Homemade Mac And Cheese Recipe

This homemade mac and cheese recipe is a great way to give the kids what they want and still feel good about the quality of what they (or you!) are eating.

Homemade mac and cheese is on a whole other level compared to the boxed variety you can buy at the store. It’s absolutely comfort food, and the best part is that it’s just as fast and easy to make as the boxed variety. So, the only thing you’re missing with a recipe like this is the chemicals, preservatives, and food coloring that come with the stuff from a box.

An overhead view of a wood spoon lifting some Homemade Mac and Cheese out of a white crock.

I think most clean eaters realize that when something can sit on a shelf for years in a box, is processed into powder, and is for sale at 10 boxes for $1, it’s probably not the most healthy choice you could be making.

One look at the ingredient list alone is enough to send you back to kindergarten because you think you have forgotten how to read the English language. But the truth is, all those chemicals are not only unreadable and unpronounceable but indigestible as well.

Instead, make clean mac and cheese from scratch at home. It’s extra creamy, and the flavor is so much better, thanks to the use of real cheese. You can play around with the cheese you use to get the perfect flavor for you, and I’ll give you suggestions below for types of cheese to try.

FYI: While this is a perfect comfort food main dish for any night of the week, it’s also a great Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner side dish. You can even take it to potlucks, but you’ll want to keep it warm and serve it as close to when you finished cooking it as possible.

Is Cheese Okay For A Clean Eating Diet?

As with most foods, it depends. Remember, it’s not the “process” of making something that makes it a processed food. It’s how much the food is altered and how much garbage is mixed in with it.

So yes, real cheese is clean. However, most clean eating enjoy it in moderation due to the fat content. (Low-fat or non-fat cheese is not clean. It’s very processed).

What Are The Best Cheeses To Use For Homemade Mac And Cheese?

While this recipe calls for sharp cheddar and parmesan, there are other cheeses you can use if you want to adjust the flavors a bit. Note that it’s best to buy a block of cheese instead of pre-shredded cheese, which has anti-caking ingredients added.

  • Gruyere
  • Mild or medium cheddar
  • Gouda
  • Monterey Jack
  • Colby jack
  • American – The real stuff, not Kraft processed cheese. Unprocessed cheese will always be better, both for health and for flavor.
  • Cream cheese
A white crock filled with Homemade Mac and Cheese.

What’s The Best Pasta For Macaroni And Cheese?

While you can use any pasta shape you prefer, a few noodles are especially well-suited for homemade mac and cheese.

  • Macaroni
  • Shells
  • Rotini
  • Cavatappi
  • Penne

Is Milk Or Butter Better For Mac And Cheese?

When you are making your own mac and cheese from scratch, the best one is both. Using both will give you that nice, creamy consistency you crave in a good mac and cheese.

How Do I Make My Mac And Cheese Better?

If you are talking about boxed mac and cheese, the best thing to add is additional cheese and maybe either milk or butter. But if you are talking about made-from-scratch mac and cheese, there are a few things that could be making it bland.

  1. You used cheese that isn’t strong-flavored enough.
  2. You forgot the salt. (The boxed stuff has a lot of sodium that you may be used to.)
  3. You only used one type of cheese. Homemade macaroni and cheese tastes best with a combination of cheeses.
  4. You can add garlic powder and/or onion powder to round out the flavors.

How To Serve Homemade Mac And Cheese

If you are serving a group, serve this in a baking dish for easy serving. If you are only serving one or two people, serve directly in bowls.

How To Make Cheesier Mac And Cheese

This cheese sauce is perfectly thick and creamy. To increase the cheesy factor, you’ll want to use less pasta. The ratio in the images here is half the pasta called for in the recipe. If you want a less saucey consistency, simply use all the pasta called for. The number of servings is based on you using all the pasta.

A side view of a white crock filled with Homemade Mac and Cheese.

Can I Make Baked Macaroni With This Recipe?

If you prefer to bake mac and cheese in the oven, you can do that here at the end. Simply combine everything in a casserole or baking dish, add a little extra cheese over the top, and add some whole wheat bread crumbs. Bake at 400 F. until you have a nice golden crust on top. Depending on your oven and your cheese sauce-to-pasta ratio, this can take anywhere from 15-40 minutes, so keep an eye on it.

What To Eat With Mac And Cheese?

Things you can serve with mac and cheese are:

Toppings For Homemade Mac N Cheese

Topping ideas for macaroni and cheese that you can just sprinkle over the top or mix in are:

  • Panko topping or bread crumbs – Panke makes a 100% whole wheat bread crumb that tastes great.
  • Cracker crumbs – Many people use Ritz crackers, but you can use any whole-grain cracker to get the same results.
  • Chopped bacon.
  • Cooked corn.
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Jalapeno pepper
  • Tomatoes
An overhead view of a white crock filled with homemade mac and cheese.

Ingredients For Homemade Mac and Cheese

Pasta – Any kind you want to use.

Milk – You can use plant-based milk if you wish.

Grated sharp cheddar cheese – You can use plant-based cheese if you wish.

Parmesan cheese – The real stuff, not Kraft.

Salted butter – Unsalted will work in a pinch.

Prepared yellow mustard – No sugar added.

Arrowroot powder – Cornstarch will work in a pinch.

How To Make Homemade Mac And Cheese

Adding salt to pasta water.
Strained pasta shells in a pot.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

All the cheese sauce ingredients in a pot.
Cheese sauce stirred together in a pot.
Melted, finished cheese sauce in a pot with a whisk.

