Skip to Content

Mac and Cheese Bar

You know what we don’t eat enough of as adults? Mac and cheese. So I am proposing a Mac and Cheese Bar so we can get our fill of mac and cheese. A Mac and Cheese Bar is perfect for a fun family dinner, a buffet-style kid's birthday party, or even as a pot luck idea!

mac and cheese bar

I am super excited to have partnered with Smithfield Foods to share this fun way to eat Mac and Cheese! The recipe and idea, as well as all opinions, are mine.

Mac and cheese bar

The idea behind a Mac n Cheese party is to make a large batch of macaroni and cheese, as well as a variety of different mac and cheese toppings and everyone can serve themselves to create their perfect mac n cheese bowl

Your family can customize their bowl with all kinds of fun toppings. There is something for everyone – whether they are vegetarian or meat-lovers.

This is especially a great idea for families with younger kids, who will love picking out their toppings for dinner.

bowl of loaded mac and cheese with toppings

Related recipe: Veggie-loaded Creamy Chicken Fajita Pasta

Mac 'n cheese toppings

You want to have a variety of mac and cheese toppings, so everyone can find a few things they love. I make sure to have a wide variety of protein-rich and veggie toppings to offset the carbs in the mac and cheese. 

mac and cheese bar overhead photo

Here’s what I have going on for this Mac and cheese dinner:

Meaty toppings:

Veggie topping:

  • Asparagus (try this lemony asparagus with bacon)
  • Green peas
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Corn
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Green beans
  • Vegan meatballs or plant-based meat substitutes (for the vegetarians)
  • Fresh baby arugula
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Edamame
  • Scallions or fresh parsley

Other fun topping ideas:

  • Splash of hot sauce, such as sriracha or gochujang
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
  • Everything Bagel seasoning

As you can see, it’s easy to get a nice variety of vegetarian and meaty options.

Serve all this with a delicious salad (try this grilled vegetable salad) and you’ve got a complete meal that your family can assemble themselves (aka less work for you). 

mac and cheese topped with kielbasa

Related recipe: One-pot Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach

The BEST Mac and Cheese to serve a crowd:

Here's my favorite EASY mad and cheese recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb box elbow macaroni 
  • Salted water for cooking macaroni
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk (any kind, I used 2%)
  • 4 cups freshly grated cheese (2 cups mild yellow cheddar and 2 cups mozzarella works GREAT, but you can get fancy with Gruyere or other cheeses)

Instructions

Step 1: Cook the elbow macaroni in salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside.

Step 2: In the same pasta pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly to create a roux. Add the milk, and heat until it is almost boiling. 

Step 3: Add the shredded cheese, and stir until melted. Season with about ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.

Step 4: Stir in the cooked macaroni, adding more salt if needed. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Related recipe: Kielbasa Bites

The game plan

This whole mac and cheese bar takes just over an hour to put together (not bad for prepping a large dinner that will give you plenty of leftovers!), but let me give you all the tricks to make this even simpler:

  • If you want to serve salad, grab a bag of pre-washed mixed salad – it saves time!
  • Start cooking the meatballs and cooking the macaroni first, because those take the most time.
  • While the meatballs are baking and the macaroni is cooking, work on everything else: Cook the bacon first. Then use the same skillet to cook the asparagus (unless you are cooking for vegetarians too). Then use the same skillet to seat the smoked sausage. Less dishes, more flavor!
  • Arrange everything on the kitchen counter or a table, and let everyone serve themselves!

EASY!

I would love to hear from you! Would you try a mac n cheese bar? What toppings would you include?

Looking for other great party ideas to feed a crowd? Try these reader favorites!

mac and cheese party setup
Print Recipe
5 from 3 votes

Mac and Cheese Bar

How about a Mac and Cheese Bar for a family dinner? This recipe shows you how to make several amazing mac and cheese toppings for an easy kid-friendly dinner.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 people
Author: Kate
Cost: $30

Ingredients

Mac and Cheese
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni uncooked
  • salted water for cooking macaroni
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk (any kind, I used 2%)
  • 4 cups grated cheese (2 cups cheddar and 2 cups mozzarella works well)
Mac and Cheese Toppings
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 13-16 oz smoked sausage such as kielbasa (1 package)
  • 1 lb frozen / refrigerated meatballs
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce for the meatballs
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • see notes for other topping ideas

Special equipment

Instructions

Mac and Cheese Toppings
  • Preheat oven to 375F. Place the frozen meatballs on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Brush with barbecue sauce, and bake for another 5 minutes. Rotate, brush the other side with barbecue sauce, and bake for another 5 minutes, or until fully cooked.
  • Cook the bacon in a large pan over medium heat about 3-5 minutes per side, or until desired crispness. You'll need to do this in 2-3 batches so you don't crowd the pan. Carefully place the cooked bacon on paper towels to absorb the extra fat, and allow to cool. Crumble or roughly chop the bacon. Save some bacon for the salad and the bacon drippings for the salad dressing. Do not rinse that skillet yet!
  • Trim the tough ends off the asparagus, and discard. Chop the asparagus into 1-2 inch pieces. Saute the asparagus in the same skillet where the bacon was cooking (or in a new skillet with preheated olive oil), for 7-10 minutes or longer, until desired doneness, stirring frequently. Season with salt, if using olive oil. You might not need additional salt if sauteing in bacon drippings!
  • Slice the Smoked Sausage into ½ inch slices. Cook the sliced smoked sausage in the skillet that is seasoned with bacon grease over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side, or until browned and heated through.
  • Steam the fresh or frozen peas in a microwave-safe bowl with a quarter cup of water for 3-5 minutes. Drain the extra water carefully, it will be hot!
Mac and Cheese
  • Cook the elbow macaroni in salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside.
  • In the same pasta pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly to create a roux. Add the milk, and heat until it is almost boiling. Add the shredded cheese, and stir until melted. Season with about ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste.
  • Stir in the cooked macaroni, adding more salt if needed. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Notes

More topping ideas:

  • Pulled pork or pulled chicken
  • Chopped hot dogs
  • Green peas
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Corn
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Vegan meatballs or plant-based meat substitutes (for the vegetarians)
  • Fresh baby arugula
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Edamame
  • Green beans
  • Scallions or fresh parsley
  • Splash of hot sauce, such as sriracha or gochujang
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze
  • Everything Bagel seasoning
Nutrition facts note: The nutrition facts are an estimate and will vary based on the actual ingredients you use and the amount of toppings you eat! 

Nutrition

Calories: 600kcal (30%) | Carbohydrates: 60g (20%) | Protein: 26g (52%) | Fat: 28g (43%) | Saturated Fat: 17g (85%) | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 84mg (28%) | Sodium: 628mg (26%) | Potassium: 464mg (13%) | Fiber: 3g (12%) | Sugar: 13g (14%) | Vitamin A: 1358IU (27%) | Vitamin C: 3mg (4%) | Calcium: 544mg (54%) | Iron: 3mg (17%)

Share this post by clicking the buttons below:

Comments or questions about the recipe?
Recipe Rating