Creamy Garlic Shells


Creamy Garlic Shells are made with fridge and pantry staples, come together in about 15 minutes, and are pasta-packet (and funky preservative) free!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Confession: I have to physically avert my eyes every time I pass the pasta sides packets in the grocery store.

You know the ones. They come in mouthwatering flavors like Creamy Chicken (a personal favorite of mine in college,) Butter & Herb (yes & yes), and Broccoli Cheddar (everybody’s fave,) and are seriously like, $.88 a packet. You can’t beat that with a stick! 

What I’d like to beat with a stick, however, is the ingredient list and nutritional information that comes along with these unfortunately delicious side dishes. A little detective work at the grocery store revealed, well there’s no easy way to put this, chicken fat, listed in one packet. Hydrolyzed soy protein, whatever that is, in more of ’em, and preservatives in most. Not to mention the fact that one small serving provides over 1/4 of your recommended daily value of sodium.

If I wanted that much salt I’d grab a handful of delicious Lays – not a wee scoop of pasta!

Anyways, you know what they say – if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, so ditch the packet and make your own creamy, crowd-pleasing pasta side for dinner tonight like Creamy Garlic Shells! 

This side dish is the ‘iiiiish! Creamy and ultra-garlicky, it comes together in about 15 minutes (including pasta cooking time) and the best part is that you control the ingredients that go inside.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Saute fresh minced garlic in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and butter, thicken with flour, then cook with milk, chicken broth, and seasonings until thick and bubbly. Stir in some cooked pasta shells and you’ve got a winner of a garlic pasta side dish for dinner! That is to say, this is really good. : )

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Start by cooking 8oz (1/2lb) small pasta shells in salted boiling water until al dente, then drain and set aside. If you don’t want to run out to the store just for shells, you can totally substitute any other small cut pasta you’ve got on hand!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Let the pasta pot cool for several minutes, then return it to the stove over medium heat and melt 1 Tablespoon butter in 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Next add 2 minced garlic cloves and cook until golden brown, about 30 seconds, then whisk in 2 Tablespoons flour and cook for another minute.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Slowly whisk in 3/4 cup each milk (I used skim) and chicken broth next, then season with salt and pepper. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir until the mixture is thick and bubbly.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Just 3-4 minutes!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Remove the pot from the heat then stir in 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 2 teaspoons dried parsley, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. 

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Add the cooked shells back in then stir to combine. Taste and adjust salt & pepper if necessary.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Scoop and serve next to a chicken breast and sauteed garlicky kale (instructions below!) for a yummy, satisfying dinner.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Creamy Garlic Shells

Serves 4-6


Creamy Garlic Shells are made with fridge and pantry staples, come together in about 15 minutes, and are pasta-packet (and funky preservative) free!


  • 8oz mini shells pasta
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used skim)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
  • 2 teaspoons parsley flakes


  1. Cook pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain then set aside. Let pot cool off the heat for several minutes.
  2. Return pot to stove over medium heat then melt butter in olive oil. Add garlic then saute until golden brown, about 30 seconds, being very careful not to burn. Sprinkle in flour then whisk and cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in chicken broth and milk while whisking until mixture is smooth. Season with salt & pepper then switch to a wooden spoon and stir constantly until mixture is thick and bubbly, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Take pot off the heat then stir in parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and parsley flakes until smooth then add cooked pasta and stir to combine. Taste then adjust salt & pepper if necessary

This recipe is courtesy of Iowa Girl Eats,


I love the combination of sauteed fresh garlic, which tastes almost roasted, and garlic powder, which gives that perfect garlic punch. This was awesome!!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

On the side of my side, I served a simply seasoned then seared chicken breast, and Sauteed Garlicky Kale.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

I AM OBSESSED! Favorite preparation of kale to date!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

All I did was saute shallots and fresh garlic in extra virgin olive oil, then added fresh kale torn into pieces, and salt & pepper.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Next I added a big glug of chicken broth then placed a lid on top and let the kale steam for 4-5 minutes.

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

When the broth was nearly evaporated, I took the lid off and let it saute for about another minute before devouring. I’m telling you – I’m already craving more. Cannot wait to eat this again and again!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

Peace (inside) out!

