Sometimes you want to cook a meal from scratch and make some elaborate spread, but inevitably there are some times that you just want to take it easy and eat pre-packaged food. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes prepackaged food can be a little bland, or just a little too “ordinary” and could benefit greatly from some sprucing up. Here are a few ideas to elevate your next easy meal:
Boxed Mac n Cheese: We love to add some frozen peas to our boxed mac n cheese for some color as well as to add some vegetable into the meal. It’s super simple as you just add them to the boiling water right alongside the pasta, strain them with the pasta, and mix the cheese packet right in. You could add any frozen veggie in this way. We also think that boxed mac n cheese sometimes could use a little more flavor, like some pepper, garlic and/or onion powder, or paprika (regular or smoked). Experiment with throwing in some of your favorite spices and see how it comes out! If it doesn’t taste great, well, you’ve only wasted a $1 box of mac n cheese!
Boxed Brownies: Depending on the type of boxed brownies you buy, they may benefit from all sorts of additions, such as peanut butter chocolate chips or M&Ms folded into the batter, walnut sprinkled on top, or even raspberry extract added into them! If you’ve got caramels on hand, you could unwrap those, cut them into little pieces, and fold them in to the batter as well. Maybe try adding some flaky sea salt to the top of them. Personally, I believe that if a brownie doesn’t have nuts, it’s not worth the calories, but I know some are strictly opposed to nuts – no judgement! The only brownie I’ve eaten without nuts and liked was when we added raspberry extract to a box of Ghirardelli brownies – way more extract than you’d think, a little over a tablespoon. Now those were something special.
Pancake/waffle mix: Sure, pancakes and waffles are good as is (is “as is” includes topping them with maple syrup), but we rarely if ever eat them plain. We love to add frozen blueberries to them (we’ve tried adding fresh, and actually prefer the taste and texture of frozen ones!), chocolate chips (for when you just want something super sweet in the morning), or even crumbled bacon (yup, straight from the freezer! Don’t keep bacon in your freezer? Read our article on why you should here and how to cook it here.) But the possibilities are really endless. We visited Marcy’s Diner in Portland, ME that served granola in their pancakes (super tasty and VERY filling) and Mustache Bill’s Diner in New Jersey which serves a “Cyclops” – an egg cooked into the middle of a pancake (no syrup needed if you leave your egg runny!). One super simple way to elevate pancakes is to serve them with a fruit salad – you’ll feel like you’re at a hotel.
Boxed cornbread: If you don’t make your cornbread from scratch (it’s not hard and is well worth it), you might want to spruce up that boxed cornbread mix. There are so many ways to do this, starting with something super simple – add a can of corn to it! It’ll add to both the flavor and texture, and adds some freshness. If you like spicy food, add some diced jalapeno to it – maybe even some cheddar. We’ve topped ours with jalapeno salt and loved it. We also like to serve our cornbread with hot honey (if you haven’t heard of it, it’s spicy-pepper-infused honey that is to die for!).
Frozen French Fries, Fish, Tater Tots: Our first suggestion to spruce up these frozen foods would be to air fry them (if you’ve got an air fryer). They will crisp up so much better than a traditional oven and will be ready quicker. Whether or not you air fry them, try adding garlic and/or onion powder to them. And instead of just grabbing the ranch or BBQ out of the fridge, make a homemade dipping sauce for them. We strongly suggest garlic aioli, which is just equal parts mayo and sour cream with some garlic, salt, and pepper added in. Super quick, super easy, and way better than ketchup!
Frozen/refrigerated pastas: We’ll admit it. We’re suckers for Rana ravioli. It’s a great quick (5 minute) meal and can be frozen to keep on hand for emergencies. But sometimes it just feels like, well, premade pasta. We love to, instead of drizzling it with olive oil as the package recommends, use walnut oil. If you haven’t tried walnut oil, you’re missing out on some big, deep flavor. Also try freshly grating some parmesan over frozen ravioli – it’ll make it feel so much fresher. And while you’re at it – use the parmesan rind to simmer in a tomato sauce that you top the pasta with.
Have a go-to easy meal that you’re looking to spruce up? Leave a comment and we’ll help you brainstorm what you can do to take it up a notch.