whole food ~ well made

alfredo pasta dinner with snap peas

Homemade Stovetop Mac & Cheese for Kids & Grownups

This one pot macaroni and cheese recipe–made with Parmesan cheese and optional snap peas–is my family’s favorite..

Like so many of you, I’ve tried out lots of homemade one pot macaroni and cheese recipes on the stove top. But here’s the rub: they’re actually too rich for everyday eating.

I realize that sounds absurd–or like some kind of culinary oxymoron. Macaroni and cheese that is too cheesy?

Is that even possible?

a plateof pasta alfredo with snap peas

I can’t explain it. I’m only reporting what my kids relayed to me. And, let’s face it: they’re the experts on this subject.

“Mom,” said Cece gravely when I served her this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, “This is too cheesy.”

One Pot Mac & Cheese Techniques

I have learned a several useful tricks from playing around with all of the one pot homemade macaroni and cheese recipes you can find:

  1. You can boil pasta is much less liquid than is traditional for boiling pasta, so long as you stir it attentively, which is to say very frequently, but not necessarily continuously.
  2. Canned evaporated milk is excellent for one pot mac and cheese because it does not curdle. But you can also use half and half, which is available pastured and avoids additives. {And canned evaporated milk and half and half both contain 40 calories per 2 tablespoons.}
  3. The ratio of equal parts pasta and milk product by weight (for example, 12 ounces pasta and 12 ounces–1 1/2 cups–half and half as in my recipe) recommended in this Serious Eats recipe is one to live by. But an equal part (12 ounces) of cheese was where our problems started with this recipe and others like it.
  4. Because the sauce doesn’t contain flour, one pot macaroni and cheese recipes like this can be easily made gluten free. Just substitute your favorite brand of gluten-free pasta.
  5. It really does take less than 15 minutes and a single pot to make a homemade version of macaroni and cheese that is better tasting than anything that comes from a box.
one pan alfredo with snap peas

A question of cheese: Choosing Parmesan

I started by reducing the cheddar I always reached for. But one day, I was out of orange cheese and used grated Parmesan, which is both girls favorite cheese hands down.

“This is the best mac and cheese,” Molly proclaimed. Cece agreed. It was creamy, smooth and rich without being a cheese bomb.

So that’s how stove top macaroni and cheese became our go-to one pot pasta alfredo.

the plain version of pasta alfredo with snap peas on the side

But the girls still call it mac & cheese.

Using a single pot to make this easy macaroni and cheese is a “winner winner pasta dinner.”

A two-in-one dinner

The final test was to make this one pot dinner two ways: Plain for the kids but veggie laden for us.

I love a cheesy pasta with any kind of green vegetable, especially the snap of peas. So, I devised a way to steam some snap peas in advance to mix in afterwards for the adults’ version.

Still in the same pot. For veggie add-ons, I’ll also serve this pasta with:

  • freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes or sriracha {depending on the mood}
  • over a bed of fresh arugula, baby kale {because, more veg in every bite} or with a fresh green salad
finished pot of stove top pasta alfredo with snap peas

Everyone gets what they want and there’s only one pot to wash. Which I love almost as much as this easy version of macaroni and cheese!


and become a forager

What’s your favorite mac and cheese? Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook.
alfredo pasta dinner with snap peas
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5 from 7 votes

Homemade One Pot Pasta Alfredo with Snap Peas

This is my version of one pot pasta that customizes the vegetable matter to please both kids and their adult companions: the kids get a plain mac and cheese-like dish and grownups get snap peas brightening up this hearty classic. Substitute asparagus, English peas, cauliflower or broccoli (though note that bits of broccoli florets will remain finished dish). 
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 17 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 578kcal
Author Lynne


  • 2 cups snap peas, stemmed and cut in half if large
  • 12 ounces shaped pasta or gluten-free pasta
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half or evaporated milk
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups (about 4 ounces) coarsely grated parmesan, plus additional for serving or asiago


  • Bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan over high heat. Add the salt and the snap peas, cover and steam for 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the snap peas to a bowl, reserving all the water, and set the snap peas aside.
  • Add the pasta, half and half and garlic to the sauce pan. Bring to a boil once again and then reduce heat to maintain a low boil. Stir frequently until the pasta is nearly al dente, 8 to 14 minutes, depending on the shape. (If the liquid reduces too much to finish cooking the pasta, add an additional 1/4 cup of water at a time.)
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the cheese and stir well to blend. Taste for salt, adding additional to suit your taste. 
  • Dish up the kid portions, serving a portion of the snap peas on the side. Then add the remaining snap peas to the pan and stir to distribute them into the cheesy pasta. Serve both versions garnished with additional parmesan to taste.


If the pasta sits and the cheese sauce becomes glommy, just add a few tablespoons of additional half and half, milk or water and warm the pot over low heat until the pasta is creamy and smooth once again.


Calories: 578kcal


  1. 5 stars
    This dish looks yummy and flavorful. I love the sound of half and half with my pasta, condensed milk might be a little too rich for me.

