The Cheapest One Pot Macaroni & Cheese
The first year we were married, Chris and I lived in a 300 square-foot converted shed in someone’s backyard. Don’t worry, we had their permission. It had drywall, a bathroom – even two windows. It kinda had a kitchen. There was a fridge the size of a cooler – no freezer. A tiny bar sink, a microwave, and 1.5 square feet of counter space.
I had recently moved back to the States from West Africa. As a privileged first world-er suddenly plunked from the third world into a backyard shed, I was completely content. I mean, this puppy had drywall and a window air conditioning unit. And I didn’t have to share it with my 6 children, our dog, and a couple chickens. We were good.
Needless to say, I had to get creative with meals. We had no money, barely any kitchen, and I was already a passionate whole foodie. We weren’t going to live on freeze-dried noodles and canned soup.
Instead, I used a little plug-in burner to make lots of one-pot meals. It didn’t heat evenly, and trying to get something to boil took forever,
But by golly, it made a killer pot of macaroni and cheese.
I love boxed macaroni and cheese, but I prefer knowing what’s actually going into my food. I prefer cheese in my macaroni and cheese. Call me picky.
This one pot version is different from the classic milk-and-flour-roux number that so many homemade versions use. It’s also a little more friendly for beginners – cooks trying to save money and eat real food, or ones who have to google the word “roux” when they’re done pinning this recipe. This one is for you.
And if you’re a seasoned cook looking for real food that’s not fussy, great for a weeknight, and total comfort food, this one is for you.
It even works with gluten-free pasta.
Depending on how much you pay for your ingredients, one batch feeds 4-6 people and costs around $2. That’s about $.33/serving.
When I use gluten-free pasta, it costs more like $4. Still only $.66/serving and less than the drive-thru. Which is probably not gluten-free.
- 3 cups water (or vegetable stock)
- 2 cups elbow macaroni, dry (or any small pasta)
- 1 tbsp dried minced onion
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 4 drops hot sauce
- 2-3 cups sharp cheddar cheese*, shredded (to taste)
In a large pot over high heat, combine water, macaroni, dried onion, salt, and hot sauce.
Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until macaroni is tender, about 12 minutes.
Remove from heat. Do not drain - there should be a little water left. Stir in cheese until melted and smooth. If it seems dry, add up to 1/2 cup milk.
Serve warm alongside a salad or steamed veggies.
*If you have little bits and ends of cheese, take this opportunity to use them up!
More Ways to make Weeknight Dinners Quick & Frugal:
- The Only Chicken You Need to Make – 20 minutes, start to finish
- The Only Beef You Need to Make – 20 minutes, start to finish
- Broccoli & Parmesan Noodles – 20 minutes, start to finish
- Simple Mediterranean Quinoa – 20 minutes, start to finish
- Easy Slow Cooker Meatless Taco Dip (with a meat-full version) – 5-10 minutes, then cook all day
- Githeri (Kenyan Corn & Beans) – 5-10 minutes, then cook all day