What Can I Substitute for Milk in Macaroni and Cheese?

Macaroni and cheese is a warm, melty, comforting dish. It can either be whipped up out of a box in minutes, or made from scratch and finished in the oven. Heavily dairy based, cooks may run into a certain road block: they have run out of milk. In this case, what is the best substitute for milk in macaroni and cheese? 

The best substitute for milk in macaroni and cheese really depends on what you have on hand. You can use cream cheese, heavy cream, or sour cream. If you are looking for a non-dairy option for macaroni and cheese, almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk are the best substitutes. 

There are a number of things you can swap out in place of milk in mac and cheese. Many of these substitutes will work both in boxed mixes and in scratch-made recipes. Be sure to check the instructions to be sure that you are subbing in the correct amounts, and to taste and adjust as needed. 

Dairy Based Substitutes 

Cream Cheese 

Cream cheese is an excellent stand in for milk in macaroni and cheese. Not only will this refrigerator staple work well in the recipe, but it will also make your dish extra creamy. 

The flavor of the plain cream cheese will be very similar to that of milk. Alternatively, using brands with flavor options, like garlic-herb or bacon, will add a new flavor dimension to the mix. 

When using cream cheese in place of milk in mac and cheese, remember that the textures will be different. If you are concerned with the mix being too thick, you can melt the cream cheese beforehand. Replace the milk with cream cheese at a 1:1 ratio. 

Add in the cream cheese when the mixture is not too hot, as an excess of heat could cause it to curdle or separate. 

Heavy Whipping Cream 

Heavy whipping cream is another ideal substitute for milk. It is thicker, but not nearly as thick as cream cheese. This replacement will make for a creamy, rich macaroni and cheese. 

If you are worried about this replacement making the dish too rich, however, you can cut the butter needed in half or you can thaw the frozen butter.. You can also leave the butter out entirely. If you are cooking from scratch, heavy cream will seamlessly incorporate into a roux. 

In fact, when you do have milk on hand, try cutting the amount needed in half. In place of that half, use heavy cream. Doing this will definitely step up your macaroni and cheese in terms of richness. 

Plain Yogurt

If you have run out of milk when making macaroni and cheese, plain yogurt may come in handy. Greek yogurt or plain regular yogurt could be used interchangeably in a recipe. Bear in mind, Greek yogurt will yield a creamier final product. 

Plain yogurt is filled with gut-healthy probiotics, which aid in digestion. You can also use fat-free yogurt if you are looking to make a more health conscientious alternative. One cup of plain yogurt will give you 49% of the calcium you need for the day. 

Like many of these replacements, macaroni and cheese made with yogurt will yield a thicker, richer cheese sauce. Plain yogurt also has a distinctive tartness to it; be sure to taste test first to be sure that the flavor will work for your recipe. 

The tricky part of using yogurt is that it can easily separate. Be sure to heat it very slowly using a double boiler or small saucepan before adding it to the roux. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly. 

Sour Cream

Another great swap for milk in macaroni and cheese is sour cream. Adding it in conjunction with the butter in your recipe will make for an equally rich macaroni. You will need to add the sour cream at a 1:1 ratio to milk in the dish. 

It is important to note that sour cream has a much different flavor than milk. It has a tangy, somewhat acidic tang, that not everyone will enjoy in their mac and cheese. Keep this in mind when subbing in sour cream, and try to balance it with parsley, paprika, or garlic. 

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You may find that you enjoy the taste of sour cream in your macaroni and cheese. In this case, try adding it in even when you do have cow’s milk on hand. Some very much enjoy the extra tang this addition brings to the table. 

As a bonus, sour cream can also be used as a replacement for yogurt in many savory recipes.  

Goat Milk 

If you are able to get your hands on it, goat milk can be a superb thing to use if you find yourself out of cow’s milk. Goat milk can add an interesting new taste to a classic favorite. 

The flavor of it is creamier and slightly less tangy, while still having a similar consistency. Just as with the sour cream, you can neutralize this flavor profile with spices. Though some cheeses, especially sharp ones, will even out the flavors on their own. 

As an added bonus, goat milk has about 12% less lactose per cup than cow’s milk, according to Healthline.  It also has more protein than plant-based milks. This can be great news for those with lactose-intolerance. 

Powdered Milk 

Of course, powdered milk can be easily mixed with water to make a simple milk substitute. According to the USDA, powdered milk can be stored almost indefinitely. If you aren’t using it frequently, this means one container will last you for years to come. 

When mixed with water, powdered milk will result in something that is thicker and sweeter than average milk. However, that sweetness will likely be cancelled out by the normal salt and spices in macaroni and cheese. 

A great way to thicken your sauce and add a punch of flavor is with parmesan cheese. Add grated parmesan early in the sauce process, as it does not need a high temperature to melt.   

