This easy baked mac and cheese recipe is a family favorite sure to satisfy any crowd. Tender pasta noodles are combined with a variety of cheeses and taken to the next level with warm spices. It’s a creamy, comforting homemade mac and cheese recipe no one can resist! 

overhead easy baked mac and cheese in a baking dish.

Mac and Cheese That’s So Creamy You Can Never Get Enough

Is there anything better than a batch of mac and cheese? The ultimate comfort food, it’s a side dish no one can resist! 

However, we don’t always love the ingredients listed in boxed varieties, and if we’re being honest the taste and texture just isn’t great. Nothing beats homemade mac and cheese. 

And this easy baked mac and cheese recipe is just like Momma used to make! Guaranteed to knock your socks off, you’ll never go back to boxed varieties again. 

This recipe: 

  • Is leveled up with warm spices
  • Comes together with minimal prep time, and a cook time of just 20 minutes
  • Requires very little cleanup
  • Is perfect for making ahead of time
  • Can easily be customized
  • Couldn’t get any more kid-friendly

What You’ll Need

You won’t find any powdered cheese or mystery ingredients in this recipe! Instead, we use a handful of ingredients to create the richest, creamiest baked mac and cheese you’ll ever taste. 

  • Pasta – We like elbows best, but any pasta shape you prefer will work. Try experimenting with different variations like gluten-free and veggie-filled noodles, too! 
  • Unsalted Butter – Not only does butter add a rich flavor, but it also prevents the noodles from sticking together and helps create a decadent, velvety cheese sauce.  
  • Cheese – We include both Sharp Cheddar and White Cheddar cheeses for an explosion of flavor, but any cheese you like best will work. Whatever you choose, be sure to use a block, and grate it yourself. 
  • Milk – Any percentage you have on hand is just fine. Just keep in mind that the higher the fat percentage, the creamier your mac and cheese will be! 
  • Garlic – For the best results, use fresh garlic cloves. Pre-minced or powdered versions will have a much weaker taste. 
  • Spices – Salt, black pepper, dried oregano, and smoked paprika add extra depth, creating a savory, slightly smokey taste with a hint of spice. If you prefer a more mild taste, swap the smoked paprika for sweet paprika instead. 
  • Cream Cheese – The secret weapon that makes this easy baked mac and cheese the best you’ll ever taste, full-fat cream cheese enhances the sauce, making it even more creamy and flavorful. 
side view mac and cheese in a baking dish.

Boil, Combine, Bake: How to Make the Best Easy Mac and Cheese Recipe

If you’ve ever shied away from making homemade mac and cheese, because you thought it was too complicated, this recipe is for you! Basically failproof, it comes together with just a few steps and a total time of just over 30 minutes. 

  1. Boil the pasta. Cook the pasta noodles to al dente according to the package instructions. 
  2. Combine. Add the cooked pasta, part of the milk, garlic, and spices to a greased baking dish, stirring to combine. 
  3. Top. Sprinkle the Sharp Cheddar and White Cheddar cheese on top followed by the butter and cream cheese. 
  4. Bake. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake in a preheated oven until the cheese is melted. 
  5. Adjust. Stir to combine the ingredients and coat the pasta with the cheese sauce. Then, slowly pour in the remaining milk, using as much as desired to reach your desired consistency. 

Tips for the Best Results

This easy baked mac and cheese recipe comes together in a single dish. No standing over the stove is required, but we do have a few tips to make the process failproof! 

  • Slightly Undercook Your Pasta. Remember, it will get cooked twice. So, you want to cook it for just 4-5 minutes Otherwise, it’s likely to become mushy.  
  • Use Warm Liquids. The warmer your milk, the easier it will mix in with the other ingredients and create a thicker sauce. We like to let it sit out while preparing the dish, and warm it over the stovetop if necessary! 
  • Incorporate Freshly Shredded Cheese. It takes a little bit longer, but shredding your own cheese from a block creates so much more flavor. Trust us. It’s worth it! Pre-shredded varieties have anti-caking agents that cause them not to melt as easily. 
  • Adjust the Ingredients. Feel free to add more noodles if you want a less saucy mac and cheese. Or, add more cheese if you want your recipe even cheesier! 


