Macaroni and cheese is an American classic and a college student staple—but the commercially available orange powdered stuff can be questionable in both ingredients and taste. When you’re ready to take a step beyond the blue box, try out these ideas to give your mac some more zest.

1. CLASSIC BAKED

If you’ve only ever had mac and cheese from a box, homemade baked macaroni is a revelation. The classic recipe is a simple bechamel sauce: butter and flour cooked together with milk to create a thick sauce that simply needs shredded cheese to be perfect on elbow noodles. This macaroni is good as is, but absolutely wonderful baked with breadcrumbs on top.

2. STUFFED OR TOPPED

It’s certainly extravagant, but also delicious, to take macaroni and cheese and add it to other classic foods. Pizza, for example, or cheeseburgers, and even grilled cheese are all improved by mac and cheese, and that’s only the beginning.

3. BACON AND TOMATO

Bacon is a pretty standard addition to macaroni and cheese, but adding tomatoes makes the dish reminiscent of a BLT—another American classic.

4. SRIRACHA

For those spice fans, adding Sriracha or another hot sauce gives creamy macaroni and cheese more bite. If you enjoy sweating your way through dinner, this variation is definitely the way to go.

5. SPINACH ARTICHOKE

The classic dip is delicious on pita points or baguette, but this dish takes it beyond an appetizer. Spinach artichoke dip is already creamy and baked with a crumb topping, so adding macaroni noodles is basically a no-brainer. And a delicious one at that!

6. LOBSTER

If you’re looking for a classier version of the childhood staple, look no further than lobster mac and cheese. Expensive seafood might not seem like the most logical choice for macaroni, but the cheesy sauce and lobster are a match made in heaven.

7. CHILI MAC

This might stretch the boundaries of the definition of macaroni and cheese, but adding chili spices, ground beef, beans, and corn makes macaroni both delicious and filling. This variation is a perfect easy dinner, especially when you need to make a meal of simple pantry staples.

8. BUFFALO CHICKEN

Another classic combination, buffalo sauce and chicken make a great match with cheesy sauce and noodles. Buffalo is everywhere now, from wings to dips to salads, so why not add it to your mac?

9. VEGAN

While vegans avoid the butter, milk, and cheese that are generally components of macaroni and cheese, vegan versions do exist. Soaked cashews provide creaminess, and nutritional yeast gives a cheesy flavor that apparently closely mirrors the original dish.

10. DESSERT

This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Dessert macaroni and cheese exists, and you can make it. Noodle kugel paved the way for noodles in dessert, but a sweet bechamel sauce makes this dessert version of mac and cheese a distinct culinary innovation.

All images courtesy of iStock.