This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe is SO good and easy to make. Great for a quick lunch or dinner and tastes JUST like the restaurant!
Panera Mac and Cheese
Oh My Stars!
You need to give this Panera Mac and Cheese a try, like yesterday! This one is PERFECT to make for lunch or supper and can save you a lot of money (since it tastes JUST like the restaurant version!).
The secret is ALL in the cheeses for this ooey-gooey-oh-so-cheesy mac and cheese! These white cheeses are scrumptious and melt like a dream. Be sure to use a good block cheese rather than the already shredded cheeses. Those have thickeners and just do not melt as well as the block cheese.
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
- medium pasta shells
- milk (2% or whole)
- Dijon mustard
- kosher salt
- hot sauce
- white American cheese
- extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar cheese
💡Menu Tip: This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe is from week 5 our Lunch Menu Plan Made Easy PDF download – full of 36 recipes along with weekly grocery lists!
How to make Panera Mac and Cheese:
You'll want to start by cooking the pasta in a large pot on the stove top according to the package directions and then draining out the water.
Next, start a roux by melting your butter over low heat. Whisk in the flour and and continue to whisk constantly, cooking about 1 minute. Pour in the milk and continue stirring until the sauce thickens.
Once your roux has thickened, whisk in the mustard, salt and hot sauce. Stir in the your cheeses and continue stirring until the cheese is smooth and melted through. This cheese sauce what makes the Panera Mac and Cheese so creamy – so be patient as the cheese melts!
Finally, gently fold your pasta into that wonderful creaminess of cheese. Remove from heat and serve. You could garnish with some parsley if you're feeling especially fancy. 🙂
Different Flavors to Try with this Panera Mac and Cheese:
Broccoli Mac and Cheese:
Sneak in some veggies by stirring in 3 cups chopped broccoli florets at the same time you add in the cooked pasta shells. A one dish meal that's truly delicious comfort food!
Baja Mac and Cheese:
Panera used to serve this Baja Mac and Cheese, but they've since discontinued. It's one of their old favorites that's sorely missed.
If you want to give this Baja version a try, mix together this homemade Baja spice mix and let me know how it goes.
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 tsps ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp onion powder
For this recipe, generously rub the Baja seasoning onto some chicken breasts and grill. Slice the grilled chicken breasts and add to the mac and cheese and boom you have the Baja Mac and Cheese!
Panera Mac and Cheese with Hot Sauce:
Spice things up in the kitchen!
Actually, adding hot sauce to a recipe involving cheese is an old chef’s trick. The hot sauce enhances the flavor of the cheese (who knew?).
We prefer Frank's hot sauce, but you can use any hot sauce you’d like. Just keep in mind that each one may require a different amount.
This recipe already calls for 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce but if you really want to add a kick, try 2 Tablespoons!
How well does this store? Can you reheat or freeze this recipe?
You can freeze and reheat this copycat Panera Mac and Cheese dish – just remember to label your dish before placing it in the freezer and thaw completely in the fridge before reheating.
If you're looking to reheat, just pop this in the microwave. If the mac and cheese seems to be getting dried out you can simply add a bit of milk (just a few Tablespoons are fine) to it as you are reheating.
Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese
- 16 oz box medium pasta shells
- ¼ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- 2 ½ cups milk (2% or whole)
- ½ Tbsp creamy Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp hot sauce
- 6 slices white American cheese, chopped
- 8 oz extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar cheese, shredded
- Prepare pasta according to package directions.
- In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour to make a roux, whisking constantly. Cook about 1 minute before whisking in the milk. Continue whisking as the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in mustard, salt and hot sauce. Add cheeses using a spatula or wooden spoon until the sauce is smooth.
- Fold in pasta until it’s heated through. Serve immediately.
This copycat Panera Mac and Cheese recipe is part of our Lunch Menus PDF Download.
There are 36 recipes included, with 5 lunch recipes and 1 dessert assigned to each given week.
Each recipe includes calorie counts and provides servings to feed 4 – 6 people with enough for leftovers.
Here are some other delicious lunch recipes you may like:
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