Special Report

15 Mac and Cheese Brands to Avoid

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In the world of comfort foods, a few specific items always come to mind. Ice cream, french fries, spaghetti and meatballs, and mac and cheese. Whether it’s the versatility of mac and cheese or the comfort memories it brings back, there is something wonderful about this dish. While there might be some science as to how our body reacts positively to comfort foods, there will always be something magical about mac and cheese.

It’s with this in mind that we can turn our attention to the mac and cheese brands worth avoiding. The last thing you want is a warm bowl of mac and cheese with an awful taste. Ever since Kraft first boxed up mac and cheese dinners in the early 1900s, competition has slowly been introduced. Today, with dozens of mac and cheese dinners available, there are definitely brands you shouldn’t look at twice.

#15: Velveeta Shells and Cheese

Velveeta mac and cheese would be a whole lot better if it wasn’t drowning in cheese.

There is no question that including Velveeta Shells and Cheese on this list will cause some controversy. Rest assured Velveeta isn’t on this list because of its taste, as it’s pretty great. The problem with Velveeta is that among mac and cheese favorites, it’s the least healthy option.

The conundrum here as you continue reading is that healthier mac and cheese options taste poor to downright awful. This leaves Velveeta in a difficult spot as its cheese is delightfully creamy but also one box feels like it equals a few extra pounds at the waist.

#14: Annie’s

Delicious macaroni and cheddar cheese shell noodles in a bowl
Annie’s has a lot of promise if it can figure out how to give the cheese more taste.

This is a tough addition to this list as Annie’s is traditionally very good with organic alternatives. Unfortunately, its mac and cheese meal doesn’t rank as high as everyone hopes it would. While not awful in taste, what has been discovered about Annie’s is there is very little taste.

The cheese just doesn’t give you any type of aftertaste you would otherwise long for with mac and cheese. This makes Annie’s a big disappointment as you would hope this brand would knock it out of the park.

#13: Banza

Banza ranks higher on the list because it’s the healthiest of the gluten-free mac and cheese options.

Universally regarded as a mac and cheese brand to avoid, Banza is derided due to its overall taste. Banza’s popularity stems from its gluten-free approach to mac and cheese, which is welcomed, but the result is a disappointing taste. Specifically, a chickpea flavor is mixed in with the cheese and it doesn’t win rave reviews.

What’s worse is that Banza’s actual noodles have an overriding taste of being wheat-based, which may or may not win you over. There’s a good reason to try Banza if you have gluten sensitivities which is why it doesn’t appear lower on this list. Health reasons aside, there is little reason to look at Banza twice.

#12: Great Value

Walmart’s house brand just doesn’t give you the comfort you want with mac and cheese.

When it comes to Walmart, there is a reasonable expectation some of its house brands will taste like the real thing. Unfortunately, for Great Value fans, mac and cheese is not one of the items you add to your shopping cart. Outside of being on the inexpensive side, there is not a whole lot that helps Great Value Mac and Cheese redeem itself.

At the very least, good luck trying to find the cheese packed in the box, as it feels like Great Value decided to play a game of hide and seek. With so many alternative brands available for mac and cheese, settling for Walmart’s house brand just feels wrong. While the taste won’t completely throw you off, the Great Value flavor just never pops.

#11: Kroger

American creamy macaroni and cheese pasta
As is the case with other brands, Kroger mac and cheese suffers because of poor cheese taste.

On the subject of mac and cheese house brands, Kroger-branded mac and cheese attempts to create something magical. What can best be said about Kroger’s offering is that it tries to replicate the Kraft formula. The reality is that Kroger doesn’t get anywhere close to Kraft’s magic and, instead, makes an appearance on this list.

What hurts Kroger’s mac and cheese is that the cheese doesn’t have much of a flavor. Everything about the mac and cheese revolves around cheese flavor and without that, it’s not worth recommending. The color of the Kroger after cooking doesn’t match that of Kraft and it feels like some ingredient is missing that would have Kroger tasting just right.

#10: Stouffer’s

Ready to eat macaroni and cheese dinner and wood fork
It’s hard to recommend Stouffer’s mac and cheese, especially with its small portion size.

For a lot of people, Stouffer’s is a popular meal that requires little time and almost no energy to prepare. Unfortunately, in the case of Stouffer’s mac and cheese, this may be one of its only redeemable qualities.
In the land of frozen mac and cheese options, Stouffer’s might have the biggest name but it doesn’t have the biggest taste.

Ultimately, Stouffer’s mac and cheese suffers from looking like it sat in a box forever. Watery cheese combined with too few macaroni pasta noodles is a combination worth forgetting. Stouffer’s won’t harm your love for mac and cheese, but you won’t put it on your shopping list again.

#9: Marie Callender’s

Bread crumbs help Marie Callendar’s mac and cheese out, but not nearly enough to overlook other issues.

Piggybacking on the idea that frozen mac and cheese like Stouffer’s isn’t for everyone, Marie Callender’s is entering the chat. A Stouffer’s direct competitor, you can microwave this meal in only 5-7 minutes. As quick as it is to make, you won’t worry about timing as it’s just not overly tasty. Something is missing from the flavor and it doesn’t excite your taste buds like mac and cheese should.

Sure, you can heat it for over 55 minutes in the oven. However, this is bad for two reasons. First is that it takes far more time than the conventional Kraft style and two, the reward isn’t any better. Bread crumbs do help provide a little more flavor over Stouffer’s, but soggy pasta because of too much cheese is Marie’s ultimate downfall.

#8: Lean Cuisine

Lean Cuisine suffers from a Vermont-tasting cheese that just doesn’t taste all that great.

