Most people reach for milk when preparing mac and cheese because it makes the dish so rich and creamy. The cool thing is that other alternative ingredients can work just as well.
Almost any milk-based product, whether it be animal or plant-based, is a good substitute for milk in mac and cheese. These include yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, heavy cream, or evaporated milk. Plant-based alternatives include almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, soy milk, rice milk, hemp seed, or oat milk.
There are actually brands, like this one, that do not require milk, only water. These types are designed for health-conscious folks and actually taste really good. They are tough to find in stores but can be delivered quickly from Amazon.
It is essential to know what you want to achieve with your mac and cheese recipe before selecting an appropriate alternative ingredient. To that end, I have highlighted the benefits of each milk replacement. So, when you are out of milk and craving this comfort food, try out one of these 15 substitutes.
1. Plain Yogurt
Plain yogurt or greek yogurt might be the best dairy substitute for milk. It even makes your mac and cheese dish creamier than milk, albeit with a bit more zip. My husband eats literally like a pint of this stuff a day so I always have it around the house.
When using yogurt to prepare your meal, you will want to use a lower heat setting and slowly add the yogurt. When replacing milk with yogurt, keep the measurements equal at the 1:1 ratio.
Warning: If yogurt is heated too rapidly, the water and fat could separate and create a lumpy, watery mess. So when making a cheese sauce with yogurt, I recommend heating the yogurt separately before adding it into the mix. This will help mitigate any potential issues you might face.
Pro Tip: Using Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt will result in an extra creamy entree due to its high protein level. And, if you are looking for an even healthier mac and cheese, check out this keto-friendly gluten-free cheddar cheese powder.
2. Sour Cream
As for texture, it generally will make the dish more creamy and fuller due to being thicker than milk. This can be observed when stirring the sour cream into the pasta and cheese. If you want to offset this effect, mix a little water with the sour cream to cut down on the thickness.
Just keep in mind that sour cream will change the taste of mac and cheese and give it a bit more bite. But if you like a slightly tangy flavor, then this option is for you. In fact, once you try it this way, you may never go back to using milk again. To each their own.
Cool Tip: If you try this option and like it, you may want to try adding some sour cream along with milk in the future for this and other recipes. In fact, many recipes use both milk and sour cream together. Why not for mac and cheese?
Also, if you are using a recipe that calls for Greek yogurt, sour cream will work as a fine replacement. Both have a very similar consistency, and they are virtually interchangeable when it comes to making any dish.
Water can be a substitute for milk in mac and cheese, but it adds nothing in the way of taste. The lack of fat impacts the entree’s flavor, and not in a good way for most palates.
While this method of making mac and cheese produces a runnier, less creamy product, you can compensate somewhat by adding in twice as much butter as the recipe calls for. If you want it even thicker, you may even want to add more than that if you don’t mind that added unhealthiness.
Pro Tip: Do not use plain water when making this dish. Instead, you will want to use the water you boiled the pasta in. This water will be more starchy and will help thicken the sauce and make the dish more appetizing.
How to make your mac and cheese creamier with water:
- On the side, use heated butter and a bit of flour to make a thick roux.
- Add the roux to the runny cheese sauce you already prepared.
- Mix thoroughly.
Please make sure that you do not use too much water. Slowly add more if it is too thick after adding the roux, but be careful. Also, I recommend avoiding any type of soft cheese. Stick to traditional “meltable” cheeses, if you are not using a pre-made cheese powder.
4. Cream Cheese
The great thing about using cream cheese is that it will keep your traditional mac and cheese flavoring intact. This is because it has a mild taste that does not interfere with the flavor. And, due to the additional thickness of cream cheese, the cheese sauce will be even creamier than usual.
Of course, there are some basic differences between the two options, and the biggest one being texture. This is what leads to the added creaminess of your mac and cheese. Personally, I absolutely love this but realize that some people like thinner cheese sauce. If so, I have listed plenty of alternatives for you.
Because of the fat content, cream cheese functions as a replacement for butter. Therefore, it should be used sparingly due to said fat content and the fact that it is low in protein. You may want to start by adding a little bit at a time until you get the consistency you desire.
5. Heavy Cream
If you have some heavy cream (whipping cream) lying around at home, you can use it to create a decadent mac and cheese since it has a lot more fat than milk. Because of this, you should expect heavy cream to produce a vibrant and creamier cheese sauce.
Of course, you will likely need to use less heavy cream than milk because of the higher fat content. I suggest that you gradually add in a little bit of heavy cream at a time while lightly stirring until you reach the right consistency. Or, you can add water to thin it out a bit.
