Dairy free mac and cheese is a guaranteed kid pleaser, and one of our favourite family meals. The yummy sauce uses plant based milk, butternut squash, vegan cheese, and nutritional yeast. You won’t miss the dairy at all! Cook up a double batch and freeze half for a quick and easy meal another day.
Keep things simple and serve with a side of lightly steamed veg. Broccoli florets are a good option, especially for baby led weaning.
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Is dairy free mac and cheese a healthy option for kids?
Yes! This meal is a great way to provide some of the nutrients we need to be particularly mindful of for dairy free children. It helpfully delivers a massive dose of calcium by using a fortified plant based milk and, for an additional calcium boost, choose a vegan cheese which is fortified. The sauce also contains nutritional yeast which is a very rich source of B12, as well as protein, other B vitamins, and trace minerals.
The other great thing about this dairy free mac and cheese is that it contains a huge amount of butternut squash. If you have a child (like mine!) who is suspicious of veg, then including a variety in sauces like this can be a good way to get in their 5-a-day. I’ll keep trying to get them to willingly eat a chunk of butternut squash, but in the meantime this seems like a good option!
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate some additional veg without a battle on your hands, you may like to try:
- Vegan courgette muffins
- Veg packed magic sauce for pasta, pizza and more
- Carrot cornbread (gluten free and vegan)
- Sweet potato pancakes
- Or, check out this round up of 10 recipes designed to get picky eaters to eat some more vegetables!
Which is the best vegan cheese to use for dairy free mac and cheese?
I am not a big vegan cheese fan (unlike my kids who absolutely love the stuff). However, I do like it in this dish, it works well with the sweetness of the butternut squash. I tend to use a cheese with a milder flavour, for example:
- Koko cheddar alternative
- Sheese grated mozzarella style
- Violife original grated
Just be aware that Koko and Sheese are fortified with extra calcium, but Violife is not. Sheese and Violife cheese are both available ready grated, which makes life that bit easier! For a full rundown, check out my post about all the best vegan cheese for babies and toddlers.
Easily adaptable to dietary requirements
This vegan mac and cheese is suitable for children with dairy, egg and soy allergies. It’s also easy to adapt it to be gluten free. Simply use a gluten free macaroni (our favourite is the rice and corn macaroni* by Orgran) and GF flour for the roux. The crunchy top is achieved by using a sprinkle of polenta, which is naturally gluten free.
If those with nut allergies are looking for a vegan mac and cheese without cashews (which are commonly used in dairy free mac & cheese sauces), then this is the recipe! It can be completely nut free if you choose the right plant based milk; I recommend using oat.
How to serve dairy free mac and cheese to babies
If you are baby led weaning then your baby can have a good go at picking up handfuls of this – the thick sauce helps make it a bit easier for them. If you are spoon feeding, you can start by mashing it slightly or chopping up into smaller pieces.
The salt content in vegan cheese can be relatively high. You may want to cut the amount of cheese for younger babies (it will still taste good!). Or just be mindful about the salt content in other foods they are eating that day.
A good option for batch cooking
Dairy free mac and cheese is a great meal to batch cook; making a double portion doesn’t involve any extra effort.
If you’re going to freeze this, do so at the point where you have made the sauce and stirred the macaroni in. You can either freeze a family sized portion in a big tupperware, or use little ramekins for child sized pots!
Fully defrost the mac and cheese before adding a sprinkle of polenta and baking. See the recipe notes below for full instructions.
Here are some other family dinners you might like to try! All free from dairy, egg & soy:
And for lots more dinner ideas check out my FREE downloadable meal plan. 4 weeks of family dinners, all free from dairy, soy, egg & gluten x
Dairy free mac and cheese
- 1 medium butternut squash, roasted and mashed (about 800g before roasting)
- 250 g macaroni (use gluten free if required)
- 50 g dairy free butter alternative (I use Pure olive)
- 50 g plain flour (use gluten free if required)
- 500 ml plant based milk, fortified and unsweetened (almond or oat work well)
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 150 g vegan cheese, grated
- 1/2 tsp polenta
Preparing the butternut squash:
- Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°C fan, then line a large baking tray with baking paper.
- Cut your butternut squash into quarters (there's no need to peel it) and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash onto a baking tray and roast for around 40 minutes.
- Remove the squash from the oven, and scoop out the flesh into a mixing bowl. Mash until smooth.
- It is fine to do this the day before and keep the mashed squash in a sealed container in the fridge until ready for use.
To make the mac and cheese:
- Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200°C fan.
- Cook your macaroni according to the packet instructions, then drain and set aside.
- Whilst the macaroni is cooking, get started on the sauce. Melt the butter alternative in a pan on a gentle heat. Stir in the flour to make a paste, and cook for a minute or so (keep stirring!).
- Then, add the plant milk little by little, stirring frequently. Gently heating the plant milk before adding can help stop lumps forming (see these tips for a perfect roux).
- Continue stirring until the sauce starts to simmer and thickens up.
- Take the pan off the heat and immediately stir through the vegan cheese, nutritional yeast, dijon mustard, and mashed butternut squash. Stir until it is really well combined to make a thick sauce.
- Add the cooked macaroni to the sauce, stir well, and then pour into an oven proof dish.
- Lightly sprinkle the polenta on the top.
- Bake for around 20 mins in the oven, until golden on top.
- If you or your child has an allergy, always double check that the recipe and all of the components are suitable. This includes checking ‘may contain’ statements on each ingredient and making your own assessment of risk based on personal circumstances.
- To freeze, follow the recipe instructions up to step 7. Let the combined macaroni and sauce cool, and then transfer to a sealed container to freeze. You can do this as one large family sized portion, or separate into child sized portions
- When you’re ready to cook it, defrost thoroughly, then transfer to an oven proof dish. Sprinkle over the polenta and cook for around 20 minutes at 220°C / 200°C fan, until golden on top.
- This recipe gives 4 generous servings! If there are leftovers we often use them as a side to another meal in the next couple of days.
- To make this dish gluten free, use a gf flour and gf macaroni. If using oat milk as your plant based milk, make sure that it is gluten free.
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