The 9 Best Noodles for Mac and Cheese

Since childhood, many of us have loved a nice serving of mac and cheese. For some of us, our parents made the mac and cheese from scratch. For others, the mac and cheese was bought from the store, and they sometimes were shaped like cartoon characters. When making mac and cheese at home, it is important to get it right, so you need to use the right ingredients. But, what is the best noodle to use when making mac and cheese?

There are many noodles that you can use to make mac and cheese. Many of us choose to use standard elbow or straight macaroni, but there are other noodles that you can use as well. You can use penne, farfalle, rotini pasta, as well as shell pasta. You can also use a mixture of pasta types to make your mac and cheese more interesting.

Continue reading to learn more about nine different types of noodles that you can use to make your own mac and cheese at home.

Why Add Noodles or Pasta to Your Mac and Cheese?

Noodles or pasta is one of the main ingredients to include in your mac and cheese. While these noodles do not have to be macaroni noodles, it is macaroni noodles that you will typically find are used to make mac and cheese (hence the name).

Without the noodles and pasta, it is not mac and cheese. The noodles are what add the sustenance to the dish. They also serve as the primary piece of the dish.

While there are many different types of noodles that are used for mac and cheese, Kraft Foods created its version of mac and cheese and began selling this form of mac and cheese in the store. This is the type of mac and cheese that many of us are familiar with. It is also easy to make this mac and cheese because you only need to add the noodles in the packaging to boiling water to cook them.

Can You Use Any Pasta for Mac and Cheese?

There are many different types of pasta noodles that can be used to make mac and cheese. It is important to note that not all pasta noodles work well as mac and cheese noodles. For example, spaghetti noodles are not well suited for mac and cheese. These noodles tend to be too long, and they do not hold well when covered in cheese.

Other types of pasta can cause the mac and cheese to look different and unappealing to us, so it is important to know the best type of pasta noodles that tend to work well for making mac and cheese.

What are the Best Noodles to Use for Mac and Cheese?

There are many types of pasta noodles that can be used to make mac and cheese. It is important to note that not all pasta noodles will work well when it comes to making this dish.

You want to use a noodle that holds up well when covered in cheese, and one that does not drastically change the look of the dish from how we expect it to look. This can cause us to judge the taste of the dish more harshly as we already believe that we will not enjoy it.

Below you will find nine different types of noodles that tend to work well when making mac and cheese.

Elbow or Straight Macaroni

Elbow macaroni and straight macaroni are the two most common types of pasta to make mac and cheese. Since the dish is primarily made using macaroni noodles, this is where the dish gets its name.

Elbow macaroni tends to be used more than straight macaroni, especially if the dish is made for children. Children tend to believe the elbow macaroni is more fun than the straight macaroni, so they eat it more. Both work great for the purpose of making mac and cheese.


If you are looking to use a noodle that your children will think is fun to make your macaroni, you should consider using cavatappi. This type of pasta is shaped like a helix or corkscrew.

Cavatappi has ridges along the outside of the noodle, and it has a hollow center. This makes the noodle perfect for holding sauces as well as any other ingredients you would put on the pasta.

Cavatappi is a great noodle for mac and cheese because the shape of the noodle allows for the pasta to hold the cheese well, and the cheese can hold onto the ridges of the noodles.


Farfalle is more commonly known as “bowtie pasta”. This is because the shape of the pasta looks similar to a bowtie. This is another favorite type of pasta noodle among children.

The shape of farfalle is what makes it a great noodle to use when making mac and cheese. The bowtie shape of the pasta is perfect for capturing the sauces, such as cheese, that cover the pasta. The ridges of the pasta also allow for there to be more texture to the dish, which contributes to its flavor.


Fusilli is another type of pasta noodle that will make the mac and cheese dish fun for children. Fusilli has a spiral shape. This type of pasta is perfect for pasta salads and casserole because the noodles will hold their shape very well when cooked.

The ridges help hold the sauces on the pasta, and the shape will help to incorporate more texture to the dish. Fusilli can also be a great pasta noodle because there are many substitutes you can use for the pasta when you run out.


Penne is a pasta noodle that is shaped like tubes. This is another common type of pasta noodle that is often used to make mac and cheese. Penne is a thick pasta noodle, and the cheese of your mac and cheese will primarily hold onto the inside of the noodle rather than the outside. This can make the mac and cheese easier to eat.

Penne is used in many Italian dishes. You can commonly find these types of noodles used in lasagna, baked ziti, and macaroni and cheese. The chewy texture of penne makes it a favorite among pasta lovers.

Rotini Pasta

Rotini pasta is shaped like fusilli. They are both shaped like spirals. The main difference is that rotini pasta is much smaller than fusilli pasta.

Rotini pasta is often used in casseroles, soups, and salads. The ridges on the outside of the pasta as well as its hollow inside make rotini pasta great for holding the sauces that cover the pasta. It is perfect for capturing the flavors of the sauces and making sure each bite is full of taste.


Tagliatelle is a long noodle pasta that many might not consider when making mac and cheese. It may seem as though the cheese will slide off of the noodle, but tagliatelle is actually a great pasta to use when making mac and cheese.

Tagliatelle noodles are ribbon-like, so the cheese will not stick to the noodles. This is where using your fork can come in handy because you can use these noodles to eat your mac and cheese in a similar fashion to eating spaghetti. The ribbon-like shape of the noodles can also make the mac and cheese fun for kids.

Pasta with Funky Shapes

When it comes to serving food to children, it is always best to use foods that look like they are fun to eat. This is where pasta that has funky or funny shapes can come in handy. Some of us remember eating mac and cheese that was shaped like rainbows, hearts, or cartoon characters, and this is the same as using those prepackaged mac and cheeses.

While these noodles are fun to use and eat, they also hold sauce well, so you do not have to worry about your cheese sliding off of your pasta noodles. There are many shapes that you can find for noodles. These include:

  • Hearts
  • Stars
  • Rainbows
  • Cartoon characters

Shell Pasta

Shell pasta noodles are great for those who like a lighter version of pasta. These pasta noodles are known for their shell shape.

Shell pasta is often used for mac and cheese as well as baked ziti. These noodles tend to hold sauce well. They are made using durum wheat semolina and water. When properly cooked, these pasta noodles are known to be very chewy.

Final Thoughts

Mac and cheese is a side dish that many of us grew up loving. As children, many of us would eat mac and cheese that our parents made at home, while others enjoyed the prepackaged mac and cheese that only required boiling water to make.

When it comes to the best noodles for mac and cheese, the obvious choice is macaroni. Without these noodles, the dish would not have its name. There are also many other types of pasta that one can use in order to make mac and cheese.

Many of the other noodle types tend to be favorites among children. They tend to have different shapes that make eating the dish fun. If you choose to use pasta that comes in funky shapes, children can have a lot of fun with their food.

Adults can also love these nontraditional noodle shapes because they can hold the cheese sauce well. This can ensure that each bite of mac and cheese you take is full of flavor.