If you are using a cheddar cheese package mix to make your cheese sauce, you can expect the heavy cream to dilute the bright orange cheddar color. The sauce will look much lighter and more similar to a white cheddar sauce.
Leave out the butter: The heavy nature of cream does not require you to add butter in this version of the pasta dish.
6. Evaporated Milk (or Powdered Milk)
Evaporated milk is basically milk with the water taken out so it can be thinned and used as a substitute for regular milk. Therefore, you need to add the water back. Without doing so will result in the caramelized flavor of the evaporated milk potentially being overwhelming.
To prepare evaporated milk for use in mac and cheese, you will need to mix equal parts evaporated milk and water. Once mixed, you can use the same measurements required in your recipe for regular milk.
Expect this milk to produce a creamy mac and cheese; though, it will not be as creamy as when you employ a heavy cream substitute.
Pro Tip: I always have a few cans of evaporated milk in the cupboard since it is a suitable replacement for milk in just about every recipe. It is so easy to store because it has a long shelf life.
You can also use powdered milk. I like keeping this around because it has a very long shelf life and can be reconstituted very quickly and used in almost any recipe. All you have to do is add water and voila.
I have been making my own powdered milk for years and highly recommend you learn to do so yourself. It’s actually really easy and can potentially save you from having to run out to the store in a thunder or snowstorm one day. It’s always better to be prepared, right?
7. Almond Milk
Almond milk is a good replacement for those trying to avoid dairy. Some people are hesitant to try this alternative because of its sweet, nutty taste; however, it works well in this dish. Compared to other non-dairy milk substitutes, almond milk appears to have about as neutral of a flavor as one can expect.
One important thing to mention is that almond milk is thinner than regular milk. Because of this lack of bulk, the mac and cheese produced will be less creamy. So, if you prefer a creamier sauce, you can add a food-grade thickener. While made of dairy, the best thickeners that work well with almond milk are butter, flour, and cheese.
On the other hand, if you want to keep it vegetarian-friendly, use a vegan-friendly thickener with the sauce. A bit of almond or coconut flour will also work decently well.
I recommend getting the unsweetened version of almond milk. Unless, of course, you like sweet mac and cheese. (Yuck?)
8. Chicken Broth
Those looking to limit their dairy intake might also be amenable to trying out chicken broth as a replacement. Just be aware that your pasta dish’s taste and texture will be affected and may not appeal to some.
Helpful Tip: To see if you like it before potentially ruining your dish, I recommend trying a small test amount of sauce on the side to see how you like it.
Chicken broth has a thinner consistency than milk and will result in a less creamy version of the dish. Once again, use a thickener like flour or parmesan cheese to bulk it up a bit.
9. Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is becoming more and more prevalent in people’s kitchens because it is believed that it may help boost the immune system and improve heart health. No doubt, it is chock-full of vitamins and minerals and contains healthy fats and proteins. It is also an excellent substitute for milk in mac and cheese.
The coolest thing is that the taste of cashew milk is more akin to that of dairy milk and has a much less sweet taste than almond milk. It even has a less nutty flavor. It is also thicker than dairy milk and is known for its inherent creaminess. When used, it results in a very thick cheese sauce.
Use cashew milk at a 1:1 ratio, so for every cup of dairy asked for in a recipe, you will substitute a cup of cashew milk.
Warning: Cashew milk is nut-based and thus not suitable for anyone who has a nut allergy. So make sure you are sure anyone consuming your mac and cheese is aware of this fact.
10. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is made from coconut flesh and water. It is fortified with vitamins and can be used as a replacement for milk in pasta dishes like macaroni and cheese; however, its coconut taste will severely alter the recipe’s original flavors. Even so, many people do enjoy using this substitute in their mac and cheese. In fact, there are several recipes online that embrace this milk alternative.
You will want to select canned coconut milk to use since it is more concentrated than other coconut milk beverages.
You can expect a creamier sauce when you use this ingredient, especially if you select full-fat coconut milk. I recommend getting the canned version since it is typically a bit thicker than the bottled variety. Also, get the unsweetened type, or you can end up with sickly sweet mac and cheese.
The coconut milk to dairy milk replacement ratio is 1:1.
11. Soy Milk
Soy milk is a plant-based milk alternative made from soybeans and filtered water. It is a thicker substance than almond milk because thickeners have already been added in an effort to mimic milk’s volume and expand the product’s shelf life—this thickness results in a more creamy bowl of mac and cheese.
It is crucial to choose unflavored soy milk when making mac and cheese. Flavored brands of soy milk have tastes that would overpower your pasta recipe. Vanilla is an example of one of these rich flavors, and if utilized, your mac and cheese will develop a sweet taste. Not my cup of tea.
