Warm, gooey cheese sauce poured over perfectly al dente pasta, chewy and creamy and—oh I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. I was daydreaming about lunch.
If you are, like I am, a macaroni and cheese connoisseur, you might know ten or twenty places in town that have it on the menu. You also might notice that none of your vintage dresses fit anymore. If your little ones’ hungry mouths clamor for mac and cheese all the time, do you cave? The dish is a kid fave, but it’s just not a very good thing to feed them all the time. Let’s embark together on a journey to make some mac n’ cheese that we can feel good (or at least better) about.
Part One, (in what will surely become a very popular series):
Let’s face it, cheese is delicious but in large quantities dairy is not so great for you. If we just make a vegan macaroni and “cheese,” it should be a bit healthier by default. The easiest way to do this is just sub in a vegan replacement. The best cheese one, in my opinion, is Daiya. It tastes great and it actually melts. It also has about 10 fewer calories per ounce than most cheeses. Use a cup of soymilk, like Silk, in place of cow’s milk, and you’ll be consuming 50% more calcium and 20 fewer calories. If you put butter in your mac n’ cheese, substitute Earth Balance. It has a very buttery texture and taste.
These products have no animal ingredients, weird preservatives or other artificial junk in them. That’s obviously healthier for you and your kids. Because they don’t use animal products, and their manufacturers are committed to sustainable sources and responsible production, these types of ingredients are also healthier for our planet. Introduce it to your kids as one of many kinds of mac n’ cheese they will get to try out.
What if you don’t want to buy any new-fangled vegan “cheese” food? Allow me to present: Vegan Mac 2.0
Start with a tablespoon or more of Earth Balance, or other butter alternative. (You can even use a tablespoon or two of olive oil.) Melt the spread in a saucepan, and then add a cup of milk alternative. Some people prefer almond or rice milk to soy. Then you’re going to add nutritional yeast. You can buy this in bulk at natural grocery stores, and it’s a main substitute flavor for cheese in a lot of vegan recipes. It’s also a complete protein. It’s not going to fool anyone who ate real cheese recently, but it has a delicious flavor all its own. Put about ½ a cup of nutritional yeast into your sauce and stir until blended. You can add more as you need to.
This next part is really improv. Taste the sauce frequently until you like it. Add about two teaspoons of yellow mustard or a few good shakes of mustard powder. Throw in some garlic powder, or some finely chopped fresh garlic. Sprinkle in about a teaspoon each of black pepper and salt. Sometimes I like to add a dash of cumin and a few dashes of cayenne. You can add whatever flavor notes inspire you. When the sauce has cooked down to a thick consistency and you think you’ve spiced it enough, pour it onto your pasta. Again, your family is not eating dairy, preservatives, or additives, but they are getting protein and lots of vitamins from that nutritional yeast.
If you’re not vegan, you will probably still want to make cheesy macaroni sometimes. But now you can switch it out once in awhile for something that will make you feel a little less guilty. Try it out and see if your kids even notice the difference.