The ultimate kid-favorite dinner doesn’t have to come from a box! Make this easy, creamy homemade mac and cheese on your stove top using just simple, nutritious ingredients.
You’re never too old to love macaroni and cheese. True, it may have been a long time ago that those chewy noodles in yellow creamy sauce first captured your heart but this… this is a love that lasts a lifetime. And now you can share all those good feels with your kids with this delicious, gooey, homemade mac and cheese recipe.
The big not-so-well-kept secret of homemade stove top mac and cheese is that you can make it SO EASILY, and in exactly the same amount of time that it takes to whip up the boxed stuff.
So if you thought homemade mac and cheese was super involved, or if the idea of making a roux has you running back to boxed mac and cheese, stick with us here. You’ll be glad you did. Because once you have a solid homemade mac and cheese recipe in your back pocket, you’ll always have a crowd-pleasing dinner idea for all ages.
Homemade mac and cheese is healthy because you make it healthy! And the key to a healthy mac and cheese is to use simple, whole-food ingredients.
Here are the ingredients we trust for making nourishing mac and cheese we feel good about serving our kids:
Here’s another mac and cheese nutrition tip: think of this recipe as a main course, not a side dish. Mac and cheese provides plenty of complex carbs and protein for kids (really!), so you can focus on fresh produce sides instead. Serve roasted or steamed veggies, or simple green salad, or cut fruit for balance.
We’re going to give you the step-by step version of how to do this because trust us: once you get the basic technique down, you can add “homemade mac and cheese maker” to your list of life skills, and it will never let you down again.
Start with two pots. One pot is for boiling your pasta, plain and simple. You already know how to do this. So we’re going to focus on the sauce pan. Go ahead and start heating your pasta water while you work on the sauce. With a little practice, you can get everything ready at the same time.
Add the butter to the bottom of your sauce pan and let it melt gently. Then sprinkle the flour over the butter, and use a whisk to turn the butter-flour mixture into a paste. Keep the heat on medium low and whisk. You’ll notice small bubbles forming, and the paste starting to thicken. This only takes a couple of minutes. There! You’ve made a roux.
Next, add your milk to the pan, and use that whisk to mix it in with the roux really well. For one hot second, it’s going to look like a mess. But before you know it, the thickening power of your roux is going to create a smooth, creamy-looking sauce.
At this stage, add a pinch of garlic powder and onion powder. Strictly speaking, this is optional. But it adds a nice extra dimension to the flavor of your sauce (and since you’re using powdered spice, you don’t have to worry about texture-sensitive kids reacting negatively to chunks of onion or garlic.) You may also add a half teaspoon of a good dijon mustard here to develop the flavor even more. Again, optional.
Now it’s cheese time. The best time! Sprinkle your cheeses into the sauce one handful at a time, whisking gently to melt as you go. Keep your heat on low to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Taste, and add some salt. If you’re used to eating boxed mac and cheese, you might be surprised at how very UN-salty your cheese sauce tastes. Don’t be afraid to add a generous pinch of salt.
Pour your sauce over cooked noodles. Stir well, and enjoy.
You can use this base recipe as the starting point for so many different healthy and delicious variations. Here’s just a partial list of add-ins, and how to get them into your dish without a fuss. (Most of the time, you don’t need an extra pan. Cool!)
Yes! Believe it or not, you can skip the roux phase altogether and still end up with serviceable mac and cheese. You even earn the added benefit of turning this recipe into a one-pot dish.
Here’s how to tweak this recipe if you don’t have flour on hand: boil your pasta, drain it, add it back to the pot, then simply stir in the shredded cheese and milk.
So you can totally do this. Here’s the thing, though: the flour goes a LONG way to creating a creamy texture in your mac and cheese. If you leave it out, you can expect to have a slightly lumpier sauce, and it’ll become more lumpy still as it cools. A dollop of cream cheese can help if you choose this option. Just stir it in with the cheeses.
Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and cook as directed. Grate cheese and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until bubbles form and the roux begins to thicken.
Add milk, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt, and continue whisking until the cream sauce starts to thicken. (You may need to turn the heat up slightly if your milk is cold.)
Add cheese by the handful and whisk between handfuls to melt. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pour sauce over cooked, drained pasta and serve immediately.
Calories: 486kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 18g | Sodium: 354mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g