Who can go past mac and cheese? It’s only one of the most comforting dishes out there, one that makes every meal taste a little bit better. You can even dress the mac and cheese up, then serve it as a meal all on its own.
For example, what about adding some bacon into the recipe and using some high quality cheese? Hotdogs are a surprisingly common addition that reminds many people of their childhoods. Those are just two options. I’m sure you know plenty of others yourself. Many families have at least one favorite recipe they come back to time and time again.
Then it’s time to think about what to serve with mac and cheese. While you could enjoy mac and cheese on its own, the right side makes your pasta taste even better.
Mac and cheese is often considered a side itself rather than a main meal. So, the first set of things to serve with mac and cheese are simply protein heavy mains, including roast chicken, steak, and pulled pork. You’ll often be looking for a vegetable-based side as well, like perhaps a crisp salad or some sauteed collard grounds.
You’ll need to think about your mac and cheese itself as well. You’ll need a filling side if you’ve made a fairly simple version without much protein. If your mac and cheese is much heartier, it might be almost a full meal in its own right. So, a simple side may suffice.
Roast chicken is well-known for its versatility. After all, chicken has a pretty mild flavor on its own. This gives you plenty of options for flavoring the chicken and making it more interesting.
Now, the common sides for roast chicken include mashed potatoes, roast veggies, and greens. But seriously, it would be a waste to forget mac and cheese. The creamy pasta dish is an excellent contrast to the crispness of your chicken. You could even serve some greens at the same time.
Isn’t this Brown Sugar and Orange Glazed Chicken stunning? The recipe starts with a bed of fruit and veggies, then the chicken itself, seasoned butter, and an orange glaze.
Notably, each aspect of the recipe involves oranges. That even includes the flavored butter, which combines butter with orange zest, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt.
The focus on oranges creates a strong orange flavor throughout your dish, which is honestly quite wonderful. The orange notes make an interesting contrast to your mac and cheese as well and should help cut through some of the heaviness of your meal.
Steak really is wonderful, offering a rich meaty flavor with plenty of buttery notes from the fat. It’s also surprisingly fantastic when served alongside mac and cheese.
Think about it. Steak is heavy and flavorful, so it makes sense to pair it with a contrasting side. What could be better than a creamy, carb-laden side like mac and cheese? For that matter, steak and pasta are often paired together, so there’s little doubt that the idea works well.
This Garlic Butter Brazilian Steak is a brilliant way to make steak more interesting without overcomplicating matters. Seriously, the main extra ingredients are just garlic and butter.
Still… there’s more to this recipe than just adding garlic butter to your steak. The specific techniques used help give you a stunning flavor profile that’s hard to forget. There’s also a short video to step you through the process.
The beautiful thing is that you can make this recipe with most cuts of steak. This allows you to choose your favorite type of steak and fully enjoy every mouthful.
While we’re talking about protein-heavy mains, what about serving mac and cheese alongside meatloaf? This is a classic combo that’s graced many dinner tables around the country.
Sometimes we’re talking about a simple meatloaf with boxed mac and cheese. Other times, it may be a more delicious and flavorful meatloaf, plus high quality homemade mac and cheese.
In some ways, the quality of the meatloaf and the mac doesn’t even matter that much. Either way, you end with a delicious, easy to prepare, and comforting meal.
This Honey-Chipotle Meatloaf shows that you don’t need to stick to traditional flavors to create delicious meatloaf. Much of the meatloaf’s flavor comes from a sweet and smoky glaze, which includes chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, plus apple cider vinegar and honey.
Still, the sauce isn’t the only thing making the recipe special. There are some interesting extra ingredients in the meatloaf itself. This includes more chipotle pepper in the same adobo sauce, which gives the meatloaf a kick too.
There’s also some oats and milk in the mix too. These unusual additions help with the texture of the meatloaf, ensuring that it is tender and doesn’t dry out.
Mac and cheese goes well with anything related to the BBQ, making pulled pork an obvious choice. You can even take a pile of pulled pork plus BBQ sauce and dump it on top of your mac and cheese for a rich meal.
