Classic Homemade Mac and Cheese made with bite-size pasta, cheddar cheese, and a simple creamy sauce all baked to perfection in the oven.  This recipe includes tips, tricks, and photos for making PERFECT baked mac and cheese.

This mac and cheese recipe has many similarities to another of my favorites; One Pan Baked Ziti. They are both creamy, and dreamy, comfort food that gets baked to cheesy, bubbly perfection in the oven.

Mac and cheese in a white baking dish with a wooden spoon in it, ready to serve.

Mac and Cheese

I’m pretty sure that most adults love a great homemade macaroni and cheese recipe just as much as our kids do! My kids will enjoy a box of Kraft macaroni and day, but everyone gets especially excited when I make this homemade mac and cheese, and for good reason!

This recipe is incredibly easy, and your kids would probably love to help you make it! I let my littles help grate the cheese and measure the noodles.

For me, mac and cheese has to have a smooth and creamy cheese sauce, and I’ve had enough trial and error in this department to understand that there are a few simple things you can do to achieve that smooth sauce we all want in our macaroni!

How to AVOID grainy cheese sauce:

  • The type of cheddar makes a difference. High quality aged cheddar cheese will give you a stronger taste and smoother texture. More mild and inexpensive cheddar cheeses will have less flavor and almost a grittier taste.
  • Use fresh grated cheese. Pre-shredded store-bought cheese will not melt the same as freshly grated cheese, and grating the cheese helps it melt smoothly and evenly in the sauce.
  • Bring the cheese to room temperature. I like to grate the cheese very first, before moving forward with the recipe. That allows it to sit at room temperature while I prepare the white sauce.
  • Use low heat. In order for the cheese to melt properly and smoothly we want it to have gradual changes in temperature (like how we shredded it and allowed it to come to room temperature at the beginning of the recipe). When it’s time to add the cheese to the white sauce, remove the sauce from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. It only needs to be warm enough to melt the cheese.
  • Don’t over-stir the sauce once the cheese has melted. Add the noodles and quickly assemble in pan and put into the oven.

AVOID pre-shredded Cheese!

I know they are sooo convenient, but not only do pre-shedded cheeses just not taste as great, they are also mixed with various types of powder which prevent them from melting as well as freshly shredded cheese.  So while it’s not life or death, I highly recommend getting out your block grater and shredding fresh cheese for your homemade mac and cheese!  You won’t regret it!

8 Simple Ingredients is ALL you Need:

  • Elbow macaroni: It’s my favorite for this recipe, but any other bite-sized pasta will work.
  • Butter: salted or unsalted will work–just adjust the amount of salt you add, depending on the butter.
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Milk
  • Half and half
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese: the higher quality aged-cheddar, the better!

Perfect Mac and Cheese in 5 Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven. Preheat to 325 degrees and lightly grease a square baking dish.
  2. Cook the macaroni. Slightly undercook your noodles (about 1 minute under al-dente). Drain and set aside.
  3. Make the roux.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add milk and cheese.  Stir in milk and half and half, slowly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup shredded cheese to the sauce and stir just until melted. Add the cooked macaroni noodles and toss to coat them in the sauce.
  5. Pour into baking dish.  Pour half or the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle ½ cup cheese over the top. Pour remaining pasta over it and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Three process photos for making mac and cheese in a skillet including melting butter, adding flour, cream and milk to make a roux, and then adding shredded cheddar cheese.

To bake or not to bake:

You don’t have to bake the mac and cheese in this recipe. Everything gets fully cooked and is essentially ready to eat after the cheese and noodles are added. However, I love the extra gooeyness that comes when the cheese is baked and I think baking it adds a level of sophistication you just don’t get without.

Overhead view of a skillet with homemade macaroni and cheese in it, ready to eat.

What Type of Cheese?

This classic mac and cheese recipe is made with cheddar cheese.  I particularly love medium or sharp cheddar cheese but any type will do.  If you want a more luxurious mac and cheese or you’re really trying to impress a crowd, you could use a combination of different cheeses.  Just be sure to select a type of cheese that is good for melting, like white cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, brie, goat cheese, mozzarella, or fontina.

