If you’re craving the ultimate comfort food, here is the BEST homemade easy mac and cheese recipe! Made on the stove top with only real food ingredients, this mac and cheese is quick & easy, oh-so-creamy, and perfect for the entire family!
There is a several year gap in my life when I didn’t make mac and cheese because the only way I knew how to make it was from a box, and I had thrown away all the boxes because they were contaminated with hydrogenated oils.
Yes, a life without macaroni and cheese is sad. As much as we enjoy other comfort dishes like chicken and spinach enchiladas and homemade donuts, nothing beats a classic homemade mac and cheese recipe.
Not only is this stove-top recipe super easy, it is also amazing because it’s:
- Simple. Made with a handful of easy-to-find ingredients, it’s a real food no-brainer!
- Creamy. With cream cheese and real cheddar cheese, it’s so much creamier and more delicious than the boxed powdered stuff.
- Quick. You can make this recipe from start to finish in 15-20 minutes!
- Family-friendly. Believe me, this recipe will quickly become a family favorite!
- Gluten-free friendly. Instead of regular pasta and flour, replace them with gluten free options.
- elbow pasta
- cream cheese
- cheddar cheese, shredded
- garlic powder + ground nutmeg + onion powder + paprika
- chili powder (optional)
- black pepper
- salt, to taste
Notes on Ingredients
Butter + Milk. Mac and cheese without butter and milk is just pasta and cheese. A.K.A. no creaminess whatsoever. You need our friends butter and milk to turn plain cheese into an amazing saucy sauce.
Pasta. If you are gluten-free, go ahead and swap in gluten free flour and pasta for the regular flour and pasta. Just follow the al dente cook time on the package of gluten free pasta.
Spices. I know it might seem odd to add spices to mac and cheese, but trust me, the garlic powder + ground nutmeg + onion powder + paprika seriously add an amazing depth of flavor. Please don’t skip them, and if you add some chili powder too? Yum…
Step- By-Step Instructions
Step 1. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Strain in a colander and set aside.
Step 2. In the same pot, melt butter. Add flour and stir so that it makes a paste with the melted butter. Allow the flour to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Step 3. Add 1 1/2 cups of milk while stirring constantly. Stir until the sauce is smooth.
Step 4. Add the cream cheese and cheddar cheese and stir often until the cheese is melted.
Step 5. Season with the garlic powder, nutmeg, onion powder, paprika, pepper and chili powder, if using.
Step 6. Rinse the pasta with water so that the noodles don’t stick together. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir well, but gently so that the noodles don’t break. Taste and add additional seasoning as desired. If the sauce is too thick, thin with milk 1/4 cup at a time.
- I should say that this mac and cheese is NOT diet friendly. It’s not carb-friendly or low-fat and doesn’t fall into any other category that agribusiness says is good for you.
- This is full-fat, from scratch, home-style cooking you imagine and salivate for when someone says mac and cheese. It’s made with 100% real food ingredients you can feel good about serving your family and oh, by the way, it’s ready in less than 15 minutes.
- Want to sneak in some veggies? Sub pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potato for the cream cheese! It still tastes amazing PLUS you can feed your picky eater some veggies and they won’t even know!
I used elbow noodles this time, but small or medium shells work great too. The key is to use a noodle that lets the cheese get inside yet still keep their shape – points for the cheesy factor.
Cute wheels and flat egg noodles? No go. Whether you use white or whole wheat pasta is up to you. I’ve used both and no one knew the difference.
Classic sharp cheddar is the main star for cheesiness, but cream cheese plays a very important supporting role to round out the creamy requirement. Plus cream cheese tends to cost less than cheddar, which means you can get away with using a little less cheddar than in most mac and cheese recipes.
Note that I said SHARP cheddar cheese – it’s another way to save on cheese (and it tastes better).
Mac and cheese without spice lacks a depth, which is why you often see nutmeg listed in the ingredients. Maybe one day I’ll use whole nutmeg with a microplane, but until then, ground nutmeg will have to do.
I’ve also added a few other players too – garlic, onion and paprika – because they really kick up the comforting factor a few notches. Please don’t skip them, and if you add some chili powder too? Yum…
There are none because this is STOVE TOP mac and cheese, not BAKED mac and cheese. We much prefer the stove top version.
