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Easier-Than-the-Box Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Most likely, you already have everything you need on hand to make this easy stovetop mac ‘n’ cheese. It takes as much (if not less) time to prepare than the boxed version, and you know all the ingredients that go into it. Making your own gives you and your Little Sous a wondrous sense of kitchen chemistry and how the creamy emulsion comes together, and there are myriad ways to customize this recipe and make it more nutritious (my version calls for whole-wheat noodles). When adding cream or milk, I prefer the fattier option, which results in creamier pasta. The recipe is intended for two, but you can easily cut it in half to feed one hungry kid.

  • Yield: 2 servings


  • 1 cup whole-wheat elbow pasta (or other dried pasta)
  • ½ cup frozen shelled edamame, frozen peas, coarsely grated carrots, shredded kale, etc. (optional)
  • ½ cup grated cheese (cheddar, Parmesan, pecorino romano-all work well)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream, half and half, or milk


  1. Step 1

    Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the vegetables, if using, and cook until the pasta is al dente and the vegetables are crisp tender, 2 to 5 minutes longer.

    Sous Tip:

    Adding pasta and/or vegetables to the boiling water can be something that a kid might enjoy and be able to do safely. It will give them a sense of understanding how the dish starts out.

  2. Step 2

    Remove from the heat and drain. Immediately return the pasta and the vegetables, if using, to the saucepan and set it over low heat. Add the cheese, butter, and cream and stir briskly, until the dairy ingredients melt and become emulsified. Immediately remove from the heat and spoon into a bowl. Make sure the pasta is cool enough for a kid to eat before serving.

    Sous Tip:

    When you’re mixing all the ingredients together to create an emulsion, let your child lend a (supervised) hand. Not only will they feel like they “finished” the dish, but they’ll also see what happens to butter, cheese, and cream when they’re all mixed together over gentle heat. Chemistry + dinner = winning combination!