Freezing and Storing:

This recipe freezes well.  Just like with my other freezer friendly meals, I love to prepare two and freeze one for another day.  You’ll want to freeze this dish prior to baking it in the oven!  Make sure to let the mac and cheese cool completely then pour it into a freezer friendly dish, cover it well and freeze if for up to 3 months.

A square white baking dish with mac and cheese and shredded cheese topping, ready to go in the oven.

To reheat:

  • From frozen: Bake from frozen at 350 degrees F for 70-80 minutes or until warm throughout.
  • From thawed: Cover the mac and cheese with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake it at 325ºF for 20 minutes.

Additional Add-in & Toppings:

If you want to take this classic Mac and cheese to the next level check out my Gourmet Mac and Cheese, or consider adding some of the following:

  • Extra cheese topping – Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese on top before baking.
  • Breadcrumbs– combine about 1 cup of breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons of melted butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over top of the macaroni and cheese just before baking.
  • Bacon Bits – Cook about 4-5 slices of bacon.  cut the cooked bacon into small bits and stir into the mac and cheese before pouring it into your baking dish.

A white bowl with homemade mac and cheese in it and a spoon.

 

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Recipe

Mac and cheese in a white baking dish with a spoon ready to serve.
Prep 15 mins
Cook 15 mins
Total 30 mins
Add to Meal Plan

Video

Ingredients
 
 

  • ½ lb uncooked elbow macaroni , about 1 ½ cups
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup milk , any kind
  • 3/4 cup half and half
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese *

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a square baking dish.
  • Cook the macaroni to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Blend in the flour, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Slowly add the milk and half and half, stirring constantly, and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes until the mixture is just barely thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup shredded cheese, stirring just until melted.
  • Add the cooked macaroni noodles and toss to coat. Pour half or the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle ½ cup cheese over the top. Add remaining pasta and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted on top.
  • Serve with your favorite vegetable or a side salad.

Notes

Tips for getting a smooth cheese sauce:
  • High quality aged cheddar cheese will give you a stronger taste and smoother texture. More mild and inexpensive cheddar cheeses will have less flavor and almost a grittier taste.
  • Use fresh grated cheese. Pre-shredded store-bought cheese will not melt the same as freshly grated cheese, and grating the cheese helps it melt smoothly and evenly in the sauce.
  • Bring the cheese to room temperature. I like to grate the cheese very first, before moving forward with the recipe. That allows it to sit at room temperature while I prepare the white sauce.
  • Use low heat. In order for the cheese to melt properly and smoothly we want it to have gradual changes in temperature (like how we shredded it and allowed it to come to room temperature at the beginning of the recipe). When it’s time to add the cheese to the white sauce, remove the sauce from heat and let it cool for a few minutes. It only needs to be warm enough to melt the cheese.
  • Don’t over-stir the sauce once the cheese has melted. Add the noodles and quickly assemble in pan and put into the oven.

Nutrition

Calories: 559kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 24gFat: 33gSaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 98mgSodium: 693mgPotassium: 300mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1023IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 540mgIron: 1mg

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Have you tried this recipe?!

RATE and COMMENT below! I would love to hear your experience.

 

I originally shared this recipe in July 2014. Updated August 2019. 

 

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Lauren Allen

Welcome! I’m Lauren, a mom of four and lover of good food. Here you’ll find easy recipes and weeknight meal ideas made with real ingredients, with step-by-step photos and videos.

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Comments

    1. Half and half is half milk and cream..found by milk in the refrigerator section. You could also sub half milk and heavy cream.

  1. 5 stars
    This is hands down the best mac & cheese recipe out there! It’s so easy to make and it’s beyond delicious! My 2 year old requests it at least 2 times a week! I double the batch to have leftovers and I find it even better when it’s reheated! I also had Panko bread crumbs on the top for a little crunch.

  2. 5 stars
    The only recipe I use ! I grate half orange cheddar and half white. The white really elevates the flavor
    I make it a day ahead and it’s sooo good after marinating a night
    Thank you!

