The Easiest Ever Copycat Panera Mac ‘N Cheese Recipe {15 Minutes}

This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe is so easy and can be made in just 15 minutes!  Using just one pan and only a few ingredients, this is an easy dinner idea that is even faster than getting takeout!

bowl of copycat panera mac and cheese

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Too Much Take-Out

There is a Panera across the street from where my son’s soccer practice is held. Using “Rapid Pick-up,” I can place an order 20 minutes before practice ends, run across the street, grab dinner, and be back in time to pick up my carpool.

Panera’s Mac and Cheese is a family favorite and, while I love the convenience, the realization that I regularly spend $40 to feed my family takeout macaroni was enough to give me pause.

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Pin

Copycat Recipe to the Rescue

My initial attempts at finding a copycat Panera Mac n’ Cheese version turned up recipes that were fairly complicated.  Complicated recipes translate into “I’m much more likely to spend $40 at a quick-service restaurant than actually make the meal myself”.

After playing around with a few, I settled on this super simple, uncomplicated version.  Not only is it ready in 15 minutes, but it only dirties ONE PAN and tastes JUST like the real thing!

This post will show you how to make the easiest ever Copycat Panera Mac ‘n Cheese!

What You’ll Need to Make Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

  • 3 cups small shell pasta
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar
  • ¼ – ½ cup water
  • Optional: parsley for garnishing

A note on shredded cheese: almost every chef, food blogger, and cooking expert will tell you to buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself.   Pre-shredded varieties contain additives to prevent it from clumping in the bag, and it doesn’t melt as smoothly as freshly grated cheese.  I’m certain that is all true, and if you want to grate your own cheese, by all means, follow their lead. 

That Being Said: I have only ever made this recipe (and most of my melty-cheese recipes) using bagged, pre-shredded cheese.  And, the only feedback I’ve ever received on this recipe was “yum” and “can I have more” before the recipient slipped into a food-induced coma from the carb overload.

How to Make Chicken Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Panera Mac and Cheese cooking in pan

Place the pasta, whole milk, mustard, garlic powder, and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and mix together.

Turn the heat on to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer.  Once it begins to simmer, turn the heat down to low.

Next, allow the pasta to cook in the sauce for 6 minutes, stirring the pasta mixture approximately once a minute, allowing the pasta to soak up the sauce.

Once the sauce is almost all soaked up, add ¼ cup of water, stir, and allow to cook for another  1-2 minutes.  The pasta should be al dente at this point but, if it isn’t, add another ¼ cup of water and continue to stir, again allowing the pasta to soak up the additional water.

When the pasta is at your desired consistency, remove the pan, and add the shredded cheese.  Finally, stir until the cheese is melted into the sauce and completely coats the pasta.  Top with parsley if desired.

What to Serve with Copycat Panera Mac ‘N Cheese

Overhead shot of bowl of copycat panera mac and cheese

So, I’m not going to skip over the fact that THE BREAD they serve as a side dish is sometimes the best part of any Panera meal.  I recently learned that you can buy a full French Baguette Loaf on its own from Panera.  My local Panera sells the entire loaf for $3.59, which feels like the bargain of the century.  So, if you happen to be near a Panera, run in and grab one – they will stay fresh for a couple of days on your counter in the brown paper bag.

Or, if you prefer to not serve carbs with your carbs, you can always balance the meal out with healthier options.  Sliced apples, carrots with dip, and yogurt all round out this meal nicely.

Do you have any Copycat Recipes you’ve perfected? Or any dishes you WISH you could create at home? If so, share in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

More Recipes You’ll Love

bowl of copycat panera mac and cheese

The Easiest Ever Copycat Panera Mac 'N Cheese Recipe {15 Minutes}

Print Recipe
This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe is so easy and can be made in just 15 minutes! Using just one pan and only a handful of ingredients, this is an easy dinner idea that is even faster than getting takeout! 
Prep Time:5 mins
Cook Time:10 mins

Ingredients

  • 3 cups small shell pasta
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar
  • ¼ - ½ cup water
  • Optional: parsley for garnishing

Instructions

  • Place the pasta, whole milk, mustard, garlic powder, and nutmeg in a medium saucepan and mix together.
  • Turn the heat on to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer.  Once it begins to simmer, turn the heat down to low.
  • Allow the pasta to cook in the sauce for 6 minutes, stirring the pasta mixture approximately once a minute, allowing the pasta to soak up the sauce.
  • Once  the sauce is almost all soaked up, add ¼ cup of water, stir, and allow to cook for another  1-2 minutes.  The pasta should be al dente at this point but, if it isn’t add,  another ¼ cup of water and continue to stir, again allowing the pasta to soak up the additional water. 
  • Once the pasta is at your desired consistency, remove the pan, and add the shredded cheese.  Stir until the cheese is melted into the sauce and completely coats the pasta. 
  • Top with parsley if desired.
Course: Dinner
Servings: 6
Author: Snug & Cozy Life

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