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What Can You Serve with Mac and Cheese?

 

close up of white bowl with mac and cheese
Macaroni and cheese is a family favorite–make it even more festive with one or two of our delicious side recipes.

Mac and cheese is, without a doubt, in the top ten of everyone’s favorite  comfort food list.

We can never say no to its creamy and cheesy sauce melded together with the soft and chewy macaroni. The best part is, you can choose to make it from scratch or purchase a boxed version of macaroni and cheese of your choice.

Thinking about what to serve with mac and cheese may be a bit challenging, since some people already consider mac and cheese by itself as a complete meal.

The truth is, having a side dish (or two!) makes it a more delectable meal. Plus, you’ll find that our tried-and-true recipes all complement mac and cheese’s rich and creamy flavor.


Click on the type of side dish you want to create below, or take a look at all our side dish recipes to get inspired.

 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Meats

 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Salads

 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Vegetables

 


 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Meats

Some believe that mac and cheese alone is already heavy and doesn’t need a meat complement. But actually, when mac and cheese is paired with the right meat side dish, it becomes an unforgettable meal that’ll make you want to explore other meat side dish options for this saucy entrée.

close up of honey garlic chicken legs in pan

This fantastic five-ingredient side dish is a perfect pairing for mac and cheese due to its honey garlic flavored chicken and delectable sauce.

Ingredients: 

  • 6 pcs chicken thighs and/or legs, bone-in or out
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 6 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup water (or chicken broth)
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (other options include apple cider vinegar or any white vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

Directions: 

  • Use salt, pepper, and garlic powder to season chicken. Then, set the seasoned chicken aside. 
  • Set the pan to medium to high heat. Cook the chicken until it becomes golden brown on both sides. 
  • Once cooked, arrange the chicken in a way that the chicken skin is facing upwards. Add garlic and fry until it becomes fragrant for about 30 seconds. Then, add the honey, soy sauce, vinegar, and water. 
  • Increase the heat and cook until the sauce thickens for about 3 to 4 minutes. 
  • Place parsley on top. Then, serve with mac and cheese. 

sliced honey baked ham on white platter

Honey glazed ham has the perfect slightly sweet and salty taste that complements the savory mac and cheese. Not to mention, this recipe yields the best-tasting sauce ever.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pc fully-cooked, 10-pound bone-in ham
  • 1 ¼ cups brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup pineapple juice
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • ⅓ large orange (juiced and zested)
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves

Directions: 

  • To prepare, preheat the oven first to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, place the ham in a pan.
  • In a pan or skillet, mix pineapple juice, honey, brown sugar, orange juice, Dijon mustard, orange zest, and ground cloves. Boil, then reduce heat to simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. Then, set aside the glaze.
  • Put the ham inside the oven and bake for two hours uncovered. Afterward, remove the ham and brush with glaze. 
  • Bake the ham again for 30 to 45 minutes, while you brush the ham with glaze every 10 minutes.

closeup of bacon and cheese potatoes with sour cream

You may think what we did–pasta and potatoes together?  Trust us.  The smoky, cheesy bacon flavor of this potato recipe makes it a perfect side dish for mac and cheese. All you need is extra roasting time and the drizzle of bacon grease. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 pound bacon
  • 3 extra-large potatoes peeled and chopped into 1/2″-3/4″ pieces
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar 
  • 3 pcs thin-sliced green onions 

Directions:

  • Arrange the bacon on a baking sheet pan. Place inside the oven and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the timer to 16 minutes until bacon becomes crispy. Remove the cooked bacon from the oven. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel while saving the bacon grease from the baking sheet pan.
  • Peel and chop the potatoes while you cook the bacon. Then, place the potatoes on the pan. Coat them with the bacon grease left. Add salt and pepper. 
  • Bake the potatoes for 20 minutes. After, stir them and bake them again. Repeat this step to ensure that the potatoes are not sticking on the tray. 
  • Break up the bacon into smaller pieces. Remove the potatoes from the oven. Mix them with bacon and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake for at least 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve this dish with sliced green onions and sour cream on top. 
 

 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Salads

If you want to opt for a healthier option for what to serve with mac and cheese to your family, then salads are your best bet. These three easy-to-make salad recipes help make your macaroni and cheese a hearty and complete meal.

closeup of fork in bowl of apple spinach salad

This apple spinach recipe works perfectly with macaroni and cheese, bringing together both sweet and savory flavors, making it a new favorite for weekday dinners. 

