From yogurt to almond milk, this comprehensive post covers everything you need to know about substitutes for milk in mac and cheese, including dairy and non-dairy options!
Macaroni and cheese is as traditional a side dish in America as apple pie is a dessert. We all grew up with it, and most of us still love it today. There are three traditional primary ingredients in mac and cheese, and I think you know them: pasta, milk, and cheese (most commonly cheddar).
But what can you make mac and cheese with if you have no milk? Today we are going to discuss substitution options for milk mac and cheese. And for the other staple ingredients, we have comprehensive articles on different types of pasta and the best cheese for mac and cheese.
How to Make Mac and Cheese Without Milk
Making mac and cheese without milk is really pretty easy but it depends on if you are making boxed mac and cheese or homemade. The biggest issue with using a milk substitute is that the pasta may not be as creamy as it is with cow’s milk. The second issue is that if you can’t have dairy and are using non-dairy milk, you also probably can’t have cheese which takes out 2 of the 3 main ingredients for mac and cheese.
That being said, this article assumes you are making a substitute for milk because you don’t have cow’s milk on hand, not because you are dairy intolerant.
So, to make mac and cheese with a milk substitute, you simply add it to the recipe in place of the called-for milk. So go ahead and use your almond milk or yogurt! Just be sure to taste and adjust to your preference.
10 Substitutes for Milk in Macaroni and Cheese
Almond Milk Mac and Cheese
Unsweetened almond milk is a great choice for macaroni and cheese. It’s a plant-based milk alternative made from ground almonds and water. If you want to learn to make almond milk, just follow our guide.
Almond milk is known for its mild, nutty flavor and is available in various forms, including sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla-flavored, and chocolate-flavored. It is often used in cooking and baking as a substitute for cow’s milk, making it a suitable choice for those who want to make mac and cheese without milk.
Flavor and Texture Differences in the Mac and Cheese
Almond milk tends to have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor, which can subtly influence the overall taste of your mac and cheese. While it won’t be as creamy as mac and cheese made with whole milk or heavy cream, the texture can still be quite satisfying, especially when combined with other ingredients like butter.
How to Substitute Almond Milk for Milk in Mac and Cheese
The key to achieving a creamy texture with almond milk is to choose a variety that is not too watery or thin. Opt for unsweetened almond milk, as sweetened versions can introduce unwanted sweetness or flavor (usually vanilla) to your dish.
Start by substituting for milk at a 1:1 ratio, but as with all mac and cheese substitutions don’t just dump all the almond milk in at once and expect it to be how you want. If it seems too thin or watery, try adding extra cheese or a roux (with flour and butter) to thicken the sauce.
More non-dairy options
We could have included all of these non-dairy milk products together with almond milk, as the principles for using them in mac and cheese are the same for all of these drinks made from cashews, soy, oats, rice, hemp, flaxseed, and coconut.
All of these can be used as we described above for almond milk. Just be careful to consider the taste of any non-dairy drink before using it as a liquid agent. From our testing, oat milk and cashew milk produce the best texture. Coconut is the most similar to heavy cream but produces a distinct coconut flavor.
Experiment with these and let us know in the comments of this article what you think.
Replacing milk with heavy cream can elevate mac n cheese to a new level of richness and indulgence. Of course, the level of saturated fat and calories will elevate along with the taste and texture.
Flavor and Texture Differences
Heavy cream has a high-fat content, which imparts a rich, velvety taste to the sauce. The creaminess of heavy cream complements the sharpness of the cheese, resulting in a more luxurious and decadent mac and cheese. The dish becomes smoother on the palate, with a pronounced creaminess that lingers in every bite.
Heavy cream’s higher fat content makes the sauce thicker and silkier. The cheese sauce clings to the pasta more effectively, enveloping (and filling) each noodle in a creamy embrace. The result is a mac and cheese with a texture that’s difficult to achieve with milk alone. Can you tell we like this substitute?
How to Substitute Heavy Cream for Milk in Mac and Cheese
For a standard mac and cheese recipe, you can replace all or part of the milk with heavy cream. Use an equal amount of heavy cream as you would have used milk. Just stir continuously to prevent scorching and ensure the cream and cheese blend together smoothly. A second option here is to only replace part of the milk with heavy whipping cream.