Creamy Garlic Shells is an easy pasta side dish. No store bought pouch required! |

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  1. this might be dinner all weekend.

  2. Carol 03.06.2013

    Yum!! Would I be able to substitute veg broth for the kale and the cream sauce?

  3. Kristina 03.06.2013

    I used to LOVE those packets when I was a kid!! sometimes nothing is better than a comforting bowl of pasta… yours looks WAY better than any packet, my dear!

  4. Cheesy deliciousness! I love that method for cooking kale. I’m going to give it a try with veggie broth. I bet this meal gives your breath a nice kick! :)

  5. Sonya 03.06.2013

    Guilty for eating the pasta side packets. This particular side is a favorite of mine and my husband’s…we eat it nearly every week with baked fish. Cannot wait to eat this and leave the calories and sodium behind!

    How about a dupe of the cheddar broccoli next? ;)

  6. Sara 03.06.2013

    I was seriously deprived as a kid…I have no idea what packets you’re talking about.

    But this looks so delicious! And I have all the things! I’m going to switch around the menu a bit to try this tonight :)

  7. jennyv 03.06.2013

    My sister and I used to SPLIT a packet of the chicken flavored rice as a MEAL in middle school… Apparently, it’s cheap and easy and that’s all that mattered during summer break!

  8. Trisha 03.06.2013

    Dude. I ate entire packages of Creamy Chicken Lipton Noodles after noon swimteam practice nearly every day during middle school summers. My husband also made meals of those things during his bachelor days, which means we’ll probably be fighting over this side side when I make it…stat!

  9. Cream + Garlic… Anything with those in the title catches my attention right away! I used to love those oh-so-good yet oh-so-bad-for-you Lipton packets in college :) I have convinced the hubs to grill steak tomorrow night and I am sure that I’ll be making this to go on the side!

  10. EmilyEhermillerdvm 03.06.2013

    I am wondering about subbing something nondairy for the milk…is that possible?? I have had to eliminate dairy for my nursing son, but I would love to do this (and many other similar dishes) . Would almond or soy or rice milk ( or something else) work without compromising the flavor of the dish too much? Thanks so much for your time!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 03.06.2013

      I have used almond milk in creamy sauces before and it worked out just fine. I haven’t tried it with this particular dish, but I imagine it would work! Let us know if you give it a try!

      • Jessica 03.07.2013

        I made this last night right after you posted it on Facebook! I had all of the ingredients on hand, which rarely happens. It was awesome. I used almond milk (unsweetened, of course) and it turned out great. :)

      • Amanda 09.23.2013

        I used coconut milk and it tasted great :)

    • Louisa 04.18.2014

      I use unsweetened coconut milk. The type in the cartons. It works great! I like it better than almond milk when substituting for regular milk.

      BTW love this recipe. I just mixed the sauce with rice and it is equally delicious!

    • Cheyenne 03.05.2015

      I am dairy free my whole life and I am here to tell you coconut milk is way better than any of those. not like crack open a coconut and squirt juice everywhere kind of thing but go to the same spot as you get your almond milk and look for the alternative coconut milk. it also comes in cans, from places like thailand where the food prep standards are really high. sometimes I prefer the canned version for cooking and the tetrapack version just for drinking.

  11. LOVE this! I used to love when my mom would make those packet side dishes with dinner when I was in high school! Homemade is so much better :)

  12. Kristen 03.06.2013

    Looks incredibly yummy!! Do you have to massage the kale for this recipe or does the steaming take care of that?

  13. April 03.06.2013

    I’m dying right now for that plate. I am pregnant and on semi-bedrest, and tonight I was in so much pain I had to get drive thru for dinner (which grosses me out like you wouldn’t believe) for the kids and me (hubby is out of town). And now all I can think about is that plate of deliciousness you just planted in my head. I need something wonderful to replace the super gross El Pollo Loco that I ingested for dinner. Blech. I’m more sorry with every minute that passes.

    Have you tried the baby kale from Costco to make that dish? I wonder if it’s too tender.