Salad Ingredients: 

  • 10 oz baby spinach
  • 2 pcs thin-sliced large apples
  • 1 pc thin-sliced small red onion
  • 1 cup walnut halves (toasted)
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 ounces crumbled cheese (options include goat cheese, feta cheese, or blue cheese)
  • 1 batch apple cider vinaigrette (see below for ingredients) 

Vinaigrette* Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar (another option: apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 minced garlic cloves
  • Pinch of salt and paper
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional)

*Mix all these ingredients in a mason jar. Then, shake to combine. 

Directions: 

  • Put together in a bowl all ingredients for apple spinach salad. 
  • Add the apple cider vinaigrette. Then, mix. 
  • Serve immediately with crumbled cheese of your choice on top. 

cranberry and arugula salad in wood bowl on white table with fork and red napkin

If mixed green salads are a non-negotiable item on your menu, then you need to know that this recipe is also suitable for your other non-negotiable main dish –macaroni and cheese.  The crisp, slightly bitter arugula mixed with the sweetness of the cranberries and fruit complement the cheesiness of the main dish.

Salad Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 4 cups fresh arugula (other option: baby spinach)
  • 4 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 6 pcs thick-sliced peppered and cooked bacon strips

Vinaigrette* Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp orange juice
  • 1-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp orange zest (grated)
  • 1/8 tsp salt and pepper

*Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl.

Directions: 

  • Boil orange juice in a small pan. Remove from heat. Add the cranberries and let them sit for 5 minutes. Afterward, drain the juice to save for another use.
  • Combine arugula and salad greens in a large bowl. Add bacon, cheese, and cranberries. Drizzle vinaigrette over the salad, then toss. Serve this salad immediately with macaroni and cheese.

close up of three bean salad

Three-bean salad is a classic, healthy dish that is super easy to make. It takes only 15 minutes, at most, to prepare this beloved salad to pair with macaroni and cheese. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pcs medium limes (juiced)
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 bunch parsley (chopped) 
  • 1/2 medium red onion (diced) 
  • 15 oz can pinto beans (drained) 
  • 15 oz can red kidney beans (drained) 
  • 15 oz can chickpeas (drained) 

Directions: 

  • Mix the three types of beans, onion, and parsley in one large bowl. 
  • In another bowl, mix the garlic, olive oil, lime juice, cumin, salt, red wine vinegar, and salt. Take a small taste and add a bit of sugar if it is too bitter and acidic.
  • Add the dressing and stir to mix the ingredients. 
  • Chill first before serving to ensure that the flavors blend.

 

Mac and Cheese Side Dishes:  Vegetables

Since macaroni and cheese is known as somewhat of a decadent dish, adding vegetables to your “what to serve with mac and cheese” list is definitely a great idea to sneak some healthier foods onto your kids’ plates. Veggies help cut down the richness of mac and cheese, actually making it a more appetizing main dish.

 

brussels sprouts on white plate

These sautéed Brussels sprouts are crispy, caramelized, and crazily good. Preparing this addicting side dish is quick and easy, too. No need to worry much about the process–this recipe is a snap.

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts (trimmed) 
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (other option: lemon juice)
  • 1 to 2 tbsp raw pine nuts (other options include: chopped raw walnuts, almonds, or pecans)
  • Fresh parsley (chopped) *optional
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese (other options include: feta or goat cheese) *optional

Directions: 

  • Heat the pan over medium to high heat for 4 minutes, then add the oil. Once the oil becomes hot, add the Brussels sprouts. Shake the pan and let it stay on the heat for about 5 to 8 minutes undisturbed until you see a caramelized sear on the sprouts. 
  • Add salt and pepper to the pan and stir the vegetables. Continue cooking until your Brussels sprouts become brown and tender inside, for an additional 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Once done, increase heat from medium to high. Mix the vinegar, pine nuts, or almonds. When the nuts are toasted, transfer the sprouts and add fresh herbs. Serve this while it is piping hot.

green beans with butter and garlic

It’s an oldie but a goodie.  Green beans mixed with garlic and butter will never go out of style. This special dish will definitely make your mac and cheese a flavorful and complete meal. 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pound fresh green beans (trimmed and halved)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 pinches lemon pepper
  • Salt

Directions: 

  • Put green beans into a pan and cover them with water. Bring to boiling, then reduce the heat. Simmer until the beans begin to soften. Drain the water and add the butter. Cook until the butter has melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. 
  • Add the garlic and stir into the green beans until the garlic is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Season the dish with lemon pepper and salt.

close up of cooked broccoli on white plate

If you are into a low-carb diet, this garlic lemon broccoli is one of the best choices you can make. This dish is gluten-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free: probably the healthiest side dish to go with your macaroni and cheese. 