  3. 4 stars
    I made this tonight for family that came over for dinner. I doubled the recipe. Omg, everyone absolutely loved it. It was delicious. I will definitely start cooking this for holidays. Thank you so much for posting this amazing recipe ❤️♥️

  4. 5 stars
    Great recipe!! I did top with breadcrumbs because my kids like it that way, but otherwise followed the directions exactly. It was wonderful and my husband declared it the best he had ever had! Don’t worry when the sauce looks thin before baking…it is perfect when done!

  5. 5 stars
    This is the ONLY Mac and cheese recipe I use. It is so good. I get rave reviews every time I bring it to an event.

  6. 5 stars
    I followed the instructions exactly, except I added Gruyere. I also added Panko and bacon. It was so good! I like the roux to brown a little, it adds a nutty flavor. I will be making this again😁
    Thank you!

  7. 4 stars
    This is a really great recipe! However, there are a few edits to it that really make the consistency and texture right:
    -Recommend doubling the recipe to make one pound of pasta. Who makes 1/2lb? haha
    -Use heavy cream instead of half and half and adjust the measurements to be: 2 cups of milk, 2 cups of heavy cream (this is for a doubled recipe)
    -For the last 5 minutes in the oven put it under the broiler so it gets a nice brown crust on the top.
    -Agree that additions make this really elevated, a few I do: green onions and sriracha (it’s like a baked potato); bread crumbs; peas and breadcrumbs; etc
    But overall a good recipe and roux!

  8. 5 stars
    Easy and tasty, I only use milk not cream, I added garlic and onion powder and sometimes one chopped and quickly stewed tomato and a spoonful of regular cream cheese for extra tanginess. My family loves it.

  9. 5 stars
    So good! My very picky, mac and cheese loving daughter even approved. And said it was better than Annie’s! I did have to stir the milk/butter/flour mixture for more than a few minutes for it to be a little thick. And it seemed like it wasn’t going to be thick enough but it was! Will be making this over and over again! Thank you!

  10. 5 stars
    Like many commenters, I was shocked by how thin this sauce is. But behold, once baked this was the best macaroni ever!

  11. 5 stars
    I thought this was great! I’m gluten free so I used Chickpea pasta, and instead of using flour to thicken the sauce I added some cream cheese and Heavy Whipping Cream instead of Half and Half. I have some picky eaters and all the kids were fans of this dinner!

  12. 4 stars
    Good recipe! I didn’t have half & half so I substituted plain Greek yogurt. Also added some brown mustard. Turned out well!

  13. I made this and tweaked a few things. Most importantly put bread crumbs on top and added hot dogs cuz I have the palette of a 5 year old… but it was some of the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had.

  14. 5 stars
    Delicious Mac and cheese! My mother’s recipe was misplaced, and this is so similar to her’s. She didn’t use half and half, but I loved that addition and will continue to add it from now on! I doubled the recipe since I typically buy 16 oz boxes of pasta, and it’s a family favorite. Will continue to make for years to come. Love!

  15. Love the recipe, used this as a side dish to smoked ribs. I doubled up the recipe and I used pepper jack cheese and cancelled the salt. Using salted butter and salt in the cheese is too salty. Instead of putting in oven I put it on my smoker. Thank you. Huge hit and will be made often. For those that say it was not good try using real butter and slowly mix flour in a little at a time with only the butter. Once you get the flour mixed in then add the milk and half and half. I also cook it low heat. Medium is to hot on most new stoves.

  16. 2 stars
    The taste was all right but the texture was off. I’m wondering if I did something wrong? I used freshly grated cheese but it was Tilamook- is that not high quality enough? The sauce ended up seeming really thin as well.

  17. Thanks for your sharing this mac and cheese recipe. It’s simple and delicious. I believe that easy recipes are better because I can add to them if I want to use other ingredients. You’re recipes are just what I have been looking for. Apperation from Amena Minckler

  18. Loved it! For a homemade Mac and cheese, managed to make fairly quickly. I used a mixture of cheeses I had on hand and put some buttered panko bread crumbs in top.

