If you haven't ditched your boxed made Mac and Cheese yet, it's time to do so! This Easy Baked Mac and Cheese is so simple to make and the kids absolutely love it! It's extra creamy, cheesy and topped with a layer of Panko bread crumbs. You can have this dish ready in just 30 minutes and can customize it to your likings by adding in some proteins and flavorful spices.
HOW TO MAKE EASY BAKED MAC AND CHEESE
The Pasta: You can use any type of pasta to make this recipe. For my kids, I make sure I choose a smaller kind of pasta, like a smaller sized of elbow pasta or smaller shells or the mini bowtie pasta. The normal size works too, so if you have older kids that are not picky, you can totally use those. Below is a photo of elbow pasta. You can also use gluten free, whole wheat, chickpea or even veggie based pastas if you needed to.
Cook the pasta for just about 7 minutes after the water starts boiling, based on the direction on the package. Set the pot aside. No need to drain the pasta.
HOW TO MAKE MAC AND CHEESE SAUCE
To make the base of the Mac and Cheese sauce, you will need to melt the butter in a non-stick pan on low heat. Add in the flour and whisk or mix with a wooden spoon and continue stirring until the mixture bubbles up.
Add in the milk, pasta water, spices, salt and continue whisking until the sauce is nice and smooth. Then add in the shredded cheeses, both white and sharp cheddar ( only use 1 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar, save 1 cup for topping).
Continue to whisk the mixture together until some of the cheese melts a bit and incorporates with the sauce. The cheese does not have to melt all the way because it will melt in the oven.
GETTING EVERYTHING READY FOR BAKING
Next, drain the pasta from the water and add it to the skillet over the cheese. Toss the pasta around with the sauce to coat well.
Transfer the Mac and Cheese to a baking dish (A size that fits the amount of pasta). Add a layer of shredded cheddar cheese to the top.
To prepare the panko crust, melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a non-stick skillet. Add in the panko crumbs, paprika and toast to give the crumbs a light brown color. Turn of the heat and add in the grated parmesan cheese. Mix together and then top the cheddar cheese with the panko crumb mixture.
Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Remove the dish from the oven and top with some fresh chopped parsley for garnishing. The parsley is completely optional. I know some kids do not like to see green things on their food. You can even sprinkle some pepper flakes on top if you would like to spice things up a little.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT MAC AND CHEESE
How do I customize my Mac and Cheese?
You can customize this Mac and Cheese recipe however way you like! Here are some suggestions:
Proteins: Chicken, Shrimp, Lobster. I recommend one of these proteins if you would like to add any into the dish. Before adding them to the dish, be sure to dice or cut into smaller portions (like for the chicken) and sauté until fully cooked because when the Mac and Cheese goes into the oven, it's basically just a quick bake and it isn't enough time to fully cook the proteins.
Spices: I love adding bold spices when my kids are not eating it. It's more like an adult Mac and Cheese time. I love added spices like Cajun, Chipotle, Spicy Fajita, Jambalaya, Cayenne pepper or even Tabasco or Sriracha sauce.
Veggies: I love adding veggies when I make a Fajita Mac and Cheese dish. I add sautéed onions and peppers along with Fajita spices of course. I also love adding some fresh broccoli florets into this dish.
What kind of cheese do I use to make Mac and Cheese?
You can several kinds of cheese to make Mac and Cheese. Mostly people use mild or sharp cheddar cheese. You can also use Gruyere, Velveeta, or Pepper Jack Cheese to add a little flavor to the dish. I have also tried cheeses like Jalapeno Cheddar and Habanero Cheddar Cheese (found at Walmart) in the adult version of my Mac and Cheese. However if you use Gruyere, make sure you mix it with white cheddar or either mild/sharp cheddar. Do not use only Gruyere alone because some brand come out oily and a bit salty. Also, some people use swiss cheese but I do not recommend that at all because it hardens up and does not melt well. It's important that you use cheeses that melt well. If you have time, shred your own cheese at home.
Can I make Mac and Cheese with Gluten Free Pasta?
Absolutely. Feel free to swap out the type of pasta to fit your nutritional needs as well as use gluten free flour instead of regular all purpose flour for the base sauce.
Can I use low Fat Milk to make Mac and Cheese?
You can sure substitute for 2% but no less. However, using full fat milk will make the dish creamier.
What can I serve with Mac and Cheese?
- Chicken Nuggets (kids favorite)
- Friend Chicken
- Meat Loafs
- BBQs (as a side dish)
- Veggies (great vegetarian option)
Can I store Mac and Cheese?
Yes. You can store any left overs in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
Making Mac and Cheese doesn't have to be complicated. In fact most of the time it's made as a simple and quick meal for our families especially on days we do not feel like cooking. This comforting dish is pleasing for adults, crowds and kids, who are the most picky eaters ever. After making this dish from scratch and realizing how easy it is, you will never buy boxed Mac and Cheese ever again!
If you try this Easy Baked Mac and Cheese and like it, please don't forget to rate it on my recipe card by pressing on the stars button below. Also use my hashtag to share it with me on INSTAGRAM for a chance to be featured in my story! You can Follow Me at Cookin’ With Mima on FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM |PINTEREST for all of my latest social posts and recipes.
OTHER PASTA RECIPES YOU MAY LIKE
- Easy Cajun Mac and Cheese with Chicken
- Jalapeño Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- Creamy Broccoli Mac N' Cheese
- One Pot Whole Wheat Mac and Cheese
- Baked Southwest Zucchini Boats
Easy Baked Mac and Cheese
- 12 oz elbow pasta cooked for 5 minutes (see package directions)
- 4 tbsps full fat butter
- 3 tbsps all purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup pasta water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (save 1 cup for topping)
- 1 1/2 cup white cheddar cheese
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley optional
Bread Crumbs Topping
- 1 cup panko crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp butter
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions, but only cook it for 7 minutes. Set aside.
- On low heat, melt the butter in a non-stick pan/ skillet. Add in the flour and whisk or mix with a wooden spoon and continue whisking until the mixture bubbles up.
- Gradually add in the milk, pasta water, spices, salt and continue whisking until the sauce is nice and smooth.
- Add in the shredded cheese (saving 1 cup of sharp cheddar for later) and continue to whisk the mixture together until some of the cheese melt and incorporates with the sauce. Remember to keep the heat low. The cheese does not have to melt all the way because it will melt in the oven.
- Next, drain the pasta from the water and add it to the skillet over the cheese. Toss the pasta around with the sauce to coat well.
- Transfer the Mac and Cheese to a baking dish. Add a layer of shredded cheddar cheese to the top.
- To prepare the panko crust, melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a non-stick skillet. Add in the panko crumbs, paprika and toast to give the crumbs a light brown color. Turn of the heat and add in the grated parmesan cheese. Mix together and top the cheddar cheese with the panko crumb mixture.
- Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove the dish from the oven and top with some fresh chopped parsley for garnishing.