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Best White Cheddar Mac and Cheese (with Kale and Bacon!)

This Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon is pure comfort food. The macaroni noodles are coated in a creamy cheese sauce that is loaded with sharp white cheddar cheese and fresh parmesan.Chopped kale, bacon, and a crunchy garlicky breadcrumb topping are added to round out this delicious baked mac and cheese recipe. Gluten-free substitutions for this white cheddar mac and cheese are included in the post.

an overhead shot of bowls with white cheddar mac and cheese

Save this recipe for White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Kale and Bacon to Pinterest!

Creating this White Cheddar Mac and Cheese Recipe

Pasta loaded with rich, velvety cheese gets my taste buds watering during these often colder than fall but not quite winter yet evenings. I am a bit nuts about Kale these days.

My latest obsession: Kale, especially in this Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon. Kale often finds a place in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator. I have found that it is an easy way to add extra vegetables, color and nutrition to many of my favorite cold weather recipes. I am adding it to everything.

On a chilly evening with snow in the forecast last week I found myself craving Macaroni and Cheese. A lonely bunch of Kale sat in the produce bin of my refrigerator.

It was an obvious addition for a nutritional boost on such a rich dish of Mac n Cheese.

Why I think this is the Best White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

4 reasons I love this homemade macaroni and cheese with white cheddar:

  • I think this is the best mac and cheese because sharp white cheddar cheese is one of my favorite kind of cheese. Paired with parmesan, the cheese sauce is divine!
  • Mac and cheese is a recipe that my whole family loves, so I can always count on everyone being happy when I make this for dinner.
  • I love the addition of kale for extra veggies and bacon for extra flavor.
  • The crunchy garlic breadcrumb topping takes it over the top! So much flavor!

If you try this simple recipe I hope you like it as much as I do and it becomes one of your family’s new favorite foods! You might find yourself making a double batch because it is such a recipe to have for leftovers the next day (or for lunch).

overhead shot of the ingredients to prepare white cheddar mac and cheese with kale and bacon

What You Need to Make this White Cheddar Macaroni

  • Macaroni Noodles
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Purple Onion
  • Fresh Garlic Cloves
  • All Purpose Flour
  • Whole Milk
  • Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
  • Fresh Parmesan Cheese
  • Nutmeg
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Salt
  • Bacon or Pancetta
  • Kale
  • Sourdough Garlic Butter Croutons

For the complete ingredient list and detailed instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post for the FREE printable recipe card of this homemade white cheddar mac and cheese/

What Kind of Kale Do You Use in This Fancy Mac?

In this white cheddar macaroni and cheese you will want to use curly kale or dinosaur kale. Both varieties are typically found in my grocery store.

You can use frozen kale, too but you will need to thaw it and squeeze out any excess moisture before adding it to the recipe.

Can I Substitute Panko Breadcrumbs

Yes, you can use panko breadcrumbs in place of the crushed garlic butter croutons. However, you’ll want to add some butter and garlic powder to the panko breadcrumbs to get the same flavor.

a pot with macaroni noodles, bacon, kale, and white cheddar cheese sauce for a recipe for white cheddar mac and cheese

How to Make this Creamy Mac and Cheese with Kale and Bacon

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, seasoning with salt according to package directions
  2. Cook pasta in the large pot of salted water over high heat one to two minutes less than package instructions for al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.
  3. While the pasta cooks, prepare the bacon.
  4. In a large French or Dutch oven, melt butter over the stove top. Saute the onion and garlic over medium heat, or until tender and golden.
  5. Whisk in the flour, then slowly whisk in the milk while cooking over medium heat.
  6. Stir in the sharp white cheddar and parmesan cheese until the cheese melts.
  7. Stir in the seasonings, bring to a slow simmer, and then stir in the pasta, bacon, and kale.
  8. After preparing this creamy stovetop mac, transfer the cooked pasta with creamy sauce to a baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the crushed Homemade Sourdough Garlic Butter Croutons.
  9. Bake until hot and bubbly.

The above is simply a quick summary of this recipe for homemade white cheddar mac and cheese. Check out the free printable card at the bottom of this post for all the detailed instructions.

Make Ahead and Time Saving Tips for preparing this recipe

Follow these simple tips to save time when preparing this recipe for white cheddar mac and cheese!