The combination is so good that some recipes even use pulled pork as an ingredient in mac and cheese. It’s easy to see why, given that you’re pairing a strong flavor with a relatively mild one. Besides, cheese pairs well with most meat dishes.
This Slow Cooker Carolina Pulled Pork allows you to enjoy pulled pork with minimal fuss. You just need 15 minutes or so to prep the pork in the morning, then the slow cooker will do the rest of the work for you.
The recipe also uses a different type of BBQ sauce than you might expect. Notably, the sauce doesn’t have a tomato base and doesn’t even include any ketchup. Instead, Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar are some of the main ingredients.
There’s also a sweet-savory dry rub. This is an excellent way to boost the flavor profile and makes your meal even more exciting. Even if you’re not convinced, why not give this one a go? There’s no need to make pulled pork the same every time.
While we’ve already talked about roast chicken, it would be remiss not to highlight fried chicken as well. The dish is salty, crunchy, and savory – everything that you want when pairing with creamy decadent mac and cheese.
Fried chicken has another thing in common with mac and cheese too, they’re both traditional comfort foods. They’re dishes you turn to when you want to feel better, rather than when you’re trying to be healthy.
And, why not? We all go through periods where life is overwhelming or where we need a few more comforting things at our fingertips.
These Crispy Coconut Chicken Tenders are a fun version of fried chicken to experiment with. The most obvious feature is the coconut flavor, which you can guess from the name alone. Yet, the chicken tenders are also sprinkled with chili powder before the breadcrumbs and coconut flakes go on.
The use of chili powder creates a delightful flavor contrast, without being overwhelmingly spicy. You can even make a pretty healthy version of this dish by baking the chicken tenders instead of frying them. Doing so leads to less fat, without compromising the crunch of your chicken.
Here’s a pairing made in heaven – ribs with mac and cheese. You get stunning rich smokiness from the ribs, contrasted by the creaminess of your mac and cheese. Some recipes include a second contrast, between the slight saltiness in your mac and cheese and sweetness in your BBQ sauce.
Notably, the pairing works well with every imaginable version of these two dishes. If you really wanted to, you could even serve boxed mac and cheese alongside ribs.
Of course, it’s always worth going to more effort than that. Why not experiment with using high quality cheese and perhaps adding some extra ingredients in your mac and cheese for flavor?
These Easy Sweet & Spicy Korean Ribs are a stunning way to change up the flavor profile of your ribs. The recipe lives up to its name by relying on traditional Korean ingredients for flavor, including hoisin sauce, toasted sesame oil, gochujang, and soy sauce.
The ingredients provide a rich flavor profile, one that stands out from traditional American BBQ. Don’t worry, the ribs will still be an excellent complement to your mac and cheese. You might even find that you prefer these over other versions.
Here’s one final protein rich side to consider – Cajun shrimp. It’s easy to see why this works, especially as shrimp are delicious and popular in their own right.
Including Cajun spices with shrimp is a great way to elevate the seafood to a new level. You also get an excellent flavor contrast between the spices and your mac and cheese. After all, mac and cheese is often more creamy than it is flavorful. Sometimes you need an extra ingredient to provide a flavor boost.
This Skillet Cajun Shrimp is indeed prepared in the skillet. It’s also a fantastic weeknight recipe, as you can get the shrimp on your table in under 45 minutes.
You don’t even need to use fresh shrimp for the recipe. The author provides details about a quick thaw approach that gets frozen shrimp ready to go without stress.
If you like the flavors here, you could even use the same marinade on other types of protein. How about Cajun fried chicken with your mac and cheese? Or perhaps Cajun pulled pork? The opportunities are endless.
A Crisp Salad
Sometimes you don’t want protein alongside your mac and cheese, or perhaps you need a little more than just protein. A crisp salad is the answer to both of these situations.
The salad provides a refreshing contrast to the heaviness and creaminess found in the rest of your meal, while also providing you with plenty of nutrients. Plus, salads can be varied in countless ways. You could experiment with the types of greens you use, with the extra ingredients, and with the dressing.