Evaporated Milk 

Evaporated milk is very similar to powdered milk in that it is a reduced form of regular milk. However, instead of being in powdered form, evaporated milk has a lower water content than regular cow’s milk, and will need to be mixed with water to achieve the right consistency. 

Like powdered milk, it is sweeter than average cow’s milk. If needed, it can be diluted with more water or balanced out with spices to ensure the correct flavor. 

Be sure to not confuse evaporated milk and condensed milk. Condensed milk is extremely sweet and syrupy. It shouldn’t be used in your mac and cheese unless it has been considerably watered down. 

Non-Dairy Substitutes 

Many chefs are lactose intolerant, vegan, or have other dietary restrictions that prohibit dairy consumption. In this case, you will want to find dairy free substitutes for milk in macaroni and cheese. Thankfully, there are many types of plant based milks available on the market today that will fit the bill. 

Nut milks and plant based milks are the usual go-tos for milk replacement. However, not all nut milks are equal, and each plant milk has unique characteristics. 

Nut Milks

Almond Milk

A very popular non-dairy replacement for milk in mac and cheese, almond milk is also extremely accessible. The flavor profile of almond milk is somewhat sweet and, of course, nutty. This nuttiness could add a tasty depth of flavor to your pasta. 

There are options for both sweetened or unsweetened almond milk. If you are looking to capture the sweetness of milk, opt for sweetened milk. It may also slightly change the color of your roux, as almond milk can sometimes be slightly darker in tone. 

Keep in mind that almond milk has a thinner consistency to dairy milk. This could be beneficial if you are looking to make a thinner sauce. However, if you’d like that classic thick texture, increase the amount of cheese in your mixture, or create a thicker roux before adding the milk. 

Almond milk is also lower in calories and fat than cow’s milk. It is, however, lower in protein. If you are using a butter substitute in your macaroni as well, try to find one with a high protein content to be sure you are getting enough. 

Cashew Milk

Because of its smooth consistency, neutral flavor, and richness, cashew milk is one of the best dairy-free substitutes for macaroni and cheese. There is little you will have to do to cashew milk to make it blend in with a standard roux. 

Use the same amount of cashew milk as you would regular milk. You will end up with a practically undetectable replacement. 

Cashew milk can also be made at home. When making cashew milk by hand, the lack of straining means much of the natural fiber content will be retained. Adding fiber to a dish with so much lactose could be a boon to those with an intolerance to it. 

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Hazelnut Milk

Rounding out the selection of nut milks to use in macaroni and cheese is hazelnut milk. While it is the pricier option, typically $6.00 USD a gallon, it isn’t quite as bitter as other nut milks. 

Like the others, hazelnut milk has a nutty flavor, but it is very creamy; about as much as dairy milk. There is no need to worry about additional thickening here. Be sure to search for sugar free hazelnut milk to keep the taste similar.  

Plant Based Milks 

Soy Milk

One of the first dairy replacements to hit the market, soy milk is a common go-to substitution. It works well because it has a very similar consistency to milk. 

It does, however, have a distinctive flavor. Not everyone will enjoy the taste of soy milk, so be sure to taste-test first to be sure that it will mesh well with your other ingredients. Like with other replacements, it will likely just come down to neutralising and balancing flavor profiles. 

Regarding flavor, it is best to not use vanilla flavored soy milk in macaroni and cheese. The vanilla flavoring will not mesh well with the cheese and spices in the dish. 

Rice Milk 

Another top contender for dairy-free macaroni and cheese is rice milk. It is perfect not just for those who cannot consume dairy, but for people with nut or soy allergies. 

The best thing about rice milk is that it has a very similar taste to cow’s milk. If you are looking for a classic taste in your mac and cheese, rice milk will be barely noticeable. 

The only issue is that it is rather thin. Unsweetened rice milk is 89% water. Much like with soy milk, to counteract the thinner consistency you will need to make a thicker roux. You could also add in more cheese to make for a thicker sauce. 

Oat Milk 

On the rise in popularity, the Starbucks drink favorite can also work wonders in macaroni and cheese. Though it does have a distinct sweet flavor, it is not as strong as the flavor of almond or soy milk. 

It is thick enough to not need any additional roux or cheese to supplement texture. Aside from a slight oaty flavor, oat milk can be an unnoticeable replacement in your mac and cheese. 

Oat milk is also a vegan option open to those with dairy, soy, and nut allergies. One cup (240mil) of unsweetened oat milk contains 50% of your daily value of vitamin B12. 

Coconut Milk/Coconut Cream

Another vegan substitute for milk in macaroni and cheese is coconut milk.  Coconut milk and coconut cream are also very accessible, and something you’d be able to find at any standard grocery store. 

One thing that likely comes to mind when thinking of coconut milk is the taste. This is something to remember, as using coconut in your recipe will alter the taste. However, some have found that they rather enjoy the coconut flavor. 

