mac n cheese from Panera and Lemon Loaf from Starbucks

Make It Better Yourself: Panera Mac n’ Cheese, Starbucks Lemon Loaf

According to a Reuters news story that ran long before we had to teach our kids the meaning of “quarantine,” one-third of U.S. adults are eating out less frequently than three months prior. The reason? Mostly the cost. No surprise there. Not even drive-thru fast food or curbside pick-up is inexpensive these days.

In the same survey cited by Reuters, two-thirds of the respondents said they consider eating at home to be very or somewhat cheap. And that’s because … it is!

A dining room table

Now, somewhere in between not-eating-out because it’s too expensive and eating-at-home because it’s cheaper there has to be a solution that makes eating at home not only cheap, but satisfyingly delicious, too.

Copycat Panera Mac & Cheese

Everyone has their weakness—mine happens to be macaroni and cheese and in my opinion, it’s hard to beat Panera’s signature Mac & Cheese. But that $9 price tag is hard to swallow.

Everything in me has been determined to figure out how to make this myself at home, and for more like $.80 a serving. And now that’s exactly what I do—as often as I dare.

A bowl of Macaroni and cheese

This copycat Panera’s Mac and Cheese is, according to my family, even better than Panera. It’s smooth and creamy thanks to a secret ingredient that may make some of my dear readers wince.

In a word: Velveeta.

Wait! I know what you’re thinking. But if an ingredient or technique makes a dish taste better and gives it a heavenly texture, I am all for it. The key lies in how much Velveeta you use—only a very small amount.

I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac and Cheese. Just don’t mention the V-word. It’ll be our little secret.

A bowl of food, with Cheese
Print Recipe
4.50 from 12 votes

Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

This Copycat Panera's Mac and Cheese is, in my family's opinion, even better than Panera. It's smooth and creamy with a heavenly texture, thanks to a secret ingredient— Velveeta, but just a very small amount. I promise you, people will go nuts for this Mac & Cheese. Just don't mention the V-word. It'll be our little secret.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8 (1-cup servings)
Calories: 655kcal


  • 1 pound pasta, cavatappi, elbow, shells
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup evaporated milk, or any milk except skim
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 ounces sharp white cheddar, shredded See NOTE 1
  • 2 ounces Velveeta, cubed
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, ditto
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder


  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions making sure to salt the water. Retain about 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
  • Set a large pot over medium high heat. Add butter and allow to completely melt. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until fully incorporated. Cook for one full minute.
  • Reduce the temperature to medium. Pour in the milk, heavy cream, salt, dry mustard, and pepper. Continue whisking until it begins to bubble. Reduce temperature to Low and add the grated white cheddar and Velveeta cheeses. Stir until melted and fully incorporated.
  • Add the cooked pasta, gently stirring until combined.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes, as it thickens. If it gets too thick, return to Low heat, adding pasta water a couple of tablespoons at a time while stirring gently until it is just perfect. Taste to check for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper as desired.
  • Enjoy!


I use Costco's English Coastal Cheddar, but any good, sharp white cheddar will do.


Calories: 655kcal | Carbohydrates: 52g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 139mg | Sodium: 545mg | Potassium: 320mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1482IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 381mg | Iron: 1mg

Pro tip:

Click on the “8” in the “servings” and a little slider will show up. Drag it to the number of servings you prefer if 8 are too many (too few?!), and all of the ingredients will adjust accordingly!

Copycat Starbuck’s Lemon Loaf

Years ago, I had an epiphany that has saved me a lot of money: I do not care for Starbucks coffee. There, I said it. I find it to be generally way too strong and it tastes burnt. But there’s more at Starbucks than just coffee. I’m talking that pastry case, and more specifically: Lemon Loaf. How do they do that?

It was a happy day when my daughter-in-law Wendy texted me this recipe for what we now believe is better than Starbucks Lemon Loaf!

A piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table

The key ingredient? Pure lemon extract—not lemon oil, not lemon juice but quality, pure lemon extract*.

A piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table
Print Recipe
4.60 from 5 votes

Copycat Starbuck's Lemon Loaf

Years ago, I had an epiphany that has saved me a lot of money: I do not like Starbucks coffee. There, I said it. I find it to be generally way too strong and it tastes burned. But there's more at Starbucks than just coffee. I'm talking that pastry case, and more specifically: Lemon Loaf. How do they do that?
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time50 mins
Cooling time30 mins
Course: Baking, Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8
Calories: 446kcal



  • 3 eggs, large
  • 1 cup sugar, white granulated
  • 1 cup sour cream, or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup canola oil, or any vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons lemon extract see NOTE 1
  • 1 ½ cups flour, all-purpose
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt


  • 1 cup sugar, confectioners' (powdered)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, more or less



  • Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside.
  • Get out a large bowl and add the eggs, sugar and sour cream. Whisk vigorously until smooth and combined.
  • Drizzle in the oil while whisking and continue to stir unitl completely combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon extract, and whisk to incorporate. (NOTE: Please don't attempt to use lemon juice in place of lemon extract because it's not strong enough and the acidity can alter the overall results.)
  • Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and stir until just combined, don't overmix. Some lumps will be present and that's okay, don't try to stir them smooth.
  • Turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Bake for about 50 to 52 minutes, or until top is domed, set, and a toothpick inserted in the center crack comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs but no batter. In the last 10 minutes of baking, tent pan with foil (loosely drape a sheet of foil over pan) to prevent excessive browning on the top and sides of bread before center cooks through.
  • Allow loaf to cool in pan on top of a wire rack for at least 30 minutes (up to 4 hours) before turning out onto rack to cool completely before glazing.


  • Place the confectioner's sugar in a small bowl and slowly drizzle in the lemon juice while whisking until it is smooth and combined. You may need to play with the sugar and lemon juice amounts a bit as necessary for desired consistency and flavor.
  • Evenly drizzle glaze over bread before slicing and serving. Extra glaze can be spread on the cut surface of the bread like you'd spread butter on toast and it soaks right in making the bread even more lemony. Bread will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Do not store in the fridge, as it will dry out quickly.
  • Wow!


Lemon Extract—and not teaspoons; not lemon oil and please, not lemon juice! More or less to taste. Hint: Start with 1 tablespoon then taste before adding more.


Calories: 446kcal | Carbohydrates: 60g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 76mg | Sodium: 194mg | Potassium: 195mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 41g | Vitamin A: 268IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 90mg | Iron: 2mg

*Lemon Extract—you can make it yourself and you should! Then consider making it your signature homemade gift, the kind of gift your friends and family long to receive because it is so lovely. Hint: Include this Lemon Loaf recipe with your lemon extract gifts. Perfect!

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14 replies
  1. Anne Govea says:

    We always Love love your recipes
    any suggestions on substituting the Velveeta cheese ?
    Thanks for your time

    • Sue says:

      For those that don’t use Velveeta, which I don’t, skip it and add extra shredded cheddar instead. It won’t be as creamy but it’ll still be good!

  2. Pam says:

    My daughter just sent me the Starbucks Lemon Loaf recipe 2 weeks ago & I made it…it really was amazing! Served to neighbors (he’s a true lemon-holic) and they loved it. Saved some for my 92 yo mother who loved it too. So moist and great lemon flavor. Highly suggest your readers bake this one!

  3. Linda D Radosevich says:

    5 stars
    THANK YOU, Mary! I thought I was the only one in the world that didn’t like Starbuck’s coffee! Not to mention the price…

  4. Gloria says:

    The lemon loaf looks great! We don’t use canola or regular vegetable oil as they are refined and contain hidden GMO’s, pesticides etc. Will butter or avocado oil work just as well?

  5. Gina Stevens says:

    When I traveled for my job, a giant Starbuck’s Pike Place and Lemon Cake was my guilty pleasure. Thanks for the recipe!

  6. Deb says:

    The mac & cheese recipe looks really good, but I don’t believe the nutrition information is correct. There are definitely far more carbs in this recipe than the 9 gr. listed.

    • Mary says:

      You are right, Deb. I have egg on my face (or is that cheese?!) The recipe maker program that I use didn’t recognize the ingredient “dry pasta,” so it didn’t include that ingredient. Whoops. I fixed it by changing it to just “pasta” and sure enough. Not 9 but rather 52g carbs. Thanks for your eagle eyes.


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