Ingredients: 

  • 3 lbs broccoli 
  • ½ cup olive oil 
  • ¼ cup lemon juice fresh
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions: 

  • Wash broccoli and steam over boiling wataer until it becomes tender. Then, drain.
  • While steaming the broccoli, add the olive oil, garlic powder, salt, and lemon juice in a blender. Blend these ingredients until the mixture becomes creamy. 
  • Add the lemon garlic dressing to the steamed broccoli and mix gently. Season with salt, if needed.

 

halved roasted tomato on baking sheeet

Roasting fresh tomatoes with garlic, thyme, and other spices results in a tender and intense flavor that really enhances the cheesiness of the main dish. Here’s how you can serve it with your favorite mac and cheese. 

Ingredients: 

  • 2 lb small tomatoes (halved)
  • 2 to 3 minced garlic cloves
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • ½ tsp dry chili pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 cup feta cheese (crumbled) *optional

Directions: 

  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Put the tomato, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, spices, and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Toss these ingredients to coat.
  • Place the tomatoes onto a baking sheet. Spread them with the flesh side is facing up.
  • Roast the tomatoes in the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes. 
  • Once done, remove pan from heat, then finish by adding feta cheese sprinkles and fresh thyme before serving.

Tips to Make Mac and Cheese

  • One way to achieve a perfect mac and cheese pasta is to add plenty of salt to your boiling water. This step ensures that the pasta is well-seasoned. 
  • Smaller pasta varieties with nooks are the right pasta to choose, such as elbow pasta, farfalle, or fusilli. They can hold the cheesy sauce more easily than straight pastas. 
  • Instead of using milk, replace it with cream for your béchamel sauce. This ingredient ensures a richer and creamier finish.
  • Don’t hold back on the cheese! It is, after all, half of the name of the dish! No matter which cheese you use, you can never have too much of it in mac and cheese. Always remember that.
  • Explore your culinary world and add an extra ingredient. You can add lobster, herbs, or mushrooms. There’s no hard and fast rule, actually, about what goes best in macaroni and cheese, so you can get as creative as you like.

Frequently Asked Questions

What protein goes with mac and cheese?

If you are like most people who cannot get enough of mac and cheese and you’re searching for ways to add protein to your bowl, shredded chicken or ground beef can make your dish more complex and more flavorful. You can also try the shredded form of oil-packed tuna to add another type of protein.

What cheese is best in mac and cheese?

Nobody wants to use the wrong cheese for their favorite mac and cheese dish; therefore, it’s vital to know which cheese melts (and tastes!) best in mac and cheese. The top five of the best cheeses to use in macaroni and cheese include sharp cheddar, gouda, gruyere, cream cheese, and brie. If you have parmesan or goat cheese on hand, both or these work perfectly, too.

What can you do with mac and cheese?

The truth is, there’s really no limit to what you can and cannot do with mac and cheese. You can stick to the basics and make it from scratch. Or, you can explore different options and incorporate other ingredients. Perfect examples for this include adding more cheese, or maybe some meat or vegetables. You will never know what works unless you give it a try.

What main dish goes with mac and cheese?

Due to its creamy and cheesy flavor, mac and cheese goes well with several main dishes, one of which includes BBQ ribs. The smokiness of the barbecue complements the richness of mac and cheese. Aside from the amazing flavors, the color combination of the two makes it a treat for the eyes AND the tastebuds!

What is the secret to creamy macaroni and cheese?

The secret to creamy mac and cheese is to simply add more cream! You can add cream alone, or use a combination of milk and cream. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to achieve THE ultimate creamy mac and cheese. It’s one of the reasons why this favorite comfort food is loved by so many.


Additional Resources

Kitchen Professor author

Rhonda grew up with parents who gardened, hunted, fished, canned, and preserved food. Her mother was a professional cook and Rhonda credits her teaching everything from how to make homemade biscuits and gravy to what kind of meals to serve for different occasions. In the kitchen, Rhonda uses a mix of old-fashioned country cooking and up-to-date fads in the kitchen, often experimenting with replacing higher-calorie or fat ingredients with healthier options that still retain the delicious flavors of the originals.

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