We’re saying a crisp salad here because the crunch you get here is the perfect contrast to your soft and creamy meal. You could also experiment with the dressing. A vinaigrette-based dressing is especially good, as the vibrancy prevents the creaminess of your mac and cheese from getting too overwhelming.
This Easy Chinese Chicken Chopped Salad has a few exciting things going for it. First, the recipe relies on crushed ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and agave, which gives it a different flavor profile than normal.
The salad also looks beautiful, partly because of the bright orange from the mandarins and the use of red cabbage. Beyond this, there’s the protein. The salad includes shredded chicken breast, toasted cashews, and almonds, all of which make it more filling.
The protein here means you could easily serve this salad alongside mac and cheese without a second side. That’s one less dish to prep, which is certainly a good thing.
Many veggies work well alongside mac and cheese, especially those that aren’t too starchy. Green beans remain a popular choice, perhaps because they are vibrant and can be crunchy when prepared well.
Green beans are tasty enough that you can serve them as they are and enjoy the complexity of their natural flavor. Or, you can experiment with toppings and spices. Green beans with sliced almonds is one surprisingly common style. The beans are also excellent when cooked with garlic and topped with parmesan.
These Chinese Style Garlic Green Beans are quick, easy, and packed with flavor – everything you want at the end of the day. The style here isn’t like an authentic Chinese dish, instead it resembles the takeout beans you might find at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.
There are some fantastic ingredients in the mix, including sesame oil, sliced garlic, oyster sauce, and rice vinegar. These contribute to a complex flavor profile with plenty of sweetness.
As the creator points out, this is also an adaptable recipe. You can easily change some of the proportions to make the flavor more to your liking. You might even add a few extra ingredients.
Now for something different. Pickled beets have a sharp flavor that’s an excellent contrast for any creamy dish, including macaroni cheese.
This combo also works well because pickled beets are a fairly simple side. As such, beets are a match made in heaven if your mac and cheese is pretty complex and filling in its own right.
Of course, this same principle applies to other types of pickles. You might even get creative and serve pickled jalapenos or pickled eggs alongside your mac and cheese.
These Perfect Pickled Beets should look familiar, as they follow traditional styles for pickling vegetables. The biggest difference is the inclusion of spices, including dried chili, allspice berries, cloves, and star anise.
These spices give the beets a unique flavor profile, one that’s much more interesting than normal. Imagine pairing these beets with a creamy and mild version of mac and cheese. You’d end up with a stunning contrast of flavors. The difference in colors would look stunning on the plate too.
You’ll often want some greens alongside your mac and cheese, so why not serve some sautéed collard greens? This is a fantastic choice, as the greens cook quickly and provide plenty of nutrients.
If you just sautéed the greens with a little oil, their flavor would strongly shine through. Otherwise, you could try adding a few herbs and spices. Doing so adds complexity to the flavor profile, giving you an even tastier meal.
Of course, you don’t need to stick to collard greens. Many other dark leafy greens are delicious when cooked this way too, including spinach and even kale.
Collard greens can be a little boring on their own, which is where these Southern Collard Greens come in. The recipe includes a variety of extra ingredients for flavor, including chicken stock, garlic powder, ham hocks, seasoned salt, and more.
The cooking time is surprising here. You’re cooking the ham hocks with seasoning for two hours, then taking out the ham hocks, adding the collard greens, and cooking for another two hours.
The long cooking time helps infuse your greens with much more flavor than normal. This would be a fantastic option for the holidays, especially as the recipe will serve eight people.
What could be more classic than coleslaw? It’s often served for picnics and BBQs, but frequently finds its way to the dinner table as well.
Coleslaw often has creamy dressing, so you get a double hit of creaminess with your meal. Yet, there’s contrast too, as coleslaw offers a distinct crunch. There may also be some contrasting sharp notes in the coleslaw, especially if the dressing included vinegar as an ingredient.
This Sweet and Spicy Apple Coleslaw lives up to its name, offering spiciness from Tabasco sauce, plus sweetness from pineapple juice, apple slices, and a little sugar. Other ingredients include cabbage, mayonnaise, cilantro, and crushed toasted corn bits.