For creamier results, find full-fat coconut milk that is in a can. The canned option is more concentrated than bottled coconut milk, which will be more watery. Do not buy sweetened coconut milk for this; you will end up with a sickly-sweet macaroni. 

Quinoa Milk 

Not as well known as oat or almond milk, quinoa milk is on the rise in popularity. It may be difficult to come by, but if you’re able to find it, it can work nicely in macaroni and cheese. 

Quinoa milk does have a distinct taste, but that nuttiness can actually lend a pleasant flavor to macaroni and cheese. That said, it is still not an overly pronounced nuttiness. 

Sub in quinoa milk for regular milk in equal parts. It is heavy enough that you will not have to thicken your roux. 

This vegan milk is also gluten free. Combined with a gluten free macaroni noodle, this could make for a celiac-friendly comfort food. 

Hemp Seed Milk

Another lesser-known vegan option, hemp seed milk is becoming increasingly popular in dairy-based foods like mac and cheese. This surprising milk adds creaminess, which may be important to those looking to capture the texture of cow’s milk. 

In fact, hemp seed milk is so thick that it is actually advised to use less of it than you would milk. 

Hemp seed milk does have a taste to it that some have described as earthy, bitter, or nutty. This is another substitute that is definitely best sampled first before it is added to your favorite boxed macaroni. If you are aiming for a more rustic, artisanal vibe to your dish, thene hemp seed milk should be on your shopping list. 

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Other Alternatives 

Chicken Stock

An unusual addition, chicken stock can still be used in place of standard milk. It certainly isn’t vegan, but it could be workable for those looking to lower their dairy intake. It is also perfect in a pinch if you find that your milk carton is empty. 

The most important thing to remember here is that chicken stock is very full of flavor. Naturally, this will change the taste of your sauce. Chicken stock is salty; if you know you are going to be using it, do not over-salt your sauce. 

Be sure to taste-test this first before you make your sauce inedible. You will need to thicken your mixture, much like with others. 

Olive Oil

If you are really in a pinch, you can use olive oil in place of milk. Use it sparingly, and try to rely on your cheeses and butters more. 

If you are making box mac and cheese, only add about a tablespoon of olive oil.Do not sub it in 1:1 as recommended with other substitutions. If you do, your macaroni will be extremely greasy and unappealing. 

There will not be much of a taste difference here. You may be able to detect the flavor of the olive oil slightly, but not enough to be notable.  

Water 

What if you find that you’re out of everything listed above? There is always the standby that everyone has in their kitchen: water. Water can be tricky to work with, since it’s flavorless and as thin as it gets. 

The idea of a watery, runny, flavorless macaroni and cheese may not sound terribly appetizing. However, there are a few tricks one can pull to make the water work: 

  • Use the pasta cooking water. This water has taken some of the salt and starch from having the pasta boiled in it. Starch will help thicken and bind the sauce, while salt adds flavor. 
  • Add less water than you would milk. You are going to want to rely on your cheeses and melted butter for the liquid in this dish instead of a standard milk. 
  • Make the sauce with extra butter. Doing so will help with consistency and richness. 
  • Use a melting cheese like gouda or raclette.  Say no to softer, runnier cheeses, as they will only make you lose the battle with moisture in your dish. 
  • Don’t skimp on seasoning. Water is adding little to nothing to your sauce in terms of taste, so you will want to lean in heavily with paprika, mustard powder, and garlic powder or garlic salt. 

Can I Make Mac And Cheese Without Milk? 

By all means, you can make mac and cheese without milk, relying only on the moisture of the melted butter. However, this will lead to a dryer, less flavorful result. 

If you are looking to skip out on milk altogether, try adding olive oil, more shredded cheese, or, as stated above, extra butter. 

Can I substitute mayonnaise for milk in macaroni and cheese? 

It’s not unreasonable to want to substitute mayo for milk in your mac and cheese, but you may encounter hurdles. Mayo is made from eggs, oil, and some type of acid (usually vinegar.) The consistency is more gelatinous than, say, sour cream. If you are looking to add mayonnaise, whisk it with water first. 

What Is A Good Substitute For Cheese in Macaroni and Cheese? 

If you are looking to make vegan macaroni and cheese, a good substitute for cheese in macaroni and cheese should be the first place you look. There are a few options for dairy-free mac and cheese that will still be creamy and delicious. 

A sauce made from sauteed cauliflower and butternut squash makes for an excellent replacement. Puree the cooked cauliflower and squash together with onions and a good helping of garlic until it is smooth and silky. For the savory, tanginess of real cheese, try adding nutritional yeast and dijon mustard. 

Conclusion 

If you find yourself mid-recipe and discover that you are out of dairy milk, you will certainly need a substitute for milk in your mac and cheese. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of replacement options available to you. 

Some, like cream cheese, yogurt, or chicken stock, you may already have in your fridge. Or, if you are aiming to keep the dairy out completely, options like almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk can make for a perfectly creamy, non-dairy comfort food.