Best Substitutes for Milk in Mac & Cheese (Dairy and Vegan)

In case you ran out of milk or if you’re looking for an alternative to dairy. You can find many types of milk alternatives and substitutes available. Choosing which one to go with is the hard part.

I made this easier by comparing each one and covering their different characteristics such as flavor, thickness level and how to cook with them.

The two tables show how each compares to dairy milk.

Dairy Milk SubstitutesTaste vs Dairy MilkConsistency vs Dairy Milk
Half & HalfRicherMore Creamy
Sour CreamTangyMore Creamy
Whipping CreamRicherExtra Creamy
Cream CheeseSweeterMore Creamy
Plain YogurtTangyMore Creamy
WaterLess FlavorLess Creamy
ButterRicherLess Creamy
Powdered MilkSweeterMore Creamy
Goat MilkSweeterSimilar
Vegan Milk SubstitutesTaste vs Dairy MilkConsistency vs Dairy Milk
Cashew MilkNuttyMore Creamy
Soy MilkLess SweetMore Creamy
Almond MilkSweeterLess Creamy
Hemp Seed MilkNuttyMore Creamy
Oat MilkSweeterSimilar
Rice MilkSimilarLess Creamy
Coconut MilkCoconutMore Flavor
Macadamia Nut MilkMildSimilar
Pea MilkBitterMore Creamy
Hazelnut MilkSweeter, NuttySimilar
Sesame MilkNuttySimilar

Milk Substitutes (Dairy)

The closest thing you can get to actual dairy milk. You may have some of these in your fridge already. You may even start to like using these more than regular milk.

1. Half & Half

  • Taste Difference = Richer!
  • Creaminess Level = More Creamy! Slightly more creamy than whole milk.
  • Cooking Tip: In order to substitute for one cup milk in mac and cheese use 3/4 cup of Half and Half and 1/4 cup of water. This will help make the half and half more similar in consistency to regular milk. Because half and half can have more than double the fat content of milk. Consider skipping out on adding in any butter to your mac and cheese.

You can use half and half as a substitute for milk when making mac and cheese. In order to get the flavor closer to milk add a small amount of water to the half and half. If the recipe calls for one cup of milk you can use 3/4 cup of half & half combined with 1/4 cup of water.

2. Sour Cream

  • Taste Difference = Tangy!
  • Creaminess Level = More Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Leave water in the pot or add extra before stirring.

Sour cream can be both a substitute or addition to macaroni and cheese. There isn’t going to be a huge difference in using sour cream or yogurt. The two can be interchangeable for most recipes.

The biggest difference is the fat content. Sour cream is going to be higher in fat and calories than yogurt. Especially if you are using regular sour cream and not low fat.

Even Paula Deen makes her macaroni cheese with sour cream. But her recipe also uses milk.

Sour cream will be obviously a lot thicker than milk. If making box mac and cheese with sour cream instead of milk. Follow the directions and use the same amount. 1/4 cup of sour milk and add more if needed.

3. Whipping Cream

  • Taste Difference = Richer!
  • Creaminess Level = Extra Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Skip on the Butter.

Whipping cream or heavy cream will work as a substitute for milk. Again it is going to be heavier in fat and calories than milk.

So you could skip on the butter when using whipping cream. When using whipping cream the cheese will turn out lighter in color. So if you like the cheddar orange appearance, heavy cream will look more a white cheddar.

As far as mixing goes, start out light and add in more as needed. Just so you can get the cheese and cream mixture evened out.

You may need to add a little extra water into the mix. This will help make the cream less thick.

Both whipping cream and heavy cream can be used interchangeably for macaroni and cheese.

4. Cream Cheese

  • Taste Difference = Mild, Sweet!
  • Creaminess Level = More Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Can Substitute For Butter! (Optional)

Maybe one of the best substitutes for milk. Because who doesn’t like more cheese? The good thing is there isn’t a huge difference in taste between milk and cream cheese.

So by substituting it you will not notice much of a difference.

Although cream cheese is typically used for other recipes. It is commonly used in making homemade macaroni and cheese. Since it gives the cheese sauce an extra creamy texture.

Use in conjunction with butter or without butter all together. Cream cheese is high in fat and calories. Cream cheese is also low in protein and carbohydrates.

If you don’t have any milk but have a stick or tub or cream cheese. Don’t worry your mac and cheese will still be awesome.

You can use any brand cream cheese, but my only warning is you may never go back to using regular milk.

5. Plain Yogurt

  • Taste Difference = Tangy!
  • Creaminess Level = Creamier! (Plain Yogurt) Extra Creamy! (Greek)
  • Cooking Tip: Don’t Heat Too Quickly and Stir Gradually.

Don’t worry about using yogurt instead of milk. You can even find mac and cheese recipes specifically with yogurt included.