    1. Yes, you can, just keep in mind the noodles will soak up some of the sauce so it would be quite as saucy.

  19. 5 stars
    This recipe was a HIT!!! First time making mac n cheese from scratch. It was easy to follow. My kids want me to make it again! Keeping this recipe in my recipe book!

  20. 1 star
    Oily, not creamy sauce. Way too milky. Definitely a far cry from the creamy pub mac&cheese I was looking for. Time to try for a sodium citrate recipe, as this roux-based one was just the taste of disappointment.

  21. Just found your Mac and cheese going to make for my grandbabies this weekend. I am sure I will be back to your website.

  22. I’m making this the day before. Do I need to bake it before putting it in the fridge? Or combine, store in fridge and then bake the next day? Thanks for your help!

  23. 5 stars
    One of the best, and easiest, mac and cheese recipes I have used. I didn’t bake because my family and I prefer it that way. Highly recommend.

  24. 5 stars
    Super easy and delicious to make. I used Baldersons aged cheddar, yellow old cheddar and parmesan. I made too much cheese sauce so I froze it or should have made 4 cups of macaroni noodles. Delicious!

  25. 5 stars
    Had to make a side for a BBQ last minute and needed something quick. This Mac and cheese whipped up is quickly and it was a hit. Will definitely use again.

  26. 1 star
    This recipe was not at all accurate. I bought quality cheese and even added more than called for, absolutely no cheese taste. The sauce never thickened and it was so overly watery the end product was soggy flour tasting noodles. I followed the directions to the letter. Terribly disappointed.

  27. 3 stars
    Eh for preparation. Most recipes can simply be doubled with no need for midifications. Not the case here. In addition, it is unrealistic to expect the milk,cream mixture to be warm enough to melt the cheese in the time listed as it is not even luke warm. Lastly, time given for until “barely thickened” does not have it reach that stage. Disappointed. Will not use this recipe again.

  28. 5 stars
    Easy to follow instructions. Very flexible recipe. Used on egg noodles, and (shredded) Gruyere, Swiss and Gouda cheese we already had. Putting in the oven for a few minutes helped – looked really great! We will make again! Thanks for the recipe!

  29. 5 stars
    I love this recipe. I like that it is just the right amount for my small family and tastes awesome.

  30. 5 stars
    As tasty as it was easy to make! My two little boys really enjoyed it – don’t think we’ll be going back to the box kind any time soon! I think the only thing that I’d add in the directions is that it’s about 4 cups of cooked elbow macaroni. Thank you so much!

  31. Delicious! We had a lot of pieces of cheese in the fridge and I used them all up in this recipe. Also had more cream and half/half in fridge that needed to go so I used more of that than milk. Also used some left over grated locatelli on top along with some seasoned panko bread crumbs. It was a HUGE hit!

  32. 5 stars
    This recipe was perfect I made it for my kids Sunny and Dorian and they loved it, will definitely make it again soon!

  33. 5 stars
    I’m 50 years old and this was my first time trying it, it was awesome! I eat me a bowl before I put it in the oven. I wanted to try it and also just to see how it would come out but I love this very good taste. 5 stars

  34. 5 stars
    This recipe was the best mac and cheese recipe ever! however I changed some stuff up!
    I found the recipe only stated to put 1.5 cups of cheese in it, when the recipe calls for 2.5 cups of cheese. I put the 2 cups in it anyways and the 1/2 cup on top figuring it was a typo. I also used more macaroni noodles because that did not seem like enough noodles for the amount of sauce. I also added more seasoning like chili flakes, paprika and garlic and onion powder!
    it turned out great!!!!

  35. 5 stars
    Awesome base recipe for the perfect mac and cheese. Experimented out of the gate with other cheeses, as suggested, based on other recipes I read, and went with equal parts sharp white cheddar, gruyiere and havarti then topped with cheddar and jack. First batch came out great, but I used small elbow mac and thought it would be better with the large elbows… second batch proved that to be true.

