Baked Mac and Cheat: A Shortcut To Mac and Cheese Bliss

Written by Rebecca Peters-Golden

Baked macaroni and cheese is my all-time favorite comfort food. I mean, all nutritional values being equal, I would eat it every day.

It isn’t that hard to make, either, but there’s one thing that consistently short-circuits my after-work impulse to throw one together: I never have milk in the house to make the béchamel sauce.

Being the resourceful gal that I am, I decided to take matters into my own hands and transform my favorite boxed mac and cheese (Trader Joe’s shells and cheese) into an easy baked mac and cheese that did an end run around béchamel.

boxed mac and cheese casserole
Photo: Casey Barber

I made the boxed version as usual, poured it into a casserole dish, sprinkled a little Parmesan cheese on it, topped it with a mixture of sautéed onions and crumbled-up bread heels, and baked it for 20 minutes.

It was great; the sweetness of the onion and butteriness of the crispy bread were the perfect complement to the creamy mac and cheese.

After a few go-rounds with my baked mac and cheat, I hit upon the perfect flavor combo for me: bacon, Brussels sprouts, shallot, and chèvre, with a cornbread topping.

mac and cheese casserole ingredients
Photo: Casey Barber

It is an addictive sweet-savory combination with a slight hint of the South—and though it has a few steps to it, the preparation doesn’t feel like much work at all.

I’ll often make it when I have leftover cornbread and bacon to eliminate the two most time-consuming steps.

You can easily omit the bacon (or use veggie bacon or sausage) to make this vegetarian, and you can adapt the flavor combo of sprouts, veggie bacon, and cornbread to use with a boxed vegan mac and cheese.

boxed mac and cheese casserole
Photo: Casey Barber

I also love to swap the Brussels sprouts out for a layer of creamy, buttery baked sweet potato, which mixes beautifully with the cornbread.

Now that I’ve started dressing up my mac and cheese, I can’t stop thinking of additional flavor combinations and easy substitutions. Here are just a few you could try.

boxed mac and cheese casserole

Ways to Dress Up Boxed Mac and Cheese

  • Add sautéed onions, garlic, broccoli, and spinach to the mac and cheese to get your daily servings of veg.
  • Add chopped pastrami to the mac and cheese, lay swiss cheese on top, and use rye bread for your topping for a Reuben mac and cheese—heck, I think I’d even drizzle some Russian dressing on the top after I took it out of the oven!
  • Add chopped tomato to the mac and cheese, crumble feta on top, and use pita bread or chips for your topping to make a Greek-style mac and cheese.
  • Add leftover sliced steak and fried onions and peppers to your mac and cheese, top with provolone, and use hoagie rolls for your topping to make Philly cheesesteak mac and cheese. Don’t forget the ketchup and hot sauce to dip bites into.
boxed mac and cheese casserole

Baked Mac and Cheat: Boxed Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Brussels Sprouts, and Cornbread

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Baked "mac and cheat" dresses up boxed mac and cheese for a homemade-tasting casserole topped with cornbread, Brussels sprouts, and bacon.


Cornbread Muffins

  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup water (or milk, if you happen to have it in the house)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Mac and Cheese

  • 4 thick bacon slices, chopped into large pieces
  • 2 boxes mac and cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3/4 pound (12 ounces) shredded Brussels sprouts
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 4-ounce log goat cheese, crumbled


Make the cornbread muffins:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and line 8 wells of a standard muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. Whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Mix the water, egg, and butter together in a small bowl.
  4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Don't over-mix.
  5. Divide the batter equally between the prepared muffin wells.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the muffins are cooked through but not burnt on bottom. Keep the oven on.

Make the mac and cheese:

  1. While the muffins are in the oven, bring a pot of water to a boil for the boxed mac and cheese.
  2. Cook the bacon in a large, high-sided pan over medium heat until crispy.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon to a small bowl, leaving the drippings in the pan.
  4. Add the Brussels sprouts, shallot, and garlic to the pan, stirring to coat with the bacon drippings.
  5. Cook for about 10 minutes until browned, adding the garlic for the last minute of cooking time.
  6. Prepare the mac and cheese according to box directions (adding the 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup milk, and the cheese packet).
  7. Stir the vegetables, along with the goat cheese and reserved bacon, into the mac and cheese.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Pour the mac and cheese mixture into a large casserole dish.
  10. Crumble cornbread muffins over the mac and cheese for your desired amount of topping. Depending on how much you love cornbread, you could use at least 6 muffins! Save the rest for breakfast.
  11. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 817Total Fat: 45gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 3gUnsaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 1560mgCarbohydrates: 82gFiber: 6gSugar: 18gProtein: 24g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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  1. Although I add veggies to plain pasta, I’ve never tried it with mac and cheese. All of these suggestions are just mouth-watering! Thanks!

  2. Just reading this recipe makes me hungry. I can not wait to try it for my family, I know they will love it. Thanks for sharing.

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