This is my go-to mac & cheese recipe, and I want to share it with ya!
I love mac & cheese so much because it is easy.
This recipe was created simply by chance. I found myself with nothing left to eat in my house, but I had plenty of cheese, so I decided to throw some together and see what happened.
It’s rare that something works so perfectly on the first try, but the mac & cheese came out SO GOOD. It has since become a staple in our household, and we make sure we always have the ingredients at home to be able to whip up this quick dinner.
The ingredients I use
This recipe is incredibly customizable. When it comes to mac & cheese, there’s really no way to screw it up. Feel free to experiment with different cheeses and ratios! But, here is what I use…
Banza Chickpea Pasta: This is my go-to pasta. I’m not gluten-free, but I find that my stomach is an endless pit for pasta. This chickpea pasta is higher in fiber and protein, which makes it more filling for me. Plus, I could never tell the difference between this and “real” pasta in a taste test.
Any pasta works here, though. My backup is always the tiny elbow macaroni, because they’re tiny and adorable.
Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges: Specifically, the spicy pepper jack flavor. These cheese wedges give the cheese sauce some great spice, but also help it to become nice and creamy. You can substitute these with cream cheese and that would work great, too.
Shredded Mozzarella: You can use any shredded cheese you want here, and I know cheddar is very popular. I love how mozzarella melts (regular mozzarella, not fat-free) so I prefer to use that. Plus, the flavor is mild, allowing you to spice it up how you want.
If you want to save calories, you can use a fat free or reduced fat cheese. But, I like to go with the real deal, because it’s worth the extra 30-40 calories for me.
Queso Dip: Queso is the base “sauce” here, and it provides the perfect mac & cheese flavor. If you don’t have queso (or don’t like it for some crazy reason), you can omit it and use more shredded cheese & extra milk instead.
Frank’s Red Hot Seasoning: I had no idea they turned Frank’s Red Hot into a powder, but they did, and it’s amazing. I throw a bunch into my cheese to spice, but it’s an optional step. You can add cayenne, red pepper flakes, or actual hot sauce if you want.
Milk: I use milk here to thin everything out and create more of a cheese sauce. The beauty here is you don’t even have to measure! I end up adding about 1/2 cup, but you can use less if you want a thicker, stringier cheese. Throw in extra shredded cheese and just use a splash of milk instead, and you’ll have a nice thick cheese.
Bacon: Bacon takes mac & cheese to the next level- you need it. I use center cut bacon, which is only 50 calories for 2 slices, and gets suuuuper crispy and delicious. I don’t recommend using turkey bacon because it doesn’t get nearly as crispy, but there are no rules here.
Should you drain the bacon?
I like to make everything in a single pan, because dishes are the worst. I dice up my bacon, and then I throw my cheese sauce directly into the pan with the bacon.
I love the extra flavor the bacon grease adds, but you may want to save some calories. Here’s what I typically do:
When the bacon is nice and crispy, I’ll take some tongs with a paper towel, and soak up most of the bacon grease, leaving some still in the pan. That way, there is still some left to add flavor, but not a ton of extra calories. I recommend going that route! But of course, you can drain all of the grease out completely.
Need a vegan alternative?
You’re in luck! I have a vegan mac & cheese recipe here on my blog as well. I’m not vegan, as evident by this cheesy, bacony recipe, but I really enjoyed the vegan version too! Click here to check it out.
Finding the right serving size
I divided this recipe up into 4 servings, since that’s typically what you’ll get from a box of pasta.
That being said, this recipe makes 2 servings in our household, because we like to enjoy big bowls of mac & cheese.
For reference, my wife usually does not finish 2 servings, because it is very filling. For me, it’s the perfect dinner!
If you enjoy 2 servings, you’re looking at 720 calories and 50g protein! If that’s too high in calories for ya, you can make substitutions, or keep it as 4 smaller servings instead.
And if you’re into this recipe, check out my mac & cheese stuffed burgers recipe! It utilizes a very similar mac & cheese recipe, and the result is unreal.
- 8oz (1 box) Banza Chickpea Pasta (or pasta of your choice)
- 4 Strips of Center Cut Bacon
For Cheese Sauce
- 136g (1/2 cup) Queso Cheese Dip
- 4 Laughing Cow Spreadable Cheese Wedges (Spicy Pepper Jack is my favorite)
- 84g Shredded Mozarella Cheese
- 1/2 cup Milk of Choice
- *Optional: Frank's Red Hot Seasoning (or other spicy seasoning)
- Bring water to a boil over high heat. Reduce down to medium heat and add your box of pasta. Cook based on the instructions on the box.
- Helpful tip: the chickpea pasta ends up boiling over sometimes, but if you lay a wooden spoon across the top of the pot, it will keep those pesky bubbles down.
- While the pasta cooks, dice up 4 strips of bacon and add them to a large frying pan over med-high heat. Move them around occasionally, allowing them to get nice and crispy.
- While the bacon cooks, make your cheese sauce by adding all of your cheese ingredients to a bowl and whisking together. It won't be completely smooth due to the shredded cheese, but that's okay- it will all melt down.
- This is where you can adjust the ratios a bit if you'd like. If you want more of a cheese sauce (that's typically what I do), use the recommended amount of shredded cheese along with 1/2 cup milk. If you want your cheese to be stringy and thicker, reduce the milk down to 1/3 cup and add an extra serving of mozzarella cheese (28g). When you do that, you'll be able to get a wonderful "cheese pull."
- Once the bacon is done, reduce the heat on the frying pan down to low or low-med. Add your cheese sauce directly to the pan, and stir it occasionally to smooth it out as the cheese melts down.
- *Note that I like to add the cheese directly to the pan with the bacon grease for extra flavor. You can drain the bacon grease out of the pan prior to adding the cheese if you'd like. Or, something I like to do often is dab some of the grease out with a paper towel (carefully, of course) leaving just a little bit of the grease.
- Drain your pasta and add it directly to the pan. Mix it all up, and enjoy! We typically split the entire batch between two of us, so we enjoy 2 servings each.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1/4 of Recipe
Amount Per Serving Calories 360Total Fat 14gCarbohydrates 38gFiber 16gProtein 25g