Side Dishes

June 4, 2021

Easy Oven Baked Mac and Cheese

This is the only homemade baked mac and cheese recipe you'll ever need! It has an easy creamy sauce and crispy breadcrumbs on top. Made with low fat cheese, almond milk, and nutritional yeast, it's also secretly healthy and kid friendly.

Being a kid is awesome. You wait for everyone else to feed you and quite honestly, it doesn't really matter what you eat. You're growing so much your metabolism can keep up with almost anything you give it (within reason, of course).

When I think of kid-friendly meals, I think of dino chicken nuggets, carrot sticks, and stovetop mac and cheese. Funny enough, I didn't really like any of those foods growing up, but I can appreciate why kids love them so much!

I've also never been much of a cheese person until the last few years. The dish needs to be prepared well and have other flavors and textures besides cheese. I think cheese should be treated as an ingredient rather than the main dish, if that makes sense. I like things with cheese, not cheese with things.

My first successful attempt at this concept was my version of stovetop mac and cheese. The pasta isn't swimming in cheese; rather, it's been tossed in a spicy cheese sauce. Since then, I've written recipes for classic side dishes like Funeral Potatoes, Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes, and even homemade Alfredo!

A plate of oven baked mac and cheese

Ingredients You'll Need

  • Cavatappi pasta noodles: I chose these noodles for their fun swirly shape, but any shape will work. Just make sure you're cooking one pound of pasta and reserving half a cup of pasta water. This is my favorite brand of gluten-free pasta and they have cavatappi noodles!
  • Flour and butter: to make the roux.
  • Unsweetened almond milk: I opted for almond milk to cut out some of the calories from fat, especially because we're making a homemade cheese sauce. Almond milk is still very creamy and is fortified with vitamin D, vitamin E, and calcium. Feel free to use any milk you have on hand - just know the calories will dramatically increase!
  • Shredded Mexican cheese: the secret to cheesy mac and cheese with less calories! I always have this type of cheese on hand because it's actually a blend of four types of low-fat cheeses, not just cheddar. Make sure you buy the reduced fat Mexican cheese!
  • Nutritional yeast: packed with plant-based protein and all the essential B vitamins, nutritional yeast is a must-have pantry staple in my home. It can be substituted for a portion of parmesan cheese in any recipe and adds an earthy, nutty flavor to the cheese sauce. If you've never tried it before, this homemade baked mac and cheese recipe is a great introduction. Please don't skip it!
  • Homemade breadcrumbs: honestly one of the best parts, in my opinion. I much prefer homemade breadcrumbs because I can use whole grain bread and whatever cheese or seasonings I want instead of the calorie-dense store-bought options. Feel free to use gluten-free bread if necessary!
  • Fresh herbs: much more fragrant and earthy than dried herbs from a spice jar! You can choose any combination of your favorite herbs. I love fresh thyme and rosemary.
  • Seasonings of choice: I added red chili flakes and Everything But the Bagel seasoning to the cheese sauce for a hint of spicy and a boost of savory. I highly recommend both!

A spoon scooping out a portion of oven baked mac and cheese

How do you make Oven Baked Mac and Cheese from scratch?

The process is quite simple! All you need is cooked noodles, a 10 minute homemade cheese sauce, and some toasted breadcrumbs. This baked macaroni and cheese is easy, foolproof, and totally from scratch!

Start by preparing your noodles according to package instructions. Be sure to save some of that pasta water to help make your cheese sauce extra creamy!

You'll also need to prepare the breadcrumbs. I love making homemade breadcrumbs because I can use 100% whole grain bread and add whatever else I want, like this Everything But the Bagel seasoning, grated cheese, and fresh herbs. All you have to do is toast the bread in the toaster, then pulse with the remaining ingredients. See the pictures below!

Ingredients for homemade breadcrumbs in a food processor

Now for the homemade cheese sauce. Any made-from-scratch cheese sauce starts with a roux made from melted butter and flour. To learn more about making a roux, check out this helpful blog post!

This cheese sauce is definitely healthier than other mac and cheese recipes, but don't let that fool you. The rich, creamy, cheesy flavor of this homemade baked mac and cheese is, quite literally, out of this world. You'd never know it's healthier!

After making the roux, stir in the milk, cheeses, and seasonings. Allow the sauce to thicken, then toss the cook noodles in the warm sauce. Add in a tablespoon of pasta water at a time until your mac and cheese is just how you like it.