These ingredients all come together surprisingly well, giving you a flavorful and unusual dish. Why not try this if you’re sick of regular coleslaw?
We can’t forget about mushrooms, can we? They offer a fantastic earthiness to your meal and will work well with any style of mac and cheese.
Cooking them can be as simple as slicing the mushrooms and sautéing them in butter, perhaps with a little salt and pepper. You could use some herbs and spices too, or perhaps some white wine and lemon juice, to create a more complex flavor.
A completely different style involves baking mushrooms and stuffing these with mac and cheese. By doing so, your mains and side become part of the same delicious dish. The stuffed mushrooms could be served as an entrée, at a party, or as a snack on their own.
This Garlic Butter Zucchini and Mushrooms dish gives you mushrooms and greens as part of the same side. Both ingredients are cooked in a skillet, along with butter, onion, herbs, broth, garlic, and a few other ingredients.
The herbs, broth, and garlic ensure you have a delicious meal, without drowning out the flavor of the mushrooms and zucchini. Plus, the entire dish takes just 15 minutes to cook, allowing you to get it on the table in half an hour or less.
Most of the time you’ll be serving mac and cheese with protein- or fiber-rich sides, given that the pasta dish is already packed with carbs. Yet, there are always some situations where bending the culinary rules works surprisingly well.
What could be more over the top than serving an entire burger alongside mac and cheese? I mean, honestly, a burger is basically a meal on its own.
Despite this, some people really do serve mac and cheese alongside a burger (a few put mac and cheese in the burger, but that’s a different thing entirely). The idea even has some merits. Burgers are delicious. Mac and cheese is delicious. Serving the two together should be even better, right?
Needless to say, this isn’t an especially healthy meal. You’ll also need a decent appetite to eat the whole thing. Still, there’s a time and place for everything, right?
This Greek Beef Burger With Tzatziki Sauce really is a winner. The burger patties themselves incorporate Greek flavors, with Italian herbs, feta, and garlic included in the recipe.
Then there are the other ingredients in the burger, including cucumbers, tomato, red onions, and spinach. The cucumbers are a nice touch, as they’re shaved into ribbons rather than being sliced into rounds.
The recipe provides details for making tzatziki sauce yourself, using Greek yogurt and various herbs. This is likely to be much nicer than any tzatziki purchased from a local store.
Baked beans are most useful if you’re looking for a vegan source of protein to go with your meal. Many recipes also provide BBQ flavors, which are always a nice complement for your pasta dish.
The strangest thing is the texture, as both dishes are quite soft. You’d normally want some type of texture contrast. Still, the flavors work well and many people love the combo.
The smokiness in these Smoky BBQ Baked Beans is what makes them so impressive. But, this is a more complex recipe than you might expect. Along with beans, this recipe calls for carrots, red onions, smoky paprika, fire roasted tomatoes, chili flakes, and more.
The carrots and onion are a smart addition. These give your baked beans more texture than normal and help the meal to stand out.
Garlic bread works with mac and cheese for one reason – it’s comforting (partly because of the carbs, if we’re being honest). So, while garlic bread certainly isn’t the healthiest side for mac and cheese, it might just be the one you choose.
At its most basic, garlic bread is bread that’s been smeared with a considerable amount of garlic butter. This means you can make the side using any type of bread you like. This includes making garlic bread rolls, a fresh artisan garlic bread loaf, or something different again.
This Fresh Baked Rosemary Garlic Bread is different than most garlic bread recipes. Instead of relying on garlic butter, there are diced garlic cloves and rosemary in the bread itself. This approach provides a more subtle garlic flavor. It also makes the side much healthier than regular garlic bread.
This recipe is unusual in that it is designed to be made in a Dutch oven. The Dutch oven provides steam and may contribute to the texture and appearance of the loaf. The author even mentions that she hasn’t tried making the bread without a Dutch oven, so she doesn’t know whether baking the bread another way will still work.
That said, one commenter tried the recipe without a Dutch oven and reported that the loaf turned out perfect.