    I’ve been wanting to do a try a homemade mac and cheese for some time now and the ease and flavor of this recipe has me wondering why I waited so long to try it. Thank you… I now have a go to mac and cheese recipe!

    No need to try another recipe, just use this and dial your cheese and pasta choices in to your own taste!

    Perfection!

  36. 4 stars
    Turned out very good and I used pre-shredded mild cheddar cheese and I didn’t use half and half…and I did half the portion listed.

  37. 5 stars
    I just made this and it is heavenly. I added Asiago and Parmesan cheese along with the cheddar. I also added the breadcrumbs/melted butter.

  38. 5 stars
    This Mac & Cheese taste just like my great grandmother’s. Grandma Zella had the best Mac around! We tried this for the first time for Thanksgiving. We LOVED it so much, we had to make it again for Christmas. It reheats so nicely too! Thank you! 🙂

  39. 2 stars
    I followed the directions and, at least for my family, it really was not nearly cheesy enough. It was very bland. I believe it had way too much milk.

  40. 5 stars
    Other recipes had costly gruyere cheese so I chose this simple recipe. Everyone liked this tasty mac and cheese and it was easy to make. I did add a sprinkle a smoked paprika as I was making it.

  41. 5 stars
    I have been wanting to make mac and cheese for the last week or so but I have never had a decent recipe to follow. I had made it a few times it was always good but never really really good… This is the BEST mac and cheese EVER!
    I made double and had one pan regular and the second I added some left over ham from Christmas dinner. So good.
    For such a simple recipe it tastes amazing.

  42. This was a fabulous Mac and Cheese! Easy and super cheesy. I baked it with some breadcrumbs prepared as suggested, it added a great flavor and texture!!! This is a keeper!

  43. 5 stars
    Love this cheesy mac & cheese. I didn’t have half-and-half so I added a half a cup of sour cream instead. It was delicious. A nice twist but not too much.

    1. Sounds great! I do not have half-and-half either. If you used 1/2c sour cream, how much milk did you use? Thank you!

  44. 5 stars
    Made this today for the third time! I have to admit I was pretty skeptical the first time, as the sauce seemed VERY thin, but this is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had!! I made a double batch the first time, so I could freeze half, but it never made it to the freezer! It is so creamy and cheesy. Love mixing it up with different cheese combinations. Very easy prep, no strange ingredients! Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

  45. 5 stars
    This is the best mac and cheese – and my ‘go to’ recipe from now on! Thank you for the tips on creating the smooth sauce. Perfect!

  46. Made it today and it seemed really liquid-y I’m not sure what I did wrong as I followed the recipe exactly 😥

  47. 1 star
    Wayyyy too cheesy! Nobody in my family liked it. It was pretty good for about four bites and then it was way too strong. We would rather have boxed mac & cheese.

    1. Every time I try to melt the butter and mix in the flour it turns into crumbs. Please tell me what I’m doing wrong?

  48. 5 stars
    9/30/20 – Made this today for dinner. I added soy curls that were soaked in veggie broth for added protein. Yummy! 🙂

  49. Could I make this recipe without baking the Mac and cheese? We are going camping and o wanted to mac some mac and cheese but no oven! 😃

  50. 5 stars
    Recipe was very easy to follow. I used Colby jack and mozzarella cheese. I also added breadcrumbs and bacon bits to the Mac. Turned out so GOOD! Love the recipe homemade cheese sauce is the BEST! Will experiment with different cheeses next time.

  51. I am so excited to try this simple, yet tasty sounding recipe! I was wondering if you have a recommendation on if I need to prep this dish earlier during the day, to cook at night? Or is it just a lot better tasting fresh? Or is there a way to do parts of this recipe like cook the noodles and grate the cheese, and then do the rest later by leaving the noodles and the cheese sitting out for a couple hours if I have the AC on? Please LMK! I really want to cook this on Wednesday, but want to know my best option for preparing it ahead of time, or reheating it later. Do you think I should prepare it ahead of time, wait for it to cool, then put it in the fridge, then bake it later (letting it sit for a little to room temperature to get the cheese back to room temp)?