This homemade easy mac and cheese would be delicious served with:
- Instant Pot Whole Chicken with Pan-Roasted Broccoli
- Almond Crusted Baked Chicken with Caramelized Onion & Swiss Chard
More Easy Homemade Classic Recipes
Watch How to Make Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Creamy Stovetop Mac and Cheese
The best homemade mac and cheese just like your grandma would make, ready in less than 15 minutes and made from scratch with real food ingredients.
- Prep Time: 1 min
- Cook Time: 15 mins
- Total Time: 16 minutes
- Yield: 4–6 servings 1x
- Category: Sides
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American
- 8 oz elbow pasta
- 4 Tbsp butter
- 4 Tbsp flour
- 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature and cubed
- 8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
- 2–2 1/2 cups milk, divided
- 1/4 tsp each: garlic powder, ground nutmeg, onion powder, paprika
- 1/4 tsp chili powder (optional)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- salt, to taste
- Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Strain in a colander and set aside.
- In the same pot, melt butter. Add flour and stir so that it makes a paste with the melted butter. Allow the flour to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Add 1 1/2 cups of milk while stirring constantly. Stir until the sauce is smooth.
- Add the cream cheese and cheddar cheese and stir often until the cheese is melted.
- Season with the garlic powder, nutmeg, onion powder, paprika, pepper and chili powder, if using.
- Rinse the pasta with water so that the noodles don’t stick together. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir well, but gently so that the noodles don’t break. Taste and add additional seasoning as desired. If the sauce is too thick, thin with milk 1/4 cup at a time.
Want to sneak in some veggies? Sub pumpkin puree or mashed sweet potato for the cream cheese! It still tastes amazing PLUS you can feed your picky eater some veggies and they won’t even know!
- Calories: 506
Keywords: homemade easy mac and cheese
Muchas gracias Tiffany por compartir tus recetas me gusta mucho los macarrones y la sopa de tomate con albahaca
Kyare - Team Crumbs
I am ecstatic that you liked this recipe.
I’m going to try Mexican cheese tonight with this recipe. Will let you know how it tastes.
I love Mac & Cheese. My mom made it in the oven & I loved it! I’ve made it both ways but my mom loves the bread crumbs on top. If you like the bread crumbs, melt some butter, put it over the bread crumbs & then sprinkle it over the bowls. I love crunchy bread crumbs on mine. I love your spices but I don’t like cream cheese at all so I would leave that part out. I also love Smoky Gouda so I would add that to the sharp cheddar. I’m going to try your recipe too!
I made this today. I used 8oz cream cheese and 2 c Mozzarella and used Spanish paprika, granulated garlic, kosher salt, white pepper, nutmeg and ground mustard. And I used butter (real) and whole milk. Thanks for sharing.
I love this recipe! Gonna make it tonight. I usually use sour cream in my Mac and cheese, makes it really creamy…
I’m so glad you liked this Tracey!
Wow! I’m 53 and have just gotten into from scratch recipe’s. I too always thought Mac n cheese was to hard but you made it simple and tasty, thanks. I’m adding you to my desk top for easy reference!!
Thank you Katrina! So glad you liked this recipe! ♥
By any chance have you ever made this and then put it in the Crock-Pot on warm? I’m making dinner for my daughters basketball team, and it will be about 2-3 hours from the time I can make this to the time they will eat. Trying to figure out if it will hold up ok. Thanks!
I haven’t Christa, but I’d be afraid the slow cooker would burn it. Instead, I’d recommend boiling the noodles and prepping everything else (i.e. shredding the cheese). Then it’s about 10 min when the girls get home. 🙂
Thanks for responding Tiffany! I actually won’t be there when the girls eat, so maybe I will have to save this for another time. I’ll definitely make it sometime though!
So I decided to test it out at home tonight when I was going to be around to watch it. I made it as directed, then put it in my Crock-Pot on the “warm” setting (not low). It was in there for 1 1/2 hours and was just fine!
Oh good!! I’m so glad it worked out!
I found it quite bland and my 16 year old wouldn’t finish his portion. It tasted like milky pasta. Very creamy and looked delicious but not tasty at all. How can I fix up the leftovers to have some taste to it? I followed the recipe…
Bland? Yikes!! Can I ask if you’re used to cooking mac and cheese from scratch? Or are you use to cooking from a box? And did you use mild cheddar cheese and/or the chili powder? I’d add more seasoning for sure, and taste as you go along. I’d also use sharp cheddar cheese.