We kept this recipe simple, focusing on the flavor of the cheese, but feel free to mix and match different ingredients and toppings! Some of our favorite variations include: 

  • Veggies. Give your mac and cheese a boost of nutrients with vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, or peas.
  • Meat. Transform this side dish into a meal with protein like chicken, hamburger meat, or bacon.
  • Toppings. Make your mac and cheese fancy by topping it off with breadcrumbs or a cracker topping. 
A bowl of easy baked mac and cheese topped with fresh herbs.

Serving Suggestions

Honestly, we could eat this easy baked mac and cheese all on its own! Or, if you want to turn it into a full meal, try pairing it with a main course such as: 

Can I Make this Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Ahead of Time? 

Sure! Just keep in mind that the further ahead of time you make it, the less creamy it will be. To do so, prepare the dish as the recipe states up to step five. 

Then, instead of baking, cover the dish, and store it in the fridge for up to one to two days. When you’re ready to eat, bake as usual, and feel free to add a bit or milk or cream cheese as needed to thin out the sauce. 

How to Store and Reheat

This easy baked mac and cheese is best served right away while it’s still warm. However, if you have leftovers or want to save some for the week, it can be stored for later. 

  • To Store: Cover the dish with foil, or transfer the mixture to an airtight container. Store it in the fridge for up to three to four days. 
  • To Reheat: Warm leftovers in the microwave or in a pot on the stove over medium heat, adding a splash of milk or cream as needed to thin out the sauce. 

We do not recommend freezing this recipe! The sauce will dry out, and the noodles will become limp. 

Common Questions About This Easy Baked Mac and Cheese Recipe

Is it better to bake mac and cheese covered or uncovered? 

For this recipe, we recommend covering the dish to lock in moisture and keep the cheese sauce creamy. If you prefer a browned top, remove the foil for the last few minutes of baking. 

What are the three best cheeses for mac and cheese? 

Whatever cheese you like best! However, some of the most popular options include Gruyère, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan. 

Why isn’t my easy baked mac and cheese creamy? 

This is most likely due to the type of cheese used. Make sure to choose a high-quality block of cheese, and shred it yourself. 

Why add milk to mac and cheese? 

Milk helps keep the dish creamy while enhancing the flavor. 

More Easy Mac and Cheese Recipes

a bowl of easy baked mac and cheese.

Easy Baked Mac and Cheese

4.50 from 4 votes
Author: Food Dolls
Servings: 8 servings
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Simple, creamy, and cheesy, this easy baked mac and cheese is the tastiest side dish you'll ever make!


  • 4 cups cooked elbow pasta 2 cups uncooked, al-dente
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Sharp Cheddar cheese freshly grated
  • 3/4 cup White Cheddar freshly grated
  • 2 cups milk divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pepper taste
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika or sweet paprika*
  • 2 teapoons dried oregano
  • 4 ounces cream cheese cubed


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12×8 baking dish, and set aside.
  • Cook the pasta just until a little under al-dente, about 4-5 minutes.
    4 cups cooked elbow pasta
  • In a 12×8 baking dish, add the cooked pasta, 1 1/2 cups milk, grated garlic, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and oregano. Stir to combine.
    4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, 2 cups milk, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 teaspoon pepper, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 2 teapoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon salt
  • Top with shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese, White Cheddar, butter, and cream cheese.
    1 1/2 cups Sharp Cheddar cheese, 3/4 cup White Cheddar, 4 ounces cream cheese
  • Cover, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
  • Stir together, making sure the melted cream cheese coats all of the pasta.
  • Heat the remaining milk, and stir it into the pasta using as much or as little as needed until the desired consistency is achieved.
  • Store covered in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.



*For a sweeter, less smokey flavor, substitute sweet paprika for smoked paprika. 


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 381kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 68mg | Sodium: 569mg | Potassium: 224mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1035IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 329mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Meet Alia & Radwa

Welcome to Food Dolls! We’re so glad you found us. We are Alia and Radwa, sisters who want to share simple and easy recipes with you. We hope you find recipes here that you enjoy making as much as we do! Learn more about us!

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    1. Sorry about that, Janet! The ingredients below are a recent recipe card feature.
      Just add the cooked pasta, 1 1/2 cups milk, grated garlic, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and oregano in the baking dish, and stir to comobine.
      Hope that helps!

      Alia & Radwa