    1. That’s what I thought, too, Fred. Thanks!

  2. My son just drooled! I think he put in his bid for next time he comes over for dinner.

    1. Funny! Well, I do hope you get a chance to try it, Alicia.

  3. This looks delightful and one-pot is always attractive to me! Who knew there was so much to cooking a pot of pasta!? Condensed milk? Would that not make it too sweet? I generally use carnation milk. I am intrigued by the option for condensed milk. Tell me more…

    1. missed a word… I use carnation evaporated milk.

    2. Yes, I meant evaporated milk, not condensed. (I don’t use a lot of canned products, obviously.) Thanks for pointing out the error!

  4. 5 stars
    This sounds easy and delicious. I too like using evaporated milk in recipes. I does cut the “richness” but still produces great results. One pot dinners are such a great weeknight option.

    1. Agreed. Thanks, Gloria.

  5. Love that washed out white board and the pasta looks absolutely delicious. You are right..its fit for kids as well as the adults.

    1. Thanks, Aish!

  6. Interesting… I’ve never used evaporated milk in my pasta dishes. I normally either make a roux or for this type of dish or I’d use cream. The kids love this and I make it with spinach and a time add some smoked salmon. I will try yours as I’m curious about the evaporated milk.

    1. Both Cook’s Illustrated and Serious Eats have best mac and cheese recipes using canned evaporated milk. It’s handy to keep in the cupboard for 1-pot mac and cheese, and it’s really rich. I do prefer pastured half and half, but in a pinch… Thanks!

  7. 5 stars
    Nice recipe, I like your ideas for taking something kid friendly and adding a little to it for the grown ups – I always add a bit of extra heat to my own plate 🙂

    1. I think it’s a parenting survival skill to take 1 dish into 2 directions, Jacqueline, don’t you? Always heat!

  8. I totally agree – while I love a super decadent, cheesy mac and cheese sometimes you want a lighter version. I love the vegetable additions here – especially the asparagus.

    1. Thanks, Amy.

  9. 5 stars
    This looks delicious! Such a simple and fragrant dish. My girls would definitely love this, they are big fans of the sugar snap peas, and pasta… and cheese 🙂

    1. LOL, yay for cheese! Hope your girls enjoy it, too, Margot!

  10. İ always…always love one pot meal recipe.. that’s what İ almost…ALMOST did everyday for my kid or only for my husband cause we are small family. thank you for the tips also Lynn ..great recipe to try!

    1. Hope you let me know if you try it, Citra–and thanks!

  11. I love the kid friendly version, that is the way we cook at home too. I am always trying to encourage the veggies but it is not often that I win that battle. Thanks for sharing this one!

    1. Thanks, Allison. Gentle persistence seems to be the key–and keeping things separated.

  12. 5 stars
    What a delicious pasta dish, I love that it can be all made in the same pot. I like the sound of adding spring vegetables, asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I will be making this with asparagus very soon.

  13. It’s so funny to think how macaroni & cheese is a true childhood favorite for most but it was something I never really had when I was growing up (probably a side effect of living in a health focused household). As an adult, I’ve had it on occasion but it still is not something I don’t eat very often. I never really tried to understand why this was, but perhaps your theory on most mac & cheese being “too cheesy” would explain this. Your version looks so much lighter & creamier and I love the addition of the veggies. Great as a main course. . .but equally fantastic as a side.

    1. That’s interesting to think of life before mac & cheese, but so true, Lynn! I only want to eat it with lots of veggies not only for their taste & texture but to break up the richness.

  14. 5 stars
    THis looks so delicious. I love adding veggies to my homemade mac and cheese and we change up the cheeses too to add a little kick to it.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer!

  15. I like the idea of adding arugula to this, that sounds really good. What’s NR-17 though?

    1. Definitely recommend that, Derek. (BTW, that was supposed to be a cheeky reference to adult movies, but when I looked up what it actually means, it was a bit over the top and not at all what I meant.)

  16. 5 stars
    I am trying a lot of one pot pasta recipes now and its just made life a whole lot easier. Yet to try a mac and cheese though and I haven’t yet used half and half in my mac and cheese or alfredo sauces. Its going on the list to try.

    1. You and me both, Manju. The one-pot method is really freeing. Hope you let me know if you give this recipe a try.

  17. YES!! Parmesan and pasta are such a match made in heaven. Plus those parm bricks (<–technical term) seem to keep in the fridge for marvelous amounts of time without turning on us. Love your note for dish up the kid portions first and THEN add all the adult veggies (not because I happen to have a kid of my own yet but because sometimes I cook for my kid-dult of a partner whose veggie tastes don't always match my own)

    1. Yup, I know PLENTY of grownups [male, as it happens ;)] who’d prefer not to mix their veggies! And parmesan is one of our best friends just for the reason you mentioned: it’s always ready and waiting. Plus the real stuff is soooo good. My kids don’t even want orange cheese on their pasta anymore.

  18. This looks super good but I haven’t tried using evaporated milk yet. Next time I try making alfredo I will give it a try. Haha kids are so funny but they are great critics. I have actually eaten pasta that seemed way too cheesy.

    1. It was a first for me, too, April. It’s handy to have evaporated milk, but I do prefer half and half. Either way, hope you give this recipe a try.

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