    1. I would cook the noodles and make the sauce, but store them both separately in the fridge until ready to bake. Otherwise the noodles will soak up the sauce and the baked product wont be very saucy/cheesy.

  52. My first time making mac n cheese and I was glad that I came across this simple recipe. The mac n cheese turned out perfect. Thanks again.

    1. Congratulations on exploring cooking so young. You’ll have a great foundation for exploring more complex recipes or hosting dinner & holiday parties. My son finally got into cooking but not until his college days but now a couple of people actually pay him to cook at their tailgates! I say great family recipes make a difference! LOL

  53. 5 stars
    I made this today, it was delicious! I did increase the pasta to 2 cups and substituted 1/2 a cup of cheddar with smoked cheddar, mixed all but 1 cup of the cheese into the sauce and put the remainder on the top. I also broiled it a bit at the end to make it brown up. My husband doesn’t usually like mac and cheese and he loved it, will definitely make this again.

  54. 4 stars
    I made this with my family last night. I substituted with wheat noodles which I believe made the mac N cheese dry. However, the roue sauce was very flavorful and creamy. I will be experimenting with whole wheat noodles a bit more and maybe adding a bit more mile to make the roue thinner to help the noodles soften up a bit or maybe covering the dish with tin foil while cooking instead of uncovered… Have you used whole wheat noodles before? If so what has been helpful?

    1. I have not made this recipe with whole wheat pasta yet but in other pasta recipes I noticed that it needed a little more sauce when baking. Hope this helps.

  55. 5 stars
    I made this earlier today and it is perfect!!! I thought the sauce was sooo creamy. I did let it get to room temp prior to grating….made all the difference in the world. You directions were simple and correct!! Oftentimes people post a recipe and leave out steps or eyeball measurements. This can be simple or elegant depending on cheese and pasta variety. My husband is not a fan of mac and cheese but he said it was delicious.

  56. 4 stars
    I use to make a very similar one but we are a smaller family so this look the right size. I added sourcream since I did not have half and half and it worked great. I like to broil the pan for a 2 minutes to make a crunchy cheese topping yum. Did not give you five stars because I think I needed more pasta. My husband and I enjoyed very much.

  57. Made according to direction. Leans itself toward a finished product somewhat thick in nature. While successful as a mac and cheese, if you are looking for a lucious creamy product plentiful if sauciness, this might not be the result you are looking for, as its more on the drier side leaving you yearning for more creaminess.

  58. My Aunts would top the cheesy top with tomato slices, and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Personally, I like to mix a softer cheese (monterey Jack or mozzarella) with the cheddar (about a third of it a softer cheese). Then instead of the tomato slices, I mix the bread crumbs on top with Parmesan.

    Sometimes, also, I will just add frozen mixed vegetables to it (since I just add this to the pasta pot, it takes no time and no additional mess). Stir in some diced ham, then pop it in the oven as a main dish.

  59. 5 stars
    I was looking for an easy Mac and cheese recipe for my picky teenagers who insist that boxed stuff is better. Not only was this so easy, my kids loved it! I can’t wait to take the leftovers and add other things to it and pan fry it! Thanks for the great recipe!

  60. 5 stars
    I haven’t made this recipe YET. But I am going too. The purpose of this comment is to say thank you! Every recipe I made last year on thanksgiving was from this site. From the turkey all the way to the rolls. It was my first thanksgiving hosting for family and it was a total hit. Nobody believed me that the turkey they were eating was the first turkey I had ever made. All the side dishes were amazing. Thank you so much for taking time out of your life to help the less fortunate who can’t cook🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️ Happy holidays. Looking forward to making this.

  61. 5 stars
    Thanks Lauren for sharing this recipe. Made this with my daughter who loves homemade mac-and-cheese. We followed the recipe as described using sharp cheddar ~ it was super easy and quick. We both enjoyed this dish very much ((along with the majority of the rest of the family.

    Easy to double and bring to another family or freeze for later.