How many carbs are in homemade mac and cheese?

Mac and cheese is a classic comfort food that is loved by many. But like many indulgent dishes, it can also be high in carbohydrates. For those watching their carb intake, knowing how many carbs are in a serving of homemade mac and cheese can help with planning balanced meals.

What affects the carb count in homemade mac and cheese?

Several factors impact the total carbohydrate content in a serving of homemade mac and cheese:

  • Type of pasta – Pasta is one of the main sources of carbs in mac and cheese. Short, shaped pastas like elbows or shells tend to have more carbs than long, thin pastas like angel hair.
  • Amount of pasta – The more pasta in the dish, the higher the carb count will be.
  • Type of cheese – Some cheeses are higher in carbs than others. For example, cheddar cheese has less carbs per ounce than soft cheeses like brie.
  • Amount of cheese – Using more cheese adds more carbs to the dish.
  • Breadcrumb topping – Adding a crunchy breadcrumb topping significantly increases the carb count.
  • Thickening agent – Flour or cornstarch is sometimes used to thicken the cheese sauce, adding extra carbs.
  • Add-ins – Mixing in high-carb ingredients like cooked veggies, bacon, or diced ham can increase the carb content.

The way the mac and cheese is prepared also impacts the nutrition profile. Overall, simpler versions with just pasta and cheese tend to be lower in carbs than elaborate recipes with lots of extra ingredients.

Typical carb count in 1 cup of homemade mac and cheese

Most basic homemade mac and cheese recipes fall within a certain range for carbohydrate content per serving. Here are some general carb counts for 1 cup serving sizes:

  • Plain elbow mac and cheese: 30-40g carbs
  • Baked mac and cheese casserole: 35-45g carbs
  • Mac and cheese with mix-ins: 40-50g+ carbs

These carb counts are based on using around 2 cups of dried pasta and 1.5-2 cups of cheese for a 6-8 serving recipe. Extra ingredients like milk, butter, seasonings, and toppings add minimal extra carbs in most recipes.

Carb count for individual ingredients

To get a more accurate carb count for a specific recipe, you need to look at the nutrition information for each ingredient used and do the math. Here are the carb contents of common homemade mac and cheese ingredients per 1 cup serving:

Ingredient Grams of Carbs
Elbow macaroni, cooked 45g
Shell pasta, cooked 40g
Cavatappi pasta, cooked 55g
Cheddar cheese, shredded 1-3g
Mozzarella cheese, shredded 3-5g
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded 1-2g
Parmesan cheese, grated 1-2g
Breadcrumbs 15g
Whole milk 12g
Butter 0g
All-purpose flour 23g

Keep in mind that these numbers are estimates – different brands or homemade versions may vary slightly. But this gives you a good basis for calculating carb counts.

How to calculate total carbs in homemade mac and cheese

Using the ingredient information above, you can roughly calculate the carb count for any homemade mac and cheese recipe. Follow these steps:

  1. List out all the ingredients and amounts used.
  2. Look up the grams of carbs per serving for each based on the amounts you used.
  3. Add up the individual carb counts for all ingredients.
  4. Divide the total by the number of servings the recipe makes.

For example, if a recipe calls for:

  • 2 cups elbow pasta (4 servings at 45g carbs each) = 180g total carbs
  • 1.5 cups cheddar cheese (4 servings at 2g carbs each) = 6g total carbs
  • 1 Tbsp flour (3g carbs)
  • 1 cup milk (12g carbs)

The total carbs would be 180g + 6g + 3g + 12g = 201g total carbs. Divided by 4 servings, each serving would contain approximately 50g of carbs.

To make it easier, you can create a spreadsheet to help calculate the numbers for you. This gives you an estimate of carb counts so you know whether a recipe fits your diet.