If you really like your mac and cheese this way, then you could go a step further. Use fresh homemade yogurt how you like it.

Greek yogurt is going to have a more tangier taste compared to plain yogurt. Also Greek yogurt is going to be thicker than plain.

So the taste might be more noticeable in your mac and cheese. Plain yogurt will not stand out as much. In case you are feeding some picky eaters!

Yogurt can be used for baking as well, if you are using Greek yogurt add some water to thin it out before baking.

6. Water/Butter

  • Taste Difference = Less Flavor!
  • Creaminess Level = Less Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Add Extra Butter and Cheese.

In case none of these other options are available. Water can be your last resort. Your going to need water to boil the noodles anyways.

The mac and cheese can still turn out really good, but its like using water for hot cocoa!

The thing to remember when making mac and cheese without milk and using water. It’s best to add more butter and more cheese. Otherwise you will get a very runny cheese sauce.

Add a bit more butter or try doubling the amount you would normally use. Also if you have any extra cheddar or American cheese on hand. Feel free to add in some more.

Instead of draining the water after boiling the noodles. Keep enough to use with the cheese. The starches from the noodles will help create a creamier mac and cheese.

7. Powdered Milk

  • Taste Difference = Sweeter!
  • Creaminess Level = Creamier!
  • Cooking Tip: Condensed Milk is sweeter and slightly thicker than evaporated milk.

Evaporated milk in mac and cheese can substitute for regular milk. The convenience is the ability to store powdered milk for long periods of time.

Evaporated milk will have less fat than cream, but still will make for a creamy macaroni and cheese.

Also called dry milk, powdered or evaporated milk. Sweetened condescended milk is not the same thing. Sugar is added as a further preservative.

Evaporated milk just means it the water has been removed/reduced.

You can use sweetened condensed milk for mac and cheese. This will add extra sugar to the recipe.

Both types are going to produce a creamy cheese, the sweetened condensed milk will be slightly more thick.

8. Goat Milk

  • Taste Difference = Rich, Less Tangy!
  • Creaminess Level = Similar To Cow’s Milk.
  • Cooking Tip: Try With Goat Cheese!

Goat milk may not be something you have instead of cow’s milk. The best reason to use Goat’s milk as a substitute. Is because of its lactose content is lower.

Meaning people who otherwise experience problems with regular milk. Can drink and eat goats milk with little to no issues.

Really it is a great substitute to use for people with lactose intolerance. A complete goat milk and cheese macaroni, will still taste similar to whole cow’s milk and cheese.

Milk Alternatives (Vegan)

These milks are made from nuts, cereal grains and even vegetables!

Non-dairy milk alternatives to use for mac and cheese. Good for lactose intolerance or vegan mac and cheese. If you are going to be using Kraft brand then the cheese will be dairy.

In order to make a true vegan macaroni and cheese the cheese itself would have to be made with one of these non-dairy milks. Which can be done with awesome results!

If you’re interested be sure to check out my vegan cheese guide, with the best videos on how to make dairy free cheese.

9. Cashew Milk

  • Taste Difference = Similar To Dairy Milk (Less sweet and less nutty than almond milk)
  • Creaminess Level = More Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Choose unsweetened for less sugar and visa versa.

Substitute Your Cashew Milk for dairy milk. Follow the recipe and use the the same amount.

There are plenty of vegan mac and cheese recipes which use cashew milk. It is not as popular as almond milk.

One down side is cashew milk cannot be used for someone who is allergic to nuts. Which is why you should use a cereal based milk.

10. Soy Milk

  • Taste Difference = Less Sweet! Mild Tasting!
  • Creaminess Level = Thicker Than Almond Milk! (Made with thickeners to improve consistency).
  • Cooking Tip: Use unsweetened unflavored soy milk.

Soy milk can be used for making mac and cheese. As long as you are using a unflavored version. Otherwise a vanilla flavored one will be too strong.

The vanilla will make the mac and cheese taste very different. This is not recommended.

You can still use it, but the flavor will be a lot sweeter.

11. Almond Milk

  • Taste Difference = Sweeter!
  • Creaminess Level = Less Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Add more cheese or butter to thicken and make creamier.

Almond milk has enough of a neutral taste. Using it as a alternative to milk will not change your mac and cheese much.

Use the same amounts of almond milk as you would regular milk. Almond milk is slightly thinner and less creamy, so you can add thickeners like flour.

Also you could add in more butter or extra cheese to get the sauce creamier.

12. Hemp Seed Milk

  • Taste Difference = More Nutty Flavor!
  • Creaminess = More Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Use slightly less hemp milk than regular milk.

Hemp seed milk can be made faster than other milks. Since you don’t have to strain it.

When using hemp seed milk for mac and cheese. There is going to be more of a nutty flavor.

