This Smoky Chicken Mac N Cheese Recipe is Perfect for Cooking with Kids

by | Mar 2020

Smoky chicken mac n cheese

Photo: Dennis Becker

This protein-rich take on a family favorite is easy to put together, with plenty of moments to get kids involved.

This protein-rich take on a family favorite is easy to put together, with plenty of moments to get kids involved—learning moments around safely boiling water, chopping onions, making a real cheese sauce rather than opening a dried cheese pouch, or just setting the table. Take the time to sprinkle on some fresh parsley and sit down together, savoring a team effort in getting supper on the table. If you’d rather have bite-size chunks of chicken to stir into the macaroni, cut them into ½-inch pieces before cooking them in the bacon fat.

Smoky Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese

Makes 6 servings


  • 8 ounces uncooked whole wheat or brown rice pasta (fusilli, penne, macaroni)
  • 4 slices thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¾ teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups low-fat milk
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded smoked gruyère, cheddar, gouda, or provolone cheese
  • Chopped fresh parsley, if you’d like


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain well.
  2. Cook the bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain fat from the pan, reserving 1 tablespoon fat.
  3. Season the chicken with smoked paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken in the bacon fat for about 8 minutes or until no longer pink in center and nicely browned. Set aside.
  4. Heat oil in the skillet over medium heat; sauté onion and garlic for about 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the flour until well combined; stir in the tomato paste. Pour in milk; cook and stir for 5 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the cheese and cook for 3 minutes or until the melted and pasta is well coated.
  5. Spoon the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce; stir until well coated. Spoon into a casserole serving dish and top with sliced chicken, sprinkled with the bacon and parsley. Or serve in individual bowls, topped with the chicken, bacon, and parsley.

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