How to reduce carbs in homemade mac and cheese

If you want to lighten up a mac and cheese recipe, there are several substitutions you can make to reduce the carb content per serving:

  • Use lower-carb vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, or butternut squash in place of some or all of the pasta.
  • Swap out all-purpose flour for almond or coconut flour as a thickener.
  • Use full-fat dairy products instead of low-fat or skim milk and cheeses.
  • Skip the breadcrumb topping.
  • Choose a cheese with fewer carbs like cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Parmesan.
  • Use less pasta overall.
  • Replace some of the pasta with diced veggies like onions, spinach, or tomatoes.
  • Consider swapping out elbows or shells for pasta shapes with less surface area like spaghetti or angel hair.

You can also prepare individual portions in ramekins or au gratin dishes instead of a large casserole. This allows you to control the exact carb counts per serving.

Low-carb alternatives to traditional mac and cheese

In addition to tweaking traditional homemade mac and cheese, you can also try some lower-carb stand-ins:

Cauliflower mac and cheese

Replace pasta with riced cauliflower or cauliflower florets and make the cheese sauce as normal. With only 5g net carbs per cup of cooked cauliflower compared to 40-50g per cup of cooked pasta, this swap significantly decreases carb content.

Zucchini lasagna

Thinly sliced or spiralized zucchini stands in for lasagna noodles in this baked dish. Layer zucchini with sauce, cheese, and other fillings just as you would traditional lasagna for a veggie-packed meal.

Spaghetti squash bake

Strands of cooked spaghetti squash combine with sauce and cheese for a lighter take on baked ziti. Spaghetti squash has only 10g net carbs per cup.

Broccoli cheese casserole

Chopped broccoli gets coated in cheesy sauce and baked until bubbly and brown. With 14g carbs per cup, broccoli is a smart substitute for starchy pasta.

Low-carb specialty mac and cheese products

There are now several packaged low-carb mac and cheese options made with alternate noodle types:

  • Chickpea pasta: Banza and other brands make pasta from chickpea flour instead of wheat for 5g net carbs per serving.
  • Zucchini noodles: Zoodles from Veggiecraft Farms have 4g net carbs per serving.
  • Cauliflower rice pasta: Cauli’Rice Elbows from Green Giant have 5g net carbs.
  • Carrot pasta: Veggie noodles made from carrots offer a colorful twist on mac and cheese with 4g net carbs from Tolerant Foods.
  • Butternut squash noodles: Palmini’s noodle packs are low-carb comfort food with 3g net carbs per serving.

Pair these better-for-you noodle options with your favorite cheese sauce for an easy shortcut to mac and cheese with a fraction of the carbs.

Low-carb mac and cheese tips

Here are some final pointers for making and enjoying homemade mac and cheese on a low-carb diet:

  • Read labels carefully and track nutrition info for all ingredients
  • Stick to 1 cup portion sizes
  • Avoid adding high-carb toppings and mix-ins
  • Bake or broil with cheese on top for crunch without breadcrumbs
  • Use a lighter hand when adding flour to cheese sauce
  • Try different cheese combinations like cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan
  • Get creative with spices and seasonings beyond just salt and pepper
  • Sneak in some riced cauliflower or butternut squash noodles
  • Serve with a side salad or non-starchy veggies instead of garlic bread

With some simple swaps and recipe tweaks, you can definitely still enjoy comfort food mac and cheese while limiting carb intake. Knowing approximately how many carbs are in homemade mac and cheese gives you the information you need to make it work with a low-carb diet.


Homemade mac and cheese can have anywhere from 30-50+ grams of carbs per one cup serving, depending on the exact ingredients used. The number of carbs comes mainly from the pasta, with cheese, milk, and other add-ins contributing small amounts. To lower the carb count, you can use less pasta, switch to vegetable noodles, choose lower-carb cheeses, skip breadcrumb toppings, and limit high-carb mix-ins. With some adjustments, you can still enjoy the creamy, cheesy goodness of homemade macaroni and cheese on a low-carb diet.

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