Panera Mac and Cheese (Copycat Recipe)

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Enjoy a restaurant-quality meal at home with my Panera Mac and Cheese! This recipe is perfect if you’re craving comfort food. It’s creamy, cheesy, and flat-out delicious! Better than the boxed stuff and ready to enjoy at home… this Panera mac and cheese recipe is about to become your new favorite!

Titled Image: Panera Mac and Cheese Copycat Recipe


Panera Mac and Cheese

Panera Bread™ is my go-to when I want something quick and easy. It’s more wholesome than some other fast food places… I love their salads and soups! 

So much so that I’ve already shared these recipes for their Green Goddess Salad and broccoli cheddar soup. So tasty!!

And when I want something that will hold me over a little bit longer, I always order Panera mac and cheese. It’s rich, creamy, and pretty much always hits the spot! 

My Panera mac and cheese recipe is so easy it practically makes itself.

Plus you can make it uniquely your own with a multitude of fun add-ons. Versatile, flavorful, and simple? It doesn’t get much better!!

panera copycat mac and cheese ingredients

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Salted Butter – I like using salted butter for my copycat Panera mac and cheese.

    That said, if you’re keeping an eye on your sodium intake, you could use unsalted butter instead.
  • All-Purpose Flour – Works as a thickening agent for that creamy and cheesy sauce.
  • Half & Half – Also needed to create your mac and cheese sauce. I love the easy combination of cream and milk. 
  • White Cheddar Cheese – A must for Panera Bread mac and cheese! You want to use white instead of regular cheddar for its lighter color.

    That’s what they use at the restaurant!
  • Pasta – I like cavatappi best for Panera mac and cheese, but you could also use elbow macaroni, fusilli, or conchiglie shells.
  • Seasonings – You don’t need a lot! Salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and mustard powder will do the trick.
melted butter and flour in a heavy bottom pot

Tips for Making Panera Bread Mac and Cheese

  • Use high-quality ingredients.

You don’t need much to make this Panera mac and cheese recipe, so using high-quality ingredients can make a big difference!

If you can swing it, opt for freshly cut white cheddar cheese from the deli counter, fresh butter, and your favorite brand of first-rate pasta. 

  • Slow and steady wins the race!

After your copycat Panera mac and cheese sauce thickens and comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low. 

Cooking the cheese sauce over low heat helps prevent it from becoming grainy and ensures a velvety texture!

  • Sauce too thick?

If you find that your cheese sauce is too thick, simply add a bit more half & half until you get the consistency you’re after.

Add 1 tablespoon at a time to make sure that it doesn’t get runny!

adding cheese to melt in heavy bottom pot

Storing and Reheating Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Let any leftovers cool completely before placing them in an airtight container in the fridge. Homemade Panera mac and cheese will keep for up to 3-4 days.

You can reheat single servings in the microwave in 30-second increments until heated through. You could also use your stovetop: add a splash of milk or half & half and heat over medium for about 10 minutes.

Interested in freezing your Panera Bread mac and cheese for later? Again, let it cool completely before storing it in an airtight container in the freezer. It will keep for 1-2 months. 

Keep in mind that the texture and consistency may change over time!

Kitchen Tools You Will Need

  • Large Heavy Bottomed Pot and Strainer for the pasta.
  • Whisk – These have held up for over 10 years and are still as good as the day I bought them. With 3 sizes, there is a whisk for every job!
stirring in cooked pasta

Panera Mac and Cheese Recipe FAQ

Can I make this recipe ahead of time?

Yes! Make your Panera Bread mac and cheese as instructed on the recipe card and allow it to cool before storing it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. 

Reheat it over the stove — remember that you may need to add a bit of milk to bring it back to life. 

What can I add to this Panera mac and cheese recipe?

There are so many options! Crispy bacon bits, sautéed onions and mushrooms, or diced tomatoes all come to mind. 

If you like spicy foods, consider adding cayenne pepper! Get creative and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Can I use a different type of cheese?

As mentioned, Panera mac and cheese is made with white cheddar which is why I’m using it here. 

That said, you could also try sharp cheddar, Gruyere, or a combination of your favorites. The only rule here is that you must use a cheese that melts well!

wooden spoon stirring panera copycat mac and cheese

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closeup of panera mac and cheese copycat with fork

panera mac and cheese copycat closeup

Panera Mac and Cheese (Copycat Recipe)

Donna Elick
Panera Mac and Cheese is so delish that I made my own version! Make this Panera mac and cheese recipe for creamy, cheesy goodness at home!
5 stars from 3 reviews
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine American
Method Stovetop
Servings 6


  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups half & half
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 16 ounces cavatappi pasta, cooked according to package instructions


  • In a heavy bottom large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
  • Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1-2 minutes until well combined and smooth.
  • Gradually whisk in the half and half, making sure there are no lumps.
  • Cook the mixture for about 5-7 minutes, stirring constantly, until it thickens and comes to a simmer.
  • Reduce the heat to low and stir in the shredded white cheddar cheese, salt , black pepper, and mustard powder. Mix until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy.
  • Add the cooked cavatappi pasta to the pot and stir until the pasta is evenly coated with the cheese sauce.
  • Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
  • Serve the mac and cheese hot and enjoy!.

Donna’s Notes

You can customize your mac and cheese by adding other ingredients such as crispy bacon, sauteed onions, or diced tomatoes.
If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add a little more half and half to achieve your desired consistency.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 680cal | Carbohydrates: 67g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 36g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Cholesterol: 100mg | Sodium: 579mg | Sugar: 7g | Fiber: 3g | Calcium: 417mg | Iron: 1mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Panera Mac and Cheese Copycat Recipe _ PIN

Originally published November 2023

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  1. 5 stars
    My father in law taught me how to make this about 40 years ago and my kids loved it and now their kids love it too!! He substituted the AP flour for Wondra because it doesn’t seize up or clump. And instead of using the black pepper I used white pepper so it wouldn’t show up on the noodles!!!

  2. 5 stars
    Just made this Panera Mac and Cheese from The Slow Roasted Italian and wow, it’s a game changer! So creamy and easy to whip up. I added a touch of garlic powder for extra flavor, and it was a hit!

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