Homemade Baked Mac and Cheese
If mac and cheese holds a special place in your heart, we have something in common.
But making this cheesy delight from scratch used to intimidate me so much! Making cheese sauces seemed too advanced for someone like me, who could barely make a pot of pasta without supervision (true story).
Turns out, making mac and cheese from scratch is super easy and I can’t wait to share my foolproof method with you.
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How to make Creamy Mac and Cheese Sauce
The easiest way to make homemade cheese sauce for your mac is by starting with a roux, then adding milk and cheese (plus other flavors, which we’ll get to later). This is called a bechamel sauce (flour, butter, milk).
A roux is a mixture of flour and fat (oil or butter in most cases) that allows sauces to get thick. You make it by cooking flour in the fat so it’s no longer raw (raw flour can be super harmful to consume) which takes about 2-3 minutes and requires your attention on the stove.
Once you have a good roux going, you can slowly add milk. It’s important to not let your milk boil (then it will curdle) but the heat should be medium-low so it bubbles a little bit. You want to use a whisk, not a spoon or spatula, during this process to smooth out any lumps from the flour and butter mixture.
As you cook the sauce, you’ll notice it will start to thicken. Then you can add in your cheese, salt, pepper and other spices.
If your sauce gets too thick, simply add more milk (or water/broth). If it’s too thin, turn up the heat slightly and let it cook more.
When your sauce is done, you can toss your cooked pasta in it and enjoy ASAP (we love a good stovetop mac and cheese) or bake it to get a crust on top if you have some patience (recipe below).
What is the best Cheese for Mac and Cheese?
Cheddar is a classic cheese choice. You really can’t go wrong with it. For best results, grab shredded cheddar cheese or shred up a block yourself!
If you want to get a little fancier, gruyere, gouda, brie, cream cheese, mozzarella, and parmesan make great cheese options.
I usually just add whatever I have on hand – except feta. Maybe feta wouldn’t be great in this dish.
The great thing about making a bechamel sauce is that most cheeses will melt right into the sauce and not be a lumpy, stringy mess. So rule of thumb, any cheese that melts well can work in mac and cheese.
Mix It Up
Mac and cheese makes a great base for all types of flavor profiles and ingredients to make it more interesting if that’s what you’re in the mood for.
Here are some of the many ways you can jazz up a regular mac and cheese:
- Jalapenos or something spicy (sriracha, your favorite hot sauce) for a kick
- Roasted vegetables will round this casserole out a bit in a very delicious way
- Cooked spinach or mushrooms can be mixed in with the pasta
- Basil pesto stirred into the sauce (trust us)
- Add ground meat to make it a chili mac
- Throw in some chopped up bacon
- Roasted garlic mixed into the sauce will make your mac a bit fancier
- Add pepperoni to make it a pizza mac
Your mac, your rules!
What To Pair Homemade Mac and Cheese With
Some would argue that mac and cheese on its own is not a meal, but as I said before, you make the rules.
If you want to make this recipe as a side dish, you can pair it with a number of different mains! Here are three easy ideas.
You could make a classic BBQ plate with baked chicken wings (or cauliflower wings) and braised greens or roasted broccoli.
Or whip up a fresh side salad and your favorite pan-fried proteins! Check out this list of easy salad ideas from our friends over at Meal Plan Addict. https://mealplanaddict.com/2020/01/meal-prep-work-week-salads/
When in doubt, throw your favorite vegetables on a sheet pan and roast them to go alongside.
In the WWL Program, all our recipes incorporate vegetables to make them a full meal so you don’t have to worry about sides! Click here to join on a free trial!
Notes about this Recipe
- It’s super freezer-friendly. Feel free to freeze it for up to 6 months.
- You can freeze this recipe unbaked and then bake it (from frozen or after it defrosts) when ready to eat!
- Double the recipe if you want to have extra for the fam.
- You technically don’t HAVE to bake this, but I think the texture is better for meal prep/leftovers
- Feel free to use gluten-free flour if you need to (in the sauce)
- This can be stored in the fridge for up to four days.
Other Mac and Cheese Recipes to try!
More Comfort Foods We Love
Don’t forget to Pin this recipe for later!
Mac and Cheese for Meal Prep
Servings 4 servings
- 8 oz short pasta any kind works!
- 2 TBSP butter or vegan butter, I used Earth Balance
- 1 cup milk of your choice warmed
- 2 TBSP flour of your choice, I used whole wheat
- 2 cups shredded cheese of your choice, I used real cheddar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp chipotle powder
- 1 TBSP nutritional yeast or breadcrumbs for topping, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C)
Prepare the pasta according to the package.
Melt butter in a medium-sized sauce pan. Add the flour and stir until combined. Then add the milk. Turn up the heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Pour in the cheese and stir until melted. Add the chipotle powder, salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and set aside.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Stir until well combined.
Prepare a 9×9 baking dish with cooking spray & pour the pasta in. Top with nutritional yeast if using. Bake for 15 minutes uncovered.
Divide the mac n’ cheese into as many servings as you want, I got 4 out of mine. Pair with a green vegetable for a complete meal! This will last 4 days in the fridge or 3-6 months in the freezer.