Just the other day, my stepson asked me a question: “If you had to eat one food every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?” My answer was, of course, “macaroni and cheese.” This is no surprise to those who know me. It’s kind of my thing. I’ve had friends text me pictures of mac and cheese dishes they ordered just because eating it made them think of me. When my husband sees a mac and cheese food truck, he immediately points it out to me. I make it every year for Thanksgiving, and it’s hard to wait until dinner time to have some. I’ve tried it all sorts of ways: lobster mac and cheese, green chile mac, mac and cheese “grilled cheese” (which means a grilled cheese sandwich but instead of slices of cheese you use macaroni and cheese in between the pieces of bread), buffalo sauce mac and cheese, mac and cheese fried balls, even mac and cheese baked into waffles with chicken. As I write this, I’m also perusing deals for National Mac and Cheese Day.
My love of macaroni and cheese goes way back. I loved the simple Kraft version as a kid (and still do, honestly). It was the first thing I learned how to cook on my own. I’ll never forget the time that my friend and I tried to make some in high school and noticed the only milk in the house was vanilla-flavored almond milk. Desperate to eat some mac and cheese, I used it anyway and the results were absolutely disastrous. It may be the one time I didn’t enjoy mac and cheese in my entire life.
I’ve upgraded my macaroni and cheese taste just a little since then, with more sophisticated, but still very easy, recipes that I will share at the bottom of this post. One thing that I love about mac and cheese, aside from the delicious taste, is that whether you’re eating a box of Kraft or making it “from scratch” with macaroni noodles and shredded cheese, it’s almost always an affordable dinner or lunch to feed a family. And if you do bake it or make it at home, it goes a long way. Because it’s so filling, the batch often lasts for several meals. If you’re a person who loves leftovers like me, this is just a bonus. And it’s one of those foods that tastes good reheated.
Another thing I love about mac and cheese is how versatile it can be. There are so many ways to make it. You can add any number of cheeses to it, and it just tastes more delicious. Anything from the cheapest to the fanciest options, just about anything tastes good. It can also be a helpful way to get kids to eat proteins and vegetables. It’s a great way to incorporate healthier food items and still get kids to smile when it’s served at the dinner table. For instance, add some chicken, and your family gets protein. Add things like peas, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, onion, or sweet potato to get kids to eat veggies without hardly even knowing it. You can even make variations such as cauliflower and cheese, for an overall healthier, but still very tasty, option. You can use fresh vegetables, canned, or frozen options depending on how easy and cheap you want to make it. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be. I’ve often taken the readily available, easy Kraft version and added whatever I have around the house to it, making it into more of a full, well-rounded meal.
Here are my favorite homemade macaroni and cheese recipes. While some of them do have quite a few ingredients, a lot of them you may already have around the house or can be left out or substituted:
- Ina Garten’s Baked Mac and Cheese: My favorite Thanksgiving recipe. I usually omit the nutmeg and tomatoes and use a package of bread crumbs instead of fresh ones.
- Roasted Vegetable Mac and Cheese: Substitute frozen or canned veggies, smoked paprika is optional, use any type of cheese you’d like, or just add the veggies to a box of mac and cheese.
- Cauliflower Mac and Cheese: A great way to get the family to eat nutritious cauliflower!
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese: Use any type of shredded cheese instead of grated cheese, substitute water for the broth if you prefer.
- Instant Pot Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese: You can always omit the Buffalo sauce or add it separately in your own bowl if you’re serving it to kids who don’t like spice.