Once your mac and cheese is ready, taste it and adjust the seasoning as needed. The increased richness of heavy cream may require a bit more salt or pepper to balance the flavors. Now, put on your no-guilt hat and enjoy a higher-calorie but super creamy mac n cheese.
Half and Half Substitute for Milk Mac and Cheese
Half-and-half creamer is a good compromise between milk and heavy whipping cream. It has the additional advantage that many people keep it in the refrigerator for their coffee, so it is readily available. Substitute in a 1:1 proportion.
Yogurt as a Milk Substitute in Mac and Cheese
If you’re looking to switch things up and beef up your protein amount in the mac and cheese, yogurt is a great alternative to some of the traditional milk. While the end result will have some subtle flavor and texture differences, yogurt can bring a unique twist to your mac and cheese that’s both delicious and nutritious.
Flavor and Texture Differences
Yogurt, of course, tends to be tangy, which will impart a slight tanginess to your mac and cheese. This tangy note can complement the richness of cheese. Just be careful in selecting the flavor of yogurt you use. Plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt are our preferred options.
Texture-wise, yogurt can make your mac and cheese creamier, but it may also give it a thicker consistency. Because of this, I recommend adding a splash of milk or additional butter to fully combine the mac and cheese.
The cheese you choose also plays a role in the final flavor and texture. Creamier cheeses like cream cheese or goat cheese can enhance the creaminess when using yogurt, while stronger cheeses like cheddar can help balance the tanginess.
How to Substitute Yogurt for Milk in Mac and Cheese
We recommend you opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt without any added flavors or sweeteners. We think Greek yogurt is the best fit, but this is a personal preference.
Start by using an equal amount of yogurt as milk called for in your recipe. If you want a creamier consistency, you can add a bit more yogurt. Keep in mind that the final texture can be thicker, so adjust accordingly.
Whisk the yogurt thoroughly into your cheese sauce to ensure it integrates smoothly. Adding it in small increments while constantly stirring can prevent lumps from forming. You may need to add a splash of pasta water to help it fully incorporate.
Butter as a Milk Substitute in Mac and Cheese
Like using cream, butter is an indulgent substitute for milk in mac and cheese.
Flavor and Texture Differences
Butter’s rich and creamy taste with a hint of nuttiness can add a savory note to your mac and cheese. However, it’s important to note that butter is also much saltier than milk, so consider adjusting the salt content in your recipe accordingly to avoid an overly salty dish or use unsalted butter.
Milk contributes to the creaminess and moisture in the sauce. When you use butter instead, you may notice that the mac and cheese becomes thicker and denser. The texture will be less fluid, and the sauce may have a slightly grainy or greasy quality if you use too much.
How to Substitute Butter for Milk in Mac and Cheese
Start by selecting a high-quality unsalted butter. Using unsalted butter allows you better control over the dish’s overall saltiness.
- Melt the Butter: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Be cautious not to brown the butter, as this can alter the flavor and color of your mac and cheese.
- Adjust the Consistency: To replace the liquid volume of milk, you can add a small amount of water, broth, or another milk substitute. Start by adding a tablespoon at a time while whisking continuously until you achieve the desired creaminess. We don’t use a set ratio of butter to milk in replacement, but instead add more as we go until it seems about right.
- Combine with Cheese: Once your sauce is smooth and well-seasoned, add your choice of cheese, and stir until it’s fully melted and the sauce is homogeneous.
- Mix with Cooked Pasta: Finally, combine the cheesy sauce with cooked macaroni or pasta, stirring gently to coat the noodles evenly. If it seems like it still needs more butter, you can still stir it in at this point. It is better to start with less and add.
Cream Cheese as a Milk Substitute in Mac and Cheese
Cream cheese is a great addition to your macaroni and cheese. Here are some tips for using it.
Flavor and Texture Differences
The tanginess of cream cheese can complement the richness of the cheese sauce, creating a more savory taste.
Cream cheese contributes to a thicker and creamier sauce compared to milk. It has a higher fat content, which results in a velvety smooth consistency. This texture can make your mac and cheese feel indulgent and luxurious, with a creaminess that coats every strand of pasta.
However, it’s essential to note that cream cheese can also make the mac n cheese denser and more filling due to its richness. It is really akin to replacing milk with more cheese. Depending on your preference, this can be a positive or negative aspect of using cream cheese as a milk substitute. If you enjoy a heartier and creamier mac and cheese, this substitution might be perfect for you.