While the pasta cooks, combine all the cheese sauce ingredients in a medium pot and warm over low to medium heat. Do not warm over high heat, or the cheese will burn onto the bottom of your pot before it’s fully melted. It should only take about 2-3 minutes to fully melt. Whisk it continuously.

Pouring cheese sauce over cooked pasta shells.
A spoon lifts some just-mixed Homemade Mac and Cheese out of a pot.

Pour the sauce over the prepared pasta and stir to combine.

A white crock sits on a placemat filled with Homemade Mac and Cheese. A spoon rests in the pasta.

Add salt to taste if needed, and serve.

Storing Mac And Cheese

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese? 

Freezing is not recommended for this recipe.

Reheating This Clean Eating Mac and Cheese Recipe

Reheat this in a pot on the stovetop. You may need to add a splash of milk to loosen it up again. You can also reheat this in the microwave in short intervals.

More Healthy Pasta Recipes

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An overhead view of a wood spoon lifting some Homemade Mac and Cheese out of a white crock.

Homemade Mac And Cheese

This delicious make-at-home mac and cheese is so much healthier than the boxed stuff!
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 396kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. dry whole grain pasta (I used gluten-free shells – Cook to package directions)
  • cups milk (I used whole milk)
  • 2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not Kraft)
  • 1 tbsp. prepared yellow mustard (no sugar added)
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 tbsp. arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta to package directions in salted water.
    Adding salt to pasta water.
  • In a medium pot, combine all the cheese sauce ingredients and warm over low to medium heat. Do not warm over high heat, or the cheese will burn onto the bottom of your pot before it's fully melted. It should only take about 2-3 minutes top for it to fully melt. whisk it continuously.
    Melted, finished cheese sauce in a pot with a whisk.
  • Pour the sauce over the prepared pasta and stir to combine.
    Pouring cheese sauce over cooked pasta shells.
  • Add salt to taste if needed, and serve.
    A white crock sits on a placemat filled with Homemade Mac and Cheese. A spoon rests in the pasta.

Notes

Please note that the nutrition data below is a ballpark figure. Exact data is not possible.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 396kcal | Carbohydrates: 47g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 47mg | Sodium: 359mg | Potassium: 228mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 500IU | Vitamin C: 0.01mg | Calcium: 336mg | Iron: 2mg

Recipe from the Gracious Pantry® archives, originally posted on 10/10/11.

Author: Tiffany McCauley

Title: Food and Travel Journalist

Expertise: Food, cooking, travel

Bio:

Tiffany McCauley is a nationally syndicated journalist and an award-winning cookbook author and food blogger. She has been featured on MSN, Huffington Post, Country Living Magazine, HealthLine, Redbook, and many more. Her food specialty is healthy comfort food recipes.

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61 Comments

  1. graciouspantry says:

    Rose – You can say that again! I love my comfort foods!

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  3. graciouspantry says:

    Mommy – Wow. That’s a tough one. Let me think on that for a while…

  4. Nicole S. says:

    Just made this with whole wheat flour, added a little garlic powder, a teeny bit extra mustard and some salt and it’s DELISH! I would say the consistency is comparable to the Shells ‘n Cheese you get in the box. VERY creamy!

    1. graciouspantry says:

      Nicole – Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. graciouspantry says:

    Great! I hope you all enjoy it!

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  7. graciouspantry says:

    Heather – The flour is for thickening. You could try an organic cornstarch but not sure how that would taste. Keep in mind that if your family is used to white flour, it will take some time for their tastes to adjust. Don’t give up. Try mixing half and half until they get used to that, and then move on to completely whole wheat.

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  9. graciouspantry says:

    Fabulous! Thanks!

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  11. shelley landsburg says:

    mine is a fussy teen so I have used the pasta that is “whie” ๐Ÿ™ but has fibre in it>

  12. Just threw this together for lunch. So easy and yummy! Made a few changes- used medium cheddar and no ground mustard. Thank you!

  13. Jeff Hamlin says:

    Now if only I could figure out how to convert this to slow cooker method, it would be great! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I don’t recommend it. Pasta is VERY touchy in a slow cooker.

  14. OMG! I can’t wait to try this! My kiddos love Mac & Cheese and we just started eating clean.

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      I hope you all enjoy it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. I just made this, and I am practically licking the bowl clean! It is Soooo good!

  16. Liz Karem says:

    Do you think I can make this with almond milk? I try to avoid buying cow’s milk, but I do always have cheese around. I’d love to make this (I just finally convinced hubby that box junk was JUNK), but I don’t want to have to keep skim milk on hand. Thank you for having a recipe! (I told hubby you would!)

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Liz – I haven’t tried it. In theory, it should work just fine. But almond milk can also be a little touchy when heated. So it’s a gamble. Sorry, I wish I had more info on that for you.

  17. Sounds good! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have to admit, I love, love, love mac and cheese. I’ll have to try this (and eat a smaller portion) ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Sara – Great! Let me know how you like it!

  18. WoW! so quick and easy and SO YUMMY!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Steph – Glad you enjoyed it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. I made this tonight but I mixed in some organic beef, used almond milk and whole wheat flour to make if beefy mac and cheese! It was delicious!

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Monica – Awesome! So glad you enjoyed it!

  20. Throw a carrot, an onion and a stick of celery in a food processor and fry it in a little oil and add to the mix if you want to veg it up a little

    1. The Gracious Pantry says:

      Yolanda – Great idea!!!