    • Iowa Girl Eats 03.06.2013

      Don’t feel bad – it happens! Especially if you are on semi-bedrest, my goodness. Wishing you the very best! :)

      • April 03.11.2013

        I finally made it tonight! My compromise was a rotisserie chicken and French bread from the grocery store (when I would normally make my own for both), and I made the noodles. Two pounds of noodles (I have 5 young kids we call the locusts because they devour everything in sight). They were yummy. The kids LOVED them. They’ve never had the packets, but now they can enjoy the deliciousness. They call them creamy noodles.

  14. Cookbook Queen 03.06.2013

    It just so happens that I have all the ingredients on hand to make these!! yay!!

  15. Mary Hansen 03.06.2013

    Hahahaha! Your final pic of this amazing dish is an upside down peace sign!!

  16. This whole meal looks delish! Those creamy garlic shells are calling my name!

  17. Jess 03.07.2013

    Yum – what is it about those little shell shapes that makes these creamy pasta dishes extra delicious? I hate to use them, but I do have a soft spot for those pasta packets – glad to have something to strengthen my resolve against them. ;)

  18. Yolanda 03.07.2013

    This is my favorite way to prepare kale. It’s quick and easy. I’ve even eliminated the chicken broth and steam it in water.

  19. Mer 03.07.2013

    Does Ben have any interest in switching places with me at dinner, like, for a week or so, so that I can eat these delicious meals you make? He is SO lucky!

  20. Brittany 03.07.2013

    I absolutely LOVE your blog…a friend told me about it and I have been inspired ever since! I had ground beef that I needed to do something with before it expired and decided to do your Homemade Hamburger Helper and loved it :) I have already planned my list for the market on next weeks meals with a few of your recipes!! (I am a major planner too) :D So keep blogging and having adventures…because we can’t wait to hear about them :)

    • Iowa Girl Eats 03.07.2013

      Thank you so much for the sweet feedback, Brittany! I really appreciate it!

  21. Yum, yum, YUM! So simple! Can’t wait to try it out!!! Love your blog!

  22. Donna C 03.07.2013

    Your recipes look absolutely delicious!! I am brand new to your site and know I will be back!! I can’t wait to try it!

    Could you please tell me more about Kale? What do you look for when you buy it? My husband does the grocery shopping and most of the cooking, since I’m physically disabled. I appreciate your help.

    Looking forward to spending time here at your wonderful blog!

    • Iowa Girl Eats 03.07.2013

      Thanks so much, Donna, glad to have you!

      There are many varieties of kale but I usually buy the regular kind vs “dinosaur kale” for instance (all are great though.) I try and buy organic whenever possible and look for crisp leaves that aren’t sagging or wilting. When it’s time to cook I peel the leaves off the thick, center stem (save for juicing or making veggie stock if you want) then chop, and wash/spin dry in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a spinner, wash and dry before peeling off the stem. Let me know if that helps! :)

  23. Allison 03.07.2013

    This post reminds me of a question I have had for a while. You are usually pretty specific about switching to a wooden spoon in a number of your recipes. Is there something special about the wooden spoon verses a plastic scraper or just sticking with the whisk?

    • Iowa Girl Eats 03.07.2013

      I use a wooden spoon vs a spatula because a spatula can melt over high heat, and over a whisk because it stirs more evenly and can get into the nooks and crannies of the pan. Great question! :)

  24. Rachel 03.07.2013

    Oh, my college roommate & I used to LOVE the Lipton pasta sides! There was a sun-dried tomato one that was our favorite…I might have to try and recreate that one myself! I don’t buy them anymore because of all the chemicals,preservatives, etc. in them.

  25. Tracy 03.07.2013

    I just googled hydrolized soy protein. YIKES!!!!

  26. Sara 03.07.2013

    I’m not sure about Kristin, but I have heard that metal spoons can have a chemical reaction with some ingredients. Also, they conduct heat so not only is it easier to hold a wooden spoon when you are making a sauce, but it won’t mess with the temp of whatever you are cooking. Hope that helped!

  27. Lizzie 03.07.2013

    I love those pasta packets, too. Why are they so good but so bad? I will have to try this!

