Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

In her post on Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Emily talked about our snowshoeing trip to Mt. Abel. What she didn’t talk about was the best part of the whole trip—the campfire. Never before have I appreciated a campfire like I did this one.

It snowed on and off as we trekked up Mt. Abel, and by the time we reached our camping spot, I was tired and sweaty from the effort. We quickly set up our tents and unpacked some of our gear. By that time, I had cooled off a bit too much and the sweaty clothes I was still wearing made matters worse. Suddenly, I was cold and wondering how I would ever motivate myself to cook the macaroni and cheese I had planned to make. I looked over at Mai-yan and could tell she was feeling the same. We moped on the sidelines as everyone else played house around the campsite.

This whole time, I kind of ignored Emily, who was bent on starting a fire. No one believed she would find dry wood, but she did. Before we knew it, she had a little campfire going. Even at this point, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of having a fire while it snowed. I had pictured us making dinner as fast as possible and then cocooning ourselves in our sleeping bags before dark, with no plans to emerge until morning. Instead, Emily’s little campfire turned into an awesome, raging one. We happily made delicious food, sipped cognac and hot jello, and chatted by the fire until well after dark.

Emily Starting a Campfire
Emily Starting a Campfire

My contribution to our dinner was Creamy Macaroni and Cheese. There are lots of Macaroni and Cheese recipes out there, but I’ve been working on developing a recipe that would be great for camping, in particular. I wanted one that could be made entirely on the stovetop, preferably in one pot, and that didn’t require fresh milk. This recipe meets all those requirements. The macaroni is cooked in the sauce, so you’ll only need one pot. Instead of fresh milk, I use dry milk powder, which cuts down on weight and doesn’t need refrigeration. You’ll still need a couple of perishables—some cheese and a bit of butter—but those ingredients are less perishable than milk and are what make this so much better than Mac and Cheese from a box.

A few tips for perfect Creamy Macaroni and Cheese:

  • If you have a nonstick pot, use it! That will make cleanup much easier and help prevent the milk mixture from burning.
  • If you have a stove with simmer control, use it! If not, you can still make this, you’ll just have to watch it closer and possibly hold your pot a bit above the flame if the sauce starts to burn.
  • When I made this recipe on the Mt. Abel trip, I added about 3/4 cup of fresh broccoli in the last few minutes of cooking. That lightened up the meal, and added some freshness.
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with broccoli
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with broccoli

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese


2 servings

Prep Time / Cook Time


Activity Guide

Backpacking, Bike Touring, Car Camping


  • 2 cups macaroni, uncooked
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dried milk
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • additional salt and pepper, to taste


  • Large pot
  • Mixing spoon
  • Stove
  • Grater (or grate cheese at home)


  1. Combine uncooked macaroni, water, butter, salt and nutmeg in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat on your stove to low. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is not quite done to your liking. Add the milk powder and finish cooking the macaroni, stirring constantly.
  2. When the milk powder is thoroughly mixed in and the water is mostly absorbed, turn off the heat and mix in the shredded cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

14 thoughts on “Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

  1. We just made this recipe camping in the Chiricahuas this weekend. While we weren’t faced with snow, we definitely had our share of cutting wind! The mac&cheese was definitely more delicious than from a box but ours was not creamy. It turned out a gooey mess! We had to keep adding water so I guess we messed something up. We’ll try again next trip though. Thanks!

    1. Noelle, Sorry to hear it was gooey! Did you add the cheese at the very end? I have noticed that if you don’t add the cheese at the end, the sauce may separate and the consistency changes. I wonder if that could have been the case for you?

      The Chiricahuas look beautiful. I hope you had a great trip despite the wind!

  2. The gooey problem w/the pasta may have been due to being at high altitude. In my experience It’s very hard to get water to boil hard enough to really cook pasta above a few thousand feet and it can lead to a mess!

  3. Mexican spin – roast a couple of poblanos, steam & chop to add in. I also add a Tblsp of adobo sauce & use combo of Mexican crumbling cheese & crema. I like it in winter camping bc extra spices increase circulation & have a good amount of protein & fats for energy.

  4. I meant to write a reply here before– my Girl Guide group had this as a meal on a day hike during summer camp in June. We added pre-cooked chicken while we were stirring in the cheese, to add a bit of extra protein. We made 3 large pots..and the eleven of us ate all of it in about twenty minutes! It will definitely be a camp repeat.

  5. EMILY! Frank and I made this during our first winter backpacking attempt. It was one of the highlights of the trip. We added dried mushrooms to the macaroni, added some garlic, and used pepper jack cheese. It was so good.

    1. Hey Sue! That sounds so delicious, and the perfect tummy warmer for a chilly winter camping trip. We’re going to have to try out that version soon. Thanks!

  6. What an amazing recipe. Before going hiking I tried it at home. In my second try (backpacking) I decided to make a couple of adjustments to this amazing recipe:
    1) I cooked the macaroni with a boullion cube. It gives a bit more flavor
    2) I added dried vegetables (carrots, peas, tomatoes) and they enhanced the flavor and gave it a delicious twist.
    I live high in the Colombian Andes and Hiked even higher. The mac & cheese were never gooey. I would also mix different kinds of cheese.
    Thanks a lot for sharing

    1. Thanks for sharing your adaptations, Andres! If you live in the Columbian Andes, we’re coming to visit. And then you can make us macaroni and cheese your way!

  7. I use “Annies” boxed mac n cheese and add plain Greek yogart and a little milk along with some extra Parmesan or Four cheese blend. I make it more interesting also with a teas. of dill, and some stir/fried broccoli, brussel sprouts etc., a little roasted/dehydrated red pepper and 8 oz of smoked NW sockeye salmon broken into little pieces. This is ‘to die for’ awesome around the campfire!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *