sauce is nothing special. While it is smoother than Easy Mac sauce, the flavor is a bit too mellow. In the end, the noodles make up for it, and you get much more per box for your money.

1. Kraft Homestyle Hearty Four Cheese ($2.49 per tray)
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Photo by Kai Huang

Even though this one is twice as expensive as normal Easy Mac, the math works out, because you also get nearly twice as much cheesy goodness. The macaroni itself is larger and actually elbowed unlike other instant macs, and it also has ridges to catch more cheese. The package contains both a dry cheese powder and a cheese paste. The combo seems to work quite well, as the sauce has a richness that the other brands lack. In a stroke of pure genius, Kraft also includes bread crumbs in each tray, which adds a little toasty crunch to the mix. We have a winner!

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