    P.S. Sometimes I send your recipes to my fiance’ when they look like something he would love. He told me he has a crush on you! :-) haha

  28. Kat 03.07.2013

    Just discovered your site and love it. I used to have these pasta/rice side dishes 2 or 3 times a month. Have decided not to eat any more of these processed foods (last one I made was a month ago). So happy you posted this recipe I will be making it next week.

  29. Alisha 03.07.2013

    I used to be obsessed with late night cheesy shells in the college days. This is taking me back…I definitely need to make this!

  30. Jenn 03.07.2013

    IGE! I freaking loved these things in college too. Being broke and they were (and still are) tasty. Now a few years removed from college, I now care not just about taste, but ingredients as well. Love love love that your recipe uses real food. I think I’d probably die if I read the label on one of those packets these days. If you’re tempted to re-create the herb rice packet… no complaints here ;)

  31. […] YUM! thinking I need to make these next week! Creamy Garlic Shells […]

  32. These look so good! My kids will go nuts for them!

  33. You couldn’t be more right about those yummy pasta sides!I wish I could go back to the days when I had no idea how unhealthy all of that stuff was. Ingnorance really is bliss. But I’d trade those processed nuggest of goodness for my health any day :) Well… most days.

  34. Jen 03.07.2013

    JUST made this and it is SO yummy!! Thank you, thank you for sharing! I’m paring the pasta with some chicken and pork italian sausages and broccoli.

  35. Deepshikha 03.07.2013

    That pasta definitely looks the “ish” haha :) I love your writing, it’s very relatable, and the dish frankly looks irresistible!

  36. Natalie 03.07.2013

    The hydrolyzed soy protein that you saw on the ingredient list is a fancy way of saying there is MSG in it to make it taste better. Glad to see you have a better homemade alternative!!! Looks yummy!!

  37. carla sue 03.07.2013

    OMG this was sooo good made with rigatoni since that is the pasta I had on hand!
    thanks for posting

  38. Sarah 03.07.2013

    Seeing as I’m amongst like-minded people I feel I can admit that I also suffer an addiction to packet pasta.

    I reckon this would hit the spot. Might make some tonight. Mmmmm!

  39. Mel 03.08.2013

    Made this last night. Great recipe! I doubled the sauce because I added chopped chicked and I used 2 cups(uncooked) penne since I didn’t have the shells. We love garlic so I used 6 cloves minced. My husband and I both loved it.

  40. Mary 03.08.2013

    You’ve done the impossible: these noodles paired with leftover chicken parm meatballs and both my toddler and preschooler ate their entire dinner! It was the first dinner in a long time that everyone agreed on and gobbled up! Thanks for making my dinner so-o much easier last night. They even got rewarded with some homemade chocolate pudding…

  41. mmmmm! I admit it, I love those little pasta sides packets too. They just pull me in! haha. But however, like all things homemade is always better! yummy!!

  42. Oh yum, your pasta looks absolutely delicious!

  43. Food | Pearltrees 03.08.2013

    […] Creamy Garlic Shells […]

  44. Stacey @ Starpulp 03.08.2013

    [face plant]

  45. Erica S. 03.09.2013

    I have been wanting to try a homemade version of those box sides for a while. I agree they are so tasty, but the ingredients are scary!
    I loved your broccoli orzo (the kids requested more cheese lol), and can’t wait to try this too!

  46. […] Creamy garlic shells by Iowa Girl Eats […]

  47. Paula Kelly 03.09.2013

    I just made this and it was fantastic! Thank you :)

  48. […] Creamy garlic shells here I come! […]

  49. Ellie 03.10.2013

    This pasta looks fantastic. I only make pasta roni when my husband is out of town because my kids and I like it with salmon, which he hates. I have wanted to figure out a “real” version for a while, but when I am solo is not the right time for that. Now I can make your version and not have to figure it out on my own. It looks so tasty I might just have to make it this week and serve with something other than salmon instead of waiting for him to go out of town.

  50. Christina 03.10.2013

    I just made this. My husband and I both loved it. I’ll be making it again this week for a kid-friendly meal.

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