Hemp seed milk is thicker than regular milk. So your mac and cheese will be creamier.

Since the flavor is earthy and nutty, you can use less hemp milk than regular milk. Add in some water to help spread it out, this is if you don’t want to change the flavor of the mac and cheese much.

13. Oat Milk

  • Taste Difference = Sweeter!
  • Creaminess Level = About The Same as 2% Milk!
  • Cooking Tip: Use unsweetened oat milk.

Oat milk has more natural sugars and this leads to a sweeter flavor. The thickness is similar to regular milk.

Don’t use it to get a creamier mac and cheese. Since its not naturally thicker, although it is thicker than most nut milks.

Follow the recipe and use equal amounts of oat milk as you would dairy milk.

14. Rice Milk

  • Taste Difference = Very Close To Cow’s Milk!
  • Creaminess Level = Less Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: May require some extra butter, or other thickeners.

Rice milk does taste similar to cows milk. So you will not ruin the mac and cheese. Rice milk is much more watery than regular milk.

This will not create a creamy mac and cheese, so add in more butter or cheese.

Overall I would not recommend using rice milk as an alternative. Since it is low in protein and has not added benefit.

15. Coconut Milk

  • Taste Difference = Coconut flavor!
  • Creaminess Level = More Creamy!
  • Cooking Tip: Use unsweetened.

You can find several recipes online using coconut milk for mac and cheese.

The best kind to use would be unsweetened, full fat coconut milk. Canned coconut milk works the best. It is much thicker and creamier.

The biggest downside is the coconut flavor, which is going to change the mac and cheese quite a bit.

16. Macadamia Milk

  • Taste Difference = Less flavor than dairy milk. No nutty flavor at all.
  • Creaminess Level = Very similar consistency but slightly less creamy than regular dairy skim milk.
  • Cooking Tip: Use equal amounts as you would dairy milk.

Macadamia milk is like a high end alternative to dairy milk. You will find it to be very similar in consistency to dairy milk and also is said to have a butter like taste.

There aren’t many recipes online using macadamia milk for mac and cheese. Maybe because its become more popular recently.

I think you might find it to be one of the best choices for a milk substitute.

17. Pea Milk

  • Taste Difference = Flour and bitter taste, very similar to soy milk.
  • Creaminess Level = Thicker and “chalky” consistency compared to dairy milk.
  • Cooking Tip = Not much different than dairy milk. Use equal measurements as regular dairy milk. Maybe add in extra cheese to mask flavor more.

Pea milk can be a healthy alternative to dairy milk because it is high in protein. One of the problems is the flavor of regular unsweetened pea milk isn’t well received.

This shouldn’t be as much of a problem when making macaroni and cheese. As the cheese will mask the less desirable flavors.

The flavor can be described as being very similar to soy milk. Pea milk is slightly off white and darker in color than regular milk.

18. Hazelnut Milk

  • Taste Difference = Nutty and more sweet taste!
  • Creaminess Level = About as creamy as dairy milk.
  • Cooking Tip: Use sugar free and don’t worry about thickening.

Hazelnut milk can be another option if you are trying to make a vegan mac and cheese. Also if you are trying to avoid dairy milk.

The taste of hazelnut milk is less bitter than other nut milks.

You will find that hazelnut milk is more expensive than other nut milks. Around $6 a gallon, which is more than dairy and double the price of soy or almond milk.

19. Sesame Milk

  • Taste Difference = Nutty!
  • Creaminess Level = Same consistency as skim milk
  • Cooking Tip: Use the same way you would regular dairy milk

Sesame milk has become popular lately and not just for fun. This seed milk actually has more calcium than dairy milk and plenty of other healthy nutrients.

When it comes to consistency you will find sesame milk is actually creamy enough to use for mac and cheese.

Can You Make Mac n Cheese Without Milk?

Macaroni and cheese does need a lot of liquid to help mix in the powder cheese and keep it from becoming too sticky. Milk works really well as the flavor isn’t too strong or watery but also just creamy enough. But if you wanted to make mac and cheese without milk it is still possible.

In order to make mac and cheese without milk use either cream cheese or butter and melted cheese. Instead of a powdered cheese which requires a lot of liquid you can use shredded, cream or even slices of cheese. Heat the cheese and butter in a separate pan then drain your boiled noodles and combine the two.

Another method is to make a baked macaroni and cheese. You are going to want to make a cheese sauce. Which is much easier with cream cheese. Most recipes use whole milk and even flour for the cheese sauce. Either whip cream or cheese sauce should give you enough creaminess without having to use milk.

Read more: Best Desserts To Serve With Mac and Cheese

Eric M Wilkens

Content writer and recreational cook. I also enjoy craft beer, comedy and the outdoors.

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