Though it may surprise you, boxed macaroni and cheese can be a fairly healthy choice—most options on the market have reasonable calories and some calcium and protein. Mix in some peas or broccoli and you have an easy meal in a pinch. Yes, it's processed food, but here's how to buy best boxed mac and cheese.
The big pitfall is sodium—many have over 550 mg (some even as high as 1,000 mg) per serving, and that's before you mix in milk and butter. Instead of using salted butter or margarine (as the directions may recommend), use unsalted butter to keep the sodium in check.
We also found that brands with the best flavor called out specific cheese names, such as Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Parmesan. Strict definitions from the FDA exist for these cheeses, so there's no ambiguity about what you're getting. However, the FDA doesn't police them all. Generally, we found if you see "cheese" or "cheese sauce mix," the product likely is higher in sodium and the taste isn't as good.
"Deluxe" mac & cheeses come with a packet of thick cheese sauce instead of cheese powder and they're typically higher in sodium than regular varieties.
Frozen options are often an entire meal, so can be higher in calories and sodium. But some go overboard on the sodium—we found one with 1,550 mg! At 620 mg, our pick is a wise choice for sodium-watchers—plus it's made with whole grains and has a full serving of broccoli (yes, it's ours).
Horizon Cheesy Mac White Cheddar
Annie's Shells & Real Aged Cheddar
Field Day Organic Deluxe Mild Cheddar Shells & Cheese
EatingWell Vermont Cheddar Mac & Cheese (frozen)
Annie's Four Cheese
|Numbers to Look For
(Unprepared, per serving*)
||> = 2g
*No, you're never going to eat unprepared mac and cheese. But prepared values can be hard to find and/or decipher on the Nutrition Facts label.
Prefer to DIY instead of buy? Try our Sweet Potato Mac & Cheese recipe