Tiffany, you are so right. Sometimes, you just need the comfort!! Thank you for the great idea of using cream cheese. Delicious. I think cream cheese is my new go-to idea for cheese modifications!
You’re so welcome Karen!! I hope you enjoy the recipe!
Hi Karla…..I run my own business, so I know what it’s like not to have time, and then again because I am my own boss I work only as much as my daughter and I want. She’s my partner in crime running a cleaning business. Sometimes a client will cancel and that’s when we decide to make multiples of everything. I have a small freezer and some space in my side by side so I can’t go nuts. I would like to…..LOL I’ve found it takes the same amount of time to prep for one meal as it does for 3 or 4, so we usually try to make 4, have one that night and the rest go in the freezer. Cottage pie is a favorite and I will admit to using instant potatoes from Bob’s Red Mill. Same with Mac and Cheese, and Lasagna. So nice when you know it’s going to be a heavier day tomorrow to take one out of the freezer and thaw in the fridge overnight. This leaves my weekends free for canning.
I’ve made mac and cheese from scratch before but usually do the baked variety. For a while now, though, I’ve done the boxed versions because they are so convenient! I find it so hard to do EVERYTHING homemade/from-scratch because of the time and clean-up involved. Anyhoo… made this for lunch today to have with my girls and it’s so good! Nice and rich and creamy. Actually, I think the sauce would stick just fine to a shape other than elbows or shells but it’s nice to keep it classic. Used wheat elbows and will do shells next time. I happened to use a favorite variety of sharp cheddar, Cracker Barell’s Aged Reserve. I’m finding it hard not to eat all the leftovers!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Karla! I know boxed is convenient – I fall victim too! But if you’re really short on time (or to just get ahead) you can make the noodles & shred the cheese ahead of time. Store the cooked noodles in a bag, shredded cheese + cream cheese + spices in another bag, then both of those in one bigger bag labeled “mac & cheese.” Then when you want to make the recipe, move it all to the fridge the night before and for dinner, all you have to do is make the roux and dump it all in!
i never thought about cream cheese……oh my, going to try that next time…..in a couple of weeks….well sooner…..ok ok…tomorrow….lol lol
I always cook a whole package of elbow mac….I then have enough for 3 casserole dishes, one to eat that night and two for the freezer. Takes the same amount of time. I do this with cottage pie as well as lasagna’s.
Def going to try the nutmeg as well. I sometimes put cinnamon in my meatloaf and nutmeg with cheese sounds just as weird eh??
Cinnamon doesn’t sound weird at all! I put it in my slow cooker carnitas: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2017/01/best-slow-cooker-carnitas/ 😉
In your recipe for 1x the list of ingredients calls for 2-2 1/2 c milk. However, directions state pour 1 1/2 c milk, into white sauce. Where does remaing 1c milk go? I used 1 1/2 c. which worked out.
Hi Vyke! That extra cup is in case the sauce gets too thick. Some like their macaroni thin. 🙂
For the past few years, my daughter has refused to eat any kind of mac and cheese except for boxed. (It’s actually one of only a handful of entrees she’ll eat at all.) Fortunately, I recently found an over recipe that she loves, and is MUCH tastier than the boxed stuff. I’m definitely going to to give this recipe a try, too!
I started making this, this year! I have been playing with the base recipe I found! I can’t wait to try out this one! A life without Mac and Cheese is a boring life!!
I agree Rebecca! If you’re up for experimenting, try subbing half the cream cheese with Greek yogurt. I’m making a similar recipe with this sub and it’s SO creamy!
I love putting some ground mustard into the sauce. I will have to try nutmeg.
I’ve tried mustard before Jeanne, but it conflicts on my taste buds. Nutmeg though – YUM! 🙂
Oh yum, oh yum! I love home made stove top mac and cheese. And the fact that it’s full fat makes it more decadent. Happy Thursday, Tiffany.
I totally agree JoAnn. 🙂 If you’re making mac and cheese, go all out!
I just made it 10 mins ago. Yum. I added some Velveeta.