Note: I recommend using at least three tablespoons of pasta water because refrigerating the leftovers will cause the cheese sauce to thicken too much. The thinner the sauce is before baking, the better your leftovers will be! Your mac and cheese will also be extra creamy when it comes out of the oven.

Finally, sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top of the pasta. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the top is crispy and the cheese is bubbling out of the sides!

A plate of oven baked mac and cheese

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes this the best homemade baked mac and cheese recipe?

Every bite has the creamy, cheesy flavor you know and love with much less calories. This means you can have more mac and cheese without the guilt! It's also sprinkled with homemade breadcrumbs rather than store-bought breadcrumbs, which adds more flavor and nutrition to the dish. Lastly, this homemade baked mac and cheese makes 8 hearty servings, so it's perfect for family dinners, meal prep, or sharing at a big potluck.

How do you keep mac and cheese from drying out in the oven?

Because the cheese sauce is made from a roux that has been thickened on low heat, any excess liquid will have evaporated, so use pasta water to thin the sauce and add back in some moisture to the pasta. This will also keep your mac and cheese cheesier after refrigeration.

Can I make this oven baked mac and cheese gluten-free?

Yes you can! Just use your favorite gluten-free pasta (this is my favorite brand!) and gluten-free bread for the breadcrumbs.

How do I store homemade baked mac and cheese?

Store in an air tight container like this one for up to four days in the refrigerator. To reheat, add a splash of milk to your serving and reheat in the microwave until warm.

Can I freeze my baked macaroni and cheese?

I have not tried freezing my mac and cheese, but if you try it, be sure to freeze in individual servings first. Please leave a comment below if you find success with freezing your homemade baked mac and cheese!

A pan of oven baked mac and cheese with breadcrumbs on top

I hope you love this healthier version of homemade baked mac and cheese! My husband, who has never liked mac and cheese, said it was "actually really good" so I think I did it!

Be sure to leave a star rating and review in the comments below after you make this mac and cheese! It helps other readers and myself know how you liked the recipe. You can also tag me on Instagram - I love seeing my food in your home!

Easy Oven Baked Mac and Cheese

This is the only homemade baked mac and cheese recipe you'll ever need! It has an easy creamy sauce and crispy breadcrumbs on top. Made with low fat cheese, almond milk, and nutritional yeast, it's also secretly healthy and kid friendly.

Author:

Brooke Harmer

Prep:

25

min

cook:

20

min

total:

45

min

servings:

8

Ingredients

For the Mac and Cheese

  • 1 lb. Cavatappi pasta noodles (gluten-free if necessary)
  • ½ C reserved pasta water
  • 4 Tbsp Country Crock 8% Butter Spread
  • ¼ C all-purpose flour (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 2 C unsweetened almond milk
  • 1½ C reduced fat shredded Mexican-style cheese
  • ¼ C nutritional yeast (or more cheese)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp red chili flakes
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper

For the Breadcrumbs

  • 2 slices multigrain bread (gluten-free if necessary)
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp Everything But The Bagel seasoning

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water after boiling, then drain and rinse the pasta. Set aside.*
  3. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter over medium heat, then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over the butter. Whisk the flour into the melted butter until a paste has formed. Whisking constantly, add in ½ cup of milk and combine until smooth. Repeat this process until all the flour and milk have been incorporated and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the cheese, nutritional yeast, and seasonings. Turn down the heat to low and allow sauce to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  4. To make the breadcrumbs, toast the slices of bread until lightly toasted. Break the toast into pieces, then add in a food processor or blender with remaining bread crumbs ingredients. Pulse (don't blend) until breadcrumbs have formed.
  5. In a very large bowl (or the empty pasta pot), combine the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce. Slowly add in 2 tablespoons of pasta water at a time until the sauce has thinned and reaches desired consistency.** Pour the mac and cheese into the prepared baking dish and top with the prepared breadcrumbs.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is crispy and the cheese is bubbling up the sides. Serve warm with your favorite protein!

Notes

*I like adding the pasta back into the empty pasta pot to save dishes!

**I usually use between 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup pasta water during this step. Note that the mac and cheese will become much thicker after refrigeration, so the thinner the sauce is before baking, the better the leftovers will be.

Nutrition facts are a calculated estimate of 1/8 of the prepared pan of baked mac and cheese, including the breadcrumbs.

Nutrition

Calories: 342 / Fat: 7.8g / Saturated Fat: 3g / Sodium: 235mg / Carbohydrates: 50.4g / Fiber: 3.1g / Sugar: 2.3g / Protein: 15.8g