Simply the easiest way to make a batch of homemade mac and cheese for kids! Cooked macaroni is mixed with cream and cheese to form a delicious sauce all in one pan. Not only is this recipe simple and foolproof, it’s also highly flexible, leaving room for whatever add-ins your kids will go for – or it can be enjoyed all on its own.
👩🍳 Christine’s Notes: Why this is mac and cheese for kids, specifically
Grownups like mac and cheese too, right? Yeah. Course we do! But I’m offering up this recipe as a mac and cheese for kids for the following reasons:
- It’s simple and reliable. It is JUST mac and cheese. Nothing weird or fancy about it. No hidden veggies. This is for the crazy nights when a timely bedtime is at stake so dinner can not fail.
- It’s an easy one pot no-roux recipe with a relaxed process. We boil the pasta, we drain it, then stir cream and cheese through it, forming a cheesy sauce as if by magic. If you have to pause to divert your attention for a moment, nothing will be ruined. You can pay about 25% of your mental energy to making this dish. (Which is all you have to give, because it’s the witching hour and you have kids hanging off your legs and a toddler looking for the slightest lapse in your concentration to sneak off and draw on the walls).
- And it’s forgiving – my own kids are flexible enough with their mac and cheese tastes that I can freestyle this recipe without measuring it out every time and it’s never not been OK. Make it once or twice and you’ll be able to put the recipe away in future. It generally doesn’t require much precision. If you overcook the pasta, it probably doesn’t matter. If you didn’t have quite enough cheese to hand, it probably doesn’t matter. If you use single cream or half and half, it probably doesn’t matter.
This way of making mac and cheese for my kids has never let me down. They are always happy to eat it, and I am always happy to make it. On calm evenings, they can even help me prepare it.
Ingredient Notes + Q&A
There are only three absolutely essential ingredients:
- Cream (heavy or double cream is ideal)
- Cheese (strong white cheddar for me, grated off the block rather than pre-shredded bags)
I then like to add a little mustard + smoked paprika to enhance the cheesy flavor.
Why grate the cheese off the block?
I know this isn’t ideal, but I really prefer to grate the cheddar cheese off a block for this. The pre-grated cheeses tend to be coated in starch to help stop them sticking together, and this impacts on their texture. So you can try this recipe with pre-grated, it just won’t come out exactly the same. I can’t say for sure what will happen because different brands and cheeses will behave a little differently too.
I don’t have cream!
For the sake of this mac and cheese I always try to keep cream in my fridge nowadays, but this can be made with cream cheese + whole milk or mascarpone + whole milk. Just refer to the notes section of the recipe for measurements if you need to make this swap. The cream cheese base is not quite as tasty in my opinion, but my kids will totally eat it with no questions asked.
What does it taste like and will my kid like it?
- This is a thick, creamy stovetop mac and cheese. It’s not as thick as a roux sauce but not as runny as boxed mac and cheese sauces. If they like alfredo, you should be golden.
- Your choice of cheese will play a big part in the flavor. I use a strong cheddar cheese. If your kids like fairly mild, bland sauces, then you could go for a milder cheese. If your kids like things more punchy, swap out 1/4 of the cheddar for parmesan.
- Speaking of which, if your kids are used to boxed mac and cheese, it may not have the “right” taste to them. If they’re open minded when presented with other mac and cheeses, we might do fine.
Adapting this Mac & Cheese for Your Kids
You know your kids better than I do. If you want to change things up and you’re confident they can handle it, here’s some ideas.
- Do you want a crispy topping? Pour this into a baking dish, add some breadcrumbs and/or extra cheese, spray with oil and broil / grill until brown. (You can get your helper to assist in making chunky breadcrumbs – hand them some bread and ask them to rip off tiny pieces. Then ask them to make the pieces tinier. And keep going.) Just don’t bake it for any longer than you need to get the topping brown, or the sauce will all get swallowed up.
- Can they tolerate some broccoli or peas in their mac and cheese? Excellent. Reduce the pasta amount by a little, and add some broccoli or peas to the pan of pasta a couple minutes before it’s done cooking.
- Hidden veggies aren’t the point of this recipe, but if you are confident you can sneak them in, or your kid is still young enough not to notice the tiniest change in color or texture, some pureed pumpkin, butternut squash or sweet potato is a great addition. You’ll probably want to reduce the amount of cream if you’re using any of these.
More for Kids
Easy Kid’s Mac & Cheese
- 2 cups (200 g) dried macaroni
- 5 oz (150 g) cheddar cheese, grated
- ¼ tsp dijon mustard
- 2 pinches smoked paprika
- ¾ cups (180 ml) heavy (double) cream
- Boil the macaroni according to package instructions, then drain and return to the pan.
- Over a very low heat, add the cream, mustard and smoked paprika and stir through until it's coating the macaroni.
- Add the cheese and continue to stir until it's just melted through.
- Remove from the heat and serve immediately.