20 Sides That Make Mac & Cheese a Meal

updated Sep 27, 2022
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Credit: Shelly Westerhausen/Kitchn

Mac and cheese is such a solid staple. You can stock your pantry with the basics to make it from scratch, find a favorite boxed variety, or go for pure nostalgia with the frozen kind that microwaves in minutes. While some might argue that mac and cheese is an entire meal (my second grader, for one), even on the most harried nights I still want a side dish to round out the table.

So, what goes with mac and cheese? Side dishes for mac and cheese can be as easy as sliced apples and carrot sticks or a bagged salad. Or you can steam a bag of frozen vegetables and call dinner done, too. When I have a little more foresight and time on my hands, though, I like to make mac and cheese feel more like a meal by pairing it with a vegetable side dish or two. Roasted vegetables, quick raw slaws, even a bean salad really transform mac and cheese into dinner.

Here are 20 of my favorite sides that make mac and cheese a meal.

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1 / 20
Shaved Brussels Sprouts

It's a 10-minute side dish that easy to serve alongside absolutely anything.

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2 / 20
Roasted Broccolini

An easy yet rewarding recipe for crispy-edged Broccolini roasted in the oven.

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3 / 20
Simple Arugula Salad
A quick and easy, unfussy arugula salad tossed in a lemon vinaigrette and finished with shaved Parmesan.
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4 / 20
Green Beans Almondine

Crisp-tender beans are combined with sliced almonds and buttery shallots for a quick and easy side.

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5 / 20
Sweet corn and tomatoes helps ensure this colorful side is kid-friendly. What's even better is you can start with fresh or frozen veggies, depending on what you have on hand.
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6 / 20
Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
This step-by-step recipe for easy sautéed broccoli rabe involves quickly blanching the greens to reduce bitterness.
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7 / 20
Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad
Somewhere between a salad and a slaw, this Brussels sprout Caesar is ideal for partnering with mac and cheese. The dressing is slightly tangy and the salad is crunchy in contrast to the creamy macaroni. Plus this makes excellent leftovers.
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8 / 20
Blistered Green Beans with Pickled Shallots and Toasted Breadcrumbs
This fancy looking side dish is way easier than it looks. Plus, once you make them, you'll never want to be without pickled shallots ever again.
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9 / 20
Sheet Pan Roasted Tomatoes & Mushrooms
The beauty of a sheet pan side is that you can roast a little something for everyone. The kids get sweet and juicy tomatoes, and the adults can fold both the rich mushrooms and the tomatoes into the creamy pasta.
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10 / 20
Cabbage and Apple Slaw with Honey-Lime Dressing
The slightly sweet honey dressing makes this fruit-and-veggie slaw a true crowd-pleaser. To ensure your kids love it as much as you do, chop the cabbage into extra-thin shreds.
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11 / 20
Garlicky Parmesan Sweet Potatoes
These potatoes are packed with garlicky flavor, and their crisp exterior is an ideal complement to the rich mac and cheese.
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12 / 20
Oven-Roasted Frozen Broccoli
This easy side dish doubles as a macaroni mix-in. Broccoli is my 8-year-old's favorite vegetable these days, so I've got a freezer stocked full of it. Did you know you can roast broccoli straight from the freezer? Just slide it right into the oven alongside the frozen mac and cheese.
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13 / 20
Tangy Carrot Slaw
This is one of my family's favorite slaws, and it's so simple my 6-year-old often makes it. Pre-shredded carrots from the produce section make it even faster.
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14 / 20
Easy Lemon-Ginger Spinach
Spinach cooks quickly on the stovetop, making it a smart and easy side for the nights when you just want to microwave that frozen mac.
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15 / 20
Cowboy Caviar
Often served as a dip, this no-cook recipe is actually the perfect make-ahead side. We love it mixed right into our bowls of mac and cheese.
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16 / 20
Salt and Vinegar Cucumbers
These no-cook cucumbers balance the richness of mac and cheese with their tangy, salty bite. If your kids love salt and vinegar potato chips, they will love these crisp cucumbers.
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17 / 20
Easy 10-Minute Garlic Broccolini
Broccolini is even easier to prep and cook than broccoli florets — plus, you can eat it with your fingers (though you didn't hear that from me).
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18 / 20
Apple-Bacon Slaw
This is everything I want in slaw served with cheesy pasta. It can be built on a base of cabbage or shaved Brussels sprouts, making it a versatile option for frozen mac and cheese night.
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19 / 20
Carrot Salad
This mayo-dressed, raisin-studded salad is a simple mix of kitchen staples, making it the easy, delicious cookout side you need.
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20 / 20
Harvest Roasted Apple Kale Salad
From the roasted apples to the pecans and walnuts, this kale salad's star ingredients create a crunchy, yet tender mix of texture and bold flavors.
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What is your favorite frozen macaroni and cheese partner?