You can also expect unflavored soy milk to have a less robust taste than your traditional mac and cheese. Adding a bit of extra butter and salt can offset this.
Replace milk with soy milk at a 1:1 ratio.
12. Rice Milk
Rice milk consists of milled rice and water. It is a sweet dairy alternative that can be used to construct dishes like mac and cheese.
When compared to dairy milk, rice milk is thinner, so it will produce a lighter sauce that is more fluid in nature. As we have already discussed, an additional thickener will need to be introduced to create a creamier sauce.
For Vegans: To make mac and cheese that is entirely plant-based, you will need to make sure you use vegan cheese or just buy a mac and cheese brand specifically designed for you, like this one found on Amazon.
13. Hemp Seed Milk
Most people will not have hemp seed milk in their homes, so it is not an ingredient that can be used in a pinch if you are out of milk. However, if you are looking for a future replacement, this is another product that can be used instead of milk in mac and cheese.
Hemp seed milk features healthy fats and proteins and has approximately the same amount of fat that can be found in regular cow milk. These healthy fats and proteins are found in higher concentrations in hemp seed milk than in almond and rice milk.
One important thing to note is that hemp seed milk has a strong nutty taste. Some people enjoy this flavoring while others do not.
Hemp seed milk is thicker than milk, so you can expect it to produce a creamier pasta dish. This allows you to use less of this vegan-friendly product than you usually would with milk. However, if you like it thinner, you can add water to spread out the cheese sauce. Just keep in mind that more water may dilute the taste of the dish.
Replace at a .75:1 ratio.
Cool Fact: Hemp seed milk can be used by those allergic to soy, lactose, and gluten
14. Goat Milk
Yes, I went there.
Many health-conscious people around the world are making the switch to alternative types of animal milk.
Goat milk is known to be much easier to digest than cow milk. This is because it contains less lactose and alpha-s1-casein protein. If for no other reason, these reasons make goat milk a great milk alternative for your pasta dish.
The best part is that goat and cow milk possess a similar flavor. These two kinds of milk can be used in mac and cheese interchangeably; however, you may notice that your cheese sauce is more decadent and less tangy when made with goat milk. I actually love this fact.
You could even use goat cheese when preparing your dish and make it a full-goat mac and cheese. (Has anyone ever said that before???)
Important: Remember, goat milk has less lactose but not zero lactose. No one with strong lactose allergies should consume goat milk for this reason.
Other alternatives include sheep or even camel milk. While all of them are likely better options than regular cow milk, keep in mind that they each add their own unique flavor profile. So, make sure you don’t go off and buy a goat farm before you find out if you like the taste!
15. Oat Milk
You can use unsweetened plain oat milk to make a vegetarian-friendly mac and cheese. This product is naturally sweet and works well in any savory recipe.
Pro Tip: If you want healthier cheese, here is a gluten-free powder that works as an excellent replacement for dairy cheese.
You can expect the same creaminess level in your mac and cheese as you would get using regular milk. If you want your dish to be creamier, you will have to add a thickener.
Oat mill can be substituted for milk at a 1:1 ratio.
Can I Use These Substitutes in Any Type of Mac and Cheese?
Each of the substitutes listed in this article will work for preparing any type of mac and cheese. Which one you prefer comes down to a matter of personal taste. The best replacements that mimic milk best as far as taste goes are yogurt, cream cheese, and oat milk as a vegetarian option.
Of course, goat milk is probably the absolute best replacement on all fronts, but not everyone has access to it. See if you have a local farmers market near you. They very possibly will have it.
Here is a website that can help you find the market closest to you.
Can I Make Mac and Cheese Without Milk?
Or maybe a better question is, should you?
You can definitely cook up a batch of macaroni and cheese without milk. There are numerous dairy, nut, and plant-based options available that can elevate your meal. Each ingredient will work differently in your pasta fare. Some will give you a little more zip, while others will provide a nice smooth texture.
Check out my video for info on mac and cheese milk replacements:
What Is a Good Substitute for Butter in Mac and Cheese?
The best substitutes for butter in mac and cheese are margarine and ghee. These can be substitutes interchangeably when making your roux for the cheese sauce.
If you are only using butter as a flavoring agent and to add richness or change the consistency, you can use heavy cream, cream cheese, mascarpone, and melted ghee or margarine.
However, if you are adding butter only to add flavor, try adding a bit more salt to the recipe instead. Butter only typically adds flavor due to the salt content.
I hope my list has helped you find the right substitute for you! Thanks for stoppin’ by.
For more, don’t miss The 32 Best Milk Substitutes for Recipes (Dairy & Non-Dairy).
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.