The Healthiest Boxed Mac-and-Cheese Brands—Ranked
Whether you're young or old, mac and cheese is a timeless classic that makes even the most diligent low-carb dieters weak at the knees. And with the ingenious invention of boxed macaroni and cheese dinners, even those of us who are slightly cooking-challenged can easily succumb to our favorite cheat meals any time of the day. But their ease of access and simple instructions shouldn't be enough to warrant an indulgence, as not every boxed mac and cheese is made the same.
In fact, with some of the calorie, sodium, and fat counts, many of these boxes of gold should make you think twice before you pick them off the shelf. You can thank the saturated-fat-laden butter, milk, cheese—or the scientifically-developed chemical alternatives to each of these natural ingredients—and refined-flour noodles for this dish's downfall. But not all boxes have to be sad mistakes for your diet.
By looking for natural ingredients and balanced nutritionals, we've compiled a list of the best and worst of the boxed mac and cheese available in supermarkets, so you can indulge in nostalgia without totally derailing your diet.
We can't talk about macaroni and cheese without bringing up the two biggest heavy hitters—Kraft's signature blue box and Velveeta's golden box. These mac and cheese favorites might bring on a wave of nostalgia, as there's a good chance you ate this when you were a kid, but which is actually the better choice for you?
Best: Kraft Original
And it's Kraft that comes out on top. While overall, it might not seem like it'll do too much damage, it's important to note that this variety does still have a rather high sodium count and it's brought to life thanks to that signature orange powder instead of, you know, actual cheese. One box does serve three people though so as long as you stick to the serving size, you don't have to feel too guilty about indulging in this childhood favorite every once and a while.
Worst: Velveeta Shells & Cheese
Don't let Velveeta fool you—while this mac and cheese is made with a packet of cheese sauce, it's not necessarily healthy by any means. From the 12 grams of fat and the ridiculously high amount of sodium, it's best to leave this "liquid gold" on the shelf. Keep in mind this is just one serving! You're much better off trying your hand at making your own mac and cheese from scratch.
Traditional Cheddar Flavor
Best: 365 Everyday Value Macaroni and Cheese
The Whole Foods brand you can easily order from Amazon comes in at a—dare we say—modest 250 calories per serving and is low in fat and saturated fat. Nine grams of protein isn't too shabby of a deal either!
Worst: Baza Mac and Cheese
Banza is made with chickpea pasta, which is naturally a healthier alternative. This variety, which happens to be gluten-free, comes in at 17 grams of protein and a solid five grams of fiber. What makes us think twice about this option though is the sodium—it's simply high at 670 milligrams. Keep in mind that The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams per day.
Best: Annie's Shells & White Cheddar
Annie's created the first shells and white cheddar product back in 1989, so it's easy to see why it's a classic, beloved choice. The brand's recipe uses conventional milk and butter though, so their higher fat content may contain more inflammatory fats like omega-6s rather than anti-inflammatory omega-3s and fat-fighting CLA that are found in higher concentrations in organic dairy products. But calories-wise, if you stick to the serving, it's a much lower option than others on the market.
Worst: Modern Table White Cheddar
This option is higher in calories, sodium, and carbs, and overall makes for a truly decadent dish. Plus, once you cook it as suggested, the fat content gets kicked up to 14 grams, with 8 grams of saturated fat. But we do want to call out the protein and rather short list of ingredients here. Modern Table is known for its high-protein options and this mac and cheese does deliver that.
Best: Annie's Gluten-Free Rice Pasta and Cheddar
Annie's gluten-free option comes out on top. It's on the lower side when it comes to sodium (although it's still not ideal, as none of these boxed mac and cheeses are low sodium options!) but it is made with real cheese from cows that aren't treated with growth hormone rBST. Wondering what exactly that means? rBGH, aka rBST, is a genetically engineered hormone that some farmers inject into their cows to boost milk production.
Worst: Great Value Gluten-Free Macaroni & Cheese
Great Value is a brand sold exclusively at Walmart's grocery, and while it's great there is a GF option, this one isn't necessarily the best. With one serving containing a whopping 660 milligrams of sodium, you might have to think twice about this one, although it is rather low-calorie.
Best: Annie's Organic Vegan Mac Cheddar
This mac and cheese is made with gluten-free rice pasta, and without any artificial flavors, synthetic colors or preservatives. Plus, it offers up the same cheddar taste you would get in a classic dairy mac and cheese. Organic and plant-based? A winning combination.
Worst: Modern Table Vegan Mac
Again, Modern Table's high protein content and it's overall clean ingredients list gives it some points, but it's much higher in calories, fat, and sodium than other options. Moderation is the key!