While microwaveable “bowls” of macaroni and cheese are ready within minutes, these single-serve options don’t work well for family dinners. Products like boxed Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dinners, which include the pasta and packets of powdered or liquid cheese, can also be cooked in the microwave. As with stovetop mac and cheese, the microwaved versions can be served “as is,” or with a bit of tweaking to make these meals your own.

Zap the Mac

The pasta provided in Kraft Macaroni & Cheese packages cooks in about 12 minutes in the microwave, with a little stirring every 5 minutes, on the High setting. Use a 2-quart bowl or casserole dish to hold the noodles and the water, and leave it uncovered while it cooks. To save the step of draining the noodles after they’ve cooked, the manufacturer suggests using 1 3/4 cups water for the standard-size package. If you’re using “family style” or another larger Kraft Macaroni & Cheese product, check package instructions so that you add just enough water to be absorbed by the macaroni.

Cheese It Up

Once the pasta has cooked, remove the bowl from the microwave. At this point you can add the contents of the included cheese packet, as well as butter or margarine and milk. The basic method for doing this is to sprinkle or squeeze the cheese over the noodles. Next, add a few generous spoonfuls of butter or margarine, and a roughly equal amount of milk. Stir these ingredients into the pasta well, so that the ingredients are well combined. When the pasta all looks the same color, you have likely stirred the ingredients enough.

Special Touches

A spoonful of Dijon mustard undercuts the blandness some people dislike in a basic pasta cheese sauce. Alternatively, you might replace or augment the margarine with cream cheese, for extra creaminess, or olive oil, for a bit of sophistication. To amp up the cheesiness, supplement or replace the included Kraft cheese packet with other cheeses. Freshly grated Parmesan adds refinement, but you can introduce other flavor notes with feta, bleu or crumbled cheddar cheeses. Final touches include chopped fresh herbs, red pepper flakes or a pre-mixed blend of dried herbs that evoke anything from Indian to Italian flavors.

Make It a Meal

A few extra ingredients — and time in the microwave — allow you to use the prepared macaroni and cheese as a building block for fuller meals. Kraft recommends adding “pizza” ingredients like pepperoni, pizza sauce, chopped green peppers and shredded mozzarella. Or you might opt to cook up some frozen broccoli or peas in the microwave after the pasta is done, then combine these vegetables with canned tuna, a bit of sour cream and the prepared mac & cheese. For a Mexican twist, toss canned beans, salsa and shredded pepper jack cheese into the prepared macaroni and cheese. In general, it’s best to give these meals an additional 3 minutes or so in the microwave, on High.