  • Bacon can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. You can also freeze it and you can prepare it even earlier.
  • Kale can be washed, dried, and chopped up to 3 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
  • You can use your food processor to quickly grate the cheese ahead of time. then, store in a plastic bag in the fridge. did you know you can also freeze cheese?
  • If you’re preparing the sourdough crouton breadcrumbs, you can also make that days in advance, or longer if you wish to store them in the freezer.
  • Cook the pasta ahead of time! Rinse in cool water to cool it completely, then toss it with a small amount of oil so that it doesn’t stick together when stored in the fridge.
stirring a pot White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with kale and bacon

Tips for Making the Best White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

Want to make my best ever white cheddar mac and cheese? Follow these extra tips to get great results!

  • Try my homemade bacon bits recipe when preparing the bacon to use in this recipe.
  • For the best flavor, purchase high quality cheese. Definitely do not use the inexpensive powdered parmesan cheese.
  • For the white cheddar, I prefer using the sharp cheddar.
  • I find it easiest to crush the garlic croutons in a food processor, but you can also place them in a plastic bag and crush them with a meat tenderizer until they are fine bread crumb consistency.
  • I recommend buying blocks of cheese and shredding them yourself. Pre-shredded cheese are often coated with anti-caking agents that make them slightly grainy once melted.

Can I Make this as an Instant Pot White Cheddar Mac?

Instant pot recipes are a great time saver! Unfortunately I haven’t tested this recipe in the instant pot yet, but let me know if you give it a try! If I do test that at some point, I’ll come back and include the instructions.

What to Serve with this White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

Looking for a side to serve with this main dish to make it a complete meal?

We usually love to make an easy recipe for a simple salad. Fresh, cool greens go great with rich, cheesy recipes like this baked white cheddar mac and cheese with kale and bacon.

Your side salad doesn’t have to be fancy at all. We often use mixed greens, lettuce, cucumber, shredded carrot, and tomato for a basic side salad. Check out these 3 Simple Salad Dressing Recipes to go along with your salad.

If salad isn’t your thing, try this easy recipe for Roasted Broccoli for a vegetable side dish.

pouring White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with kale and bacon into a casserole dish before baking

How to Store Leftover Mac and Cheese

You can keep leftover white cheddar mac and cheese in the fridge for up to five days. Store it in an airtight container for best results.

You can also freeze mac and cheese for up to three months. Let it cool completely before sealing in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. When ready to eat, thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.

How Do I Make a Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese?

Believe it or not, you can prepare this white cheddar mac and cheese gluten-free quite easily!

Use your favorite gluten free macaroni (or other shaped pasta) in place of the traditional pasta. Then, swap the all purpose flour for your favorite gluten-free substitute. Lastly, sub your favorite gluten free bread crumbs. You can also make your own garlic butter croutons using gluten-free bread.

Other Recipe Variations for this White Cheddar Mac and Cheese Recipe

  • Try using leftover holiday ham in place of bacon
  • Use Gruyere Cheese or Fontina Cheese instead of the parmesan.
  • Use steamed broccoli instead of kale.
an overhead shot of a woman holding a white bowl with White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with kale and bacon

Reader Reviews for Baked White Cheddar Mac and Cheese

“Made this for dinner tonight. It was AMAZING! I made it without onions because it was for company and I didn’t know if they like onions. But it was delicious and I wouldn’t change a thing!”

“This macaroni recipe is delicious! I used baby kale, chard and collards (because I had to use them from my CSA) and didn’t add any croutons but it turned out delicious!”

Try this White Cheddar Mac and Cheese at Home!

Next time you’re craving homemade mac and cheese, give this delicious recipe a try! When you do try it, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and give it a review for others to see.

On Instagram? Share your photo and tag me with @goodlifeeats and #goodlifeeatsrecipes. I’d love to see your photo of this delicious white cheddar macaroni and cheese recipe!

a close up shot of a white bowl with White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with kale and bacon

More Mac and Cheese Recipes

This Bacon and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese features penne covered in a creamy, rich sauce of pureed butternut squash, parmesan, and sharp white cheddar with bacon and fresh sage.

Jalapeño Bacon Mac n Cheese is loaded with poblano peppers, jalapeños, pepper jack cheese, and of course lots of bacon!