How to Substitute Cream Cheese for Milk in Mac and Cheese
Cream cheese can be added just as butter would be. Just keep in mind that the cream cheese will take longer to melt than butter does so give it a little more time. You also might need to add a splash of a liquid (like almond milk or pasta water) to help the cream cheese fully incorporate.
Water (not recommended)
Milk adds richness and creaminess to the dish, which water cannot replicate entirely. If you use water though, here’s what you can expect.
When you replace milk with water in mac and cheese, it will lose some of its creamy and dairy-rich flavors. Milk contributes a mild sweetness and a subtle dairy tang that enhances the overall taste.
Water, being neutral in flavor, won’t provide that same depth of flavor. To compensate for this loss, you may need to adjust the seasoning or add extra cheese to intensify the taste. We think added cheese is the best option.
Texture is the most significant difference between milk and water in mac and cheese. Milk adds creaminess and thickness to the cheese sauce, resulting in a smoother, silkier texture.
On the other hand, water will result in a thinner and less creamy sauce. The mac and cheese might have a slightly grainy or watery consistency because water and oily cheese are insoluble in each other.
How to Substitute Water for Milk in Mac and Cheese
If you must use water, use pasta water from boiling your macaroni noodles. Pasta water takes on the starches from the pasta and that helps it to incorporate with the cheese rather than just not combining all together.
Start by replacing only some of the milk with water and try to make up the rest of the liquid with another substitution option. This could look like using half water and half yogurt in place of milk.
Making mac and cheese with sour cream instead of milk would be similar in process to using yogurt in terms of consistency. Just be careful to add the sour cream slowly to get the right texture, and consider taste differences. Sour cream can be a good macaroni and cheese milk substitute, but it will obviously be more sour and perhaps not the most kid-friendly mac and cheese you can make.
This is a good option if you want your mac and cheese to have a specific flavor. We recommend using it as a 1:1 replacement for milk. Test as you add it to get the right flavor. The right broth flavor can be a good substitute for milk in mac and cheese.
Kraft Mac and Cheese Milk Substitute
Why does Kraft mac & cheese get its own section? Well, it’s the ubiquitous side dish we all grew up with. My mother was an Army nurse and often pulled long shifts. And when that would happen, my dad was on dinner duty.
On nights he would make Kraft mac and cheese, I learned the importance of add, taste, add. He liked his mac and cheese dry like a good German kaesespaetzle, so he would make it that way. Then he took out about half for himself before adding milk and more butter for my sister and me so everyone was happy.
You can substitute any of our recommendations in Kraft. We think your best bet is a second kind of cheese on top of their cheese package and a bit of margarine while skipping the milk entirely.
Well-Tested Mac and Cheese Recipes
- Spaghetti squash mac and cheese uses Spaghetti squash as a wonderful faux pasta. It’s a winter squash that once cooked can be scraped out with a fork into a near spaghetti texture. At perhaps 20% of the calories of normal pasta, it’s a great option for those on low-carb or low-calorie diets.
- Cauliflower keto mac and cheese is another low-carb pasta substitute and is a good option for those on a keto diet.
- Butternut squash mac and cheese is our final veggie-based mac and cheese, and it uses broth instead of milk if you care to see how that comes out.
- Vegan jalapeno mac and cheese is a great spicy option for our vegan readers.
- Truffle mac and cheese is a recent addition to our recipe library. Truffles add a unique taste to your mac and cheese as they do to all recipes. This is the adult mac and cheese play.
- German kaesespaetzle is a very popular German form of mac and cheese made without milk and using gruyere and emmental cheese. The Germans don’t like their mac and cheese creamy, but it is certainly delicious.
- Campfire mac and cheese. I live in Colorado and know firsthand that mac and cheese is the perfect food for camping after a good hike on a crisp day. It can be hard to make fireside, but this meal prep recipe solves that problem.
This wraps up our look at what can you substitute for milk in mac and cheese. I honestly don’t feel like we have broken any new ground here. Americans have been experimenting with mac n cheese for years.
This is all a matter of trial and error to find what fits your personal preference, or your kid’s preference. We hope you found something you can use here, and as always happy cooking from your friends at Live Eat Learn!