The pattern of not buying frozen prepared mac and cheese continues with Lean Cuisine. Ironically, Lean Cuisine is a sister brand to Stouffer’s (both owned by Nestle), so its appearance on this list isn’t surprising. The best that can be said here is to save your money. Not only do you not get enough mac and cheese to satisfy, but what you do get doesn’t wow you with taste.

The Vermont White Cheddar Mac and Cheese is the best Lean Cuisine offers, but it’s still not very flavorful. It’s the antithesis of conventional mac and cheese, but without being able to satisfy. Simply stated, something is missing that could bring this mac and cheese to life.

#7: Cheetos

Hot Cheetos Mac and Cheese
Cheetos mac and cheese is one food combination you may wish you never knew existed.

Look, there are some brand combinations the world never needs to know about. Cheetos mac and cheese is one of these combinations. Understandably, there is some appeal over combining two popular comfort foods, but just because you can make something doesn’t mean you should. At first, you may be able to look past just how orange Cheetos mac and cheese feels.

Thankfully, the regular mac and cheese isn’t nearly as bad as the flamin’ hot mac and cheese. The only good news is that both are relatively inexpensive. Beyond price, there isn’t much here to say that doesn’t make you think about trying any alternative available.

#6: Upton’s Naturals

Mac n cheese pasta Italian pasta
Upton Natural’s is a local brand worth supporting, but oh the poor smell of the cheese.

There is no other way to say it other than to scream that you should avoid Upton’s Naturals mac and cheese. Focusing on the vegan mac and cheese lover, Upton’s Naturals comes pre-boiled, which is super strange. There’s something enjoyable about this being a brand that came out of a local Chicago restaurant. However, having a box with a one-minute result is somewhat disconcerting.

Among the reasons to avoid this brand are complaints about the smell, which doesn’t remind anyone of mac and cheese. More importantly, concerns over flavor are among the most prominent reviews wherever Upton’s Naturals is sold. Unfortunately, the cheese substitute simply doesn’t come close enough to real cheese to provide the comfort flavor mac and cheese fans long for.

#5: Daiya

Macaroni and cheese. Mac n cheese. Macaroni mixed with cheddar cheese, grilled shrimp, crispy bacon, jalapeños, spicy corn salsa, and cilantro. Classic American bar appetizer, loaded Mac n cheese.
Daiya is a mac and cheese brand that would do well to reconfigure the taste of its noodles.

Yet another plant-based mac and cheese option, Daiya’s inclusion on this list starts to indicate something of a theme. Attempting to use fake cheese is one reason you can skip Daiya mac and cheese for all time. Outside of Amazon reviews indicating happiness with how much “cheese” is included, Daiya’s not winning many fans elsewhere.

There’s something about Daiya’s approach to saving animals that’s endearing, but it doesn’t translate into good taste. The noodles, in particular, are nothing to jump up and down about. Without the cheese, you would likely struggle to eat them and that’s not a good recipe for a complete mac and cheese product.

#4: Simply Nature

Pan of Mac and Cheese on a marble table
While healthy, Simply Nature mac and cheese is anything but simple with its disappointing taste.

Aldi is currently riding high with a wave of happy grocery-shopping customers and for good reason. Aldi’s unique system makes it a joy to shop and you can save money while doing so. Unfortunately, Aldi’s Simply Nature mac and cheese is worth skipping the next time you shop.

The pasta elbows are not only tiny, but they have difficulty holding on to the “real cheese” Simply Nature claims it uses. As a GMO-friendly option, the healthy nature of this meal ensures you skip the cheese flavor altogether. Mac and cheese should provide an immediate cheese taste and without that, Simply Nature is simply forgettable.

#3: Organic Original 365

Macaroni and cheese in bowl over white background with copy space. Top view, flat lay
Whole Foods would quickly rank higher on this list if they cut out a good amount of salt from its recipe.

Whole Foods hits a lot of home runs across many food categories, but its homegrown mac and cheese isn’t for everyone. Where this mac and cheese meal falters is with too much salt. So much salt there is a widely believed notion it’s difficult to finish an entire box. For a comfort food you want to lick the plate on, not being able to finish a box because of salt is a real downer.

You can rightfully expect Organic Original 365 to bring organic goodness, and it does in some regard. You can feel good about buying a better-for-you mac and cheese with this brand, but you won’t want to finish the meal. If Whole Foods can reconfigure the recipe to introduce less salt/sodium, there is a good chance it would find itself ranked higher. Otherwise, skip it for now.

#2: 8 Myles

American mac and cheese, macaroni pasta in cheesy sauce. White wooden background. Top view
Myles mac and cheese just isn’t all that great, it’s really in need of some help with its recipe.

A relatively unknown mac and cheese brand, 8 Myles doesn’t have much in the way of street cred and that’s probably best. Rest assured you can go ahead and skip reading about 8 Myles just as well as you can skip this boxed mac and cheese. Perhaps the biggest reason to overlook 8 Myles is the noodles just don’t taste good.

As disappointing as the noodles are, the cheese can’t redeem 8 Myles. Breadcrumb toppings save 8 Myles from being number one, otherwise it would rank lower. That’s it, there is just nothing else to add about 8 Myles that will convince you to give this a try.

#1: Good Food Made Simple

Mac and cheese, typical American food.
The joke with Good Food Made Simple mac and cheese is that it should cut off the first two words.

While the name Good Food Made Simple might have you thinking this is the ultimate mac and cheese meal, that’s not the case. Instead, this frozen dish is actually in line with the likes of Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine, but with less taste.

The taste is so lacking that online jokesters have taken to calling the mac and cheese meal just “Made Simple” and dropping the Good Food portion. This is a strong message that avoiding this frozen white cheddar meal is the only path forward.

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