In this recipe for Baked Gruyere and Butternut Squash Mac n Cheese, Gruyere is accented by Mascarpone and Parmesan Cheese creates a rich, velvety sauce in this recipe.

Southwestern Mac and Cheese features penne with cheddar, pepper jack, green chiles, tomatoes, and plenty of southwestern seasonings.

Save this recipe for Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon to Pinterest! 

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Have you ever made mac and cheese with white cheddar?

Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon

Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon

Yield: serves 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Baked White Cheddar Mac n Cheese with Kale and Bacon is a bit sinful. Pasta loaded with rich, velvety cheese, kale, plenty of bacon, and a nice crispy topping.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. macaroni
  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 of a purple onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 8 ounces sharp white cheddar, grated
  • 1 ounce parmesan, finely grated
  • dash nutmeg
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, or according to personal preference
  • 6 ounces center cut bacon or pancetta, cooked and crumbled
  • 3 1/2 ounces fresh kale, chopped (about a half a bunch)
  • 1/2 cup crushed Homemade Sourdough Garlic Butter Croutons

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta one to two minutes less than package instructions.
  2. Drain pasta and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the bacon pieces in half vertically, then into small bite sized pieces.
  4. Cook bacon until crispy. Then drain, and set aside.
  5. In a large French or Dutch oven, melt the butter.
  6. Saute the onion for 3 - 5 minutes over medium heat, or until tender and golden.
  7. Add the garlic and saute and additional minute or two, until fragrant.
  8. Whisk in the flour and cook over medium heat till golden.
  9. Slowly whisk in the milk while cooking over medium heat.
  10. Stir in the sharp white cheddar and parmesan cheese, whisking until melted and creamy.
  11. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, black pepper, and salt (if desired).
  12. Bring to a slow simmer, and then stir in the pasta, bacon, and kale.
  13. Transfer the pasta mixture to a 3 1/2 quart oven safe casserole dish or cast iron pan.
  14. Sprinkle the top with the crushed Homemade Sourdough Garlic Butter Croutons.
  15. Bake at 375 degrees F on the center rack in the oven for 10-20 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and bubbly.
  16. Serve immediately.

Notes

Panko breadcrumbs may be substituted for the Homemade Sourdough Garlic Butter Croutons. Stir 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic and 1 tablespoon melted butter in with the panko breadcrumbs before topping the Mac and Cheese.

Nutrition Information
Yield 8 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 467Total Fat 28gSaturated Fat 14gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 75mgSodium 853mgCarbohydrates 31gFiber 2gSugar 6gProtein 22g

GoodLifeEats.com offers recipe nutritional information as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although GoodLifeEats.com makes every effort to provide accurate information, these figures are only estimates.

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love it if you let me know what you think! Snap a photo and tag me on Instagram at @goodlifeeats with the hashtag #goodlifeeatsrecipes so I can see what you’re cooking up in YOUR kitchen!

Photography: photos taken in this post are by Rachael from Set the Table.

Sue D.

Monday 19th of July 2021

Can I leave out the bacon without any other changes to the recipe?

Katie

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

The taste will be slightly different, but you can definitely leave it out without having any problems with the recipe.

BHam

Saturday 14th of November 2020

Would for sure reccomend doubling the cheese mixture as another comment has said, or at least making *some* extra. I feel like right out of the oven it needed just a smidge more but the flavor was there, but if you plan on having it as leftovers it will be pretty dry by the next day.

Slytherin Princess

Sunday 15th of April 2018

YUM! Making this tomorrow. Hope it will turn out great!

JudyB

Saturday 25th of October 2014

This was delicious! I have to say, though, that I made the full amount of cheese sauce and only 2/3 of the pasta (there are only 2 of us) and the pasta soaked up all of the extra sauce. My leftovers are somewhat drier than I would like and will have to be moistened tomorrow. I will definitely make this again but I will make MORE sauce than the recipe provides. Thanks for a good dinner!

Yesim

Sunday 26th of January 2014

Do you think this would freeze ok? I don't normally freeze pasta dishes but this recipe makes a lot. The other option is halving the recipe...

Katie

Sunday 26th of January 2014

I have not tested out freezing it so I can't say. Let me know if you try it and how it works.

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