Homemade “Boxed” Mac + Cheese (Vegan Friendly)

Homemade Vegan Boxed Macaroni and CheeseBoxed macaroni and cheese is something I ate a lot just after college. I was one of those students who lived with my parents almost until I graduated college when I was 21 years old. Shortly after, I moved from my hometown of Springfield, MO to Los Angeles, CA. The cost of living there is, well, quite different. So I was on a pretty tight budget, meaning I spent as little as I could on groceries. And so my boxed macaroni phase began.

I think a lot of people grow up eating boxed mac and cheese as kids, but for me it was an early-adult life thing. Go figure. 🙂

Homemade boxed macaroni and cheese (via abeautifulmess.com)Sometimes I still crave the ease and comfort of a boxed macaroni dinner. And I think that's why I kind of stumbled upon this homemade version. Here's what I like about it:
1. Just as easy to throw together as real boxed macaroni and cheese.
2. Unlike the box, I know exactly what is in this and can pronounce all the ingredients.
3. Since it's not actually out of a box, I can easily change up the quantity to feed just myself if I want (usually store bought mac and cheese will make 2 to 2.5 servings, and it's hard to just throw that other serving away or save for later, so portion control becomes difficult).
4. Sometimes I avoid dairy during the week and this version can easily become completely vegan if I choose. 
5. I can change out the noodles for anything I like, which can add even more nutrition. 

You in? Have I convinced you?

Homemade boxed mac and cheese mix recipeHomemade "Boxed" Mac + Cheese, serves two.

6 oz. pasta*
3 tablespoons vegan butter or oil (or just butter if you don't care about keeping it dairy free)
3 tablespoons almond milk, or whatever milk you like
1/4 cup cheese mix (recipe below)

*I used Garden Delight noodles this time. which are noodles made with vegetables. You could also use 100% whole wheat, a gluten free noodle, or if you find something cool like those black bean noodles I shared last month, go with that. All work, just cook according to the package directions as they may have slightly different boil times. 

Once the noodles have boiled, drain. I usually leave mine in the strainer in the sink while I do the next step. In the same (medium sized) pot you boiled the noodles in, add the butter and milk with the heat turned down to low. Stir until the butter has almost all melted. Add the cheese mix and stir. Then add the drained noodles back into the pot and stir so that all the noodles get coated in the cheese. Taste and add a little salt and pepper to your liking. 

Homemade Vegan Boxed Macaroni and Cheese Cheese Mix, makes about one cup.

3/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

In a food processor or good blender, pulse ingredients into a fine powder. This will make enough cheese mix to make four, 2 serving pots of homemade boxed macaroni and cheese. If you're unsure you're gonna like this or worry you won't use this often enough to justify making that much, you can try cutting the cheese mix recipe in half. But this is usually how much I make because the whole point is to have most of the meal ready to go, like using a boxed mix. 🙂

You can store this mix in an air tight container; no need to refrigerate. 

Homemade boxed mac and cheese mix recipe Top with fresh herbs if you have some and serve along side veggies or a salad. This time I made a favorite at our house—roasted Brussels sprouts with fresh lemon juice. Yum! Happy easy-dinner night to you! xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions

  • I love this idea! You are so creative! Although I love dairy I also love eating vegan because it makes me feel so good. Can’t wait to give this a try.

  • I’m looking forward to trying this one! I’m not vegan by any standards, but I do like to eat vegan recipes when I can to balance things out. I am picturing adding some fresh peas into this as well, whenever those come back in season.

  • I’m the same—I don’t eat vegan all the time as I love cheese, butter, and especially eggs! But I don’t necessarily want to be eating tons of cheese and butter everyday so I love to find alternatives that I enjoy. I just generally feel more energetic and healthy when I’m not consuming lots of dairy, so I save it for treats on the weekend. 🙂

    -Emma

  • I’ve been making this vegan version forever! The cheese mix recipe is great sprinkled on anything and everything 🙂

  • Love this. Nutritional yeast is a magic ingredient for dairy-free sauces! I also try to avoid dairy during the week since noticing that my stomach feels better when I exercise.

  • Oh my yum this looks so good!! I too went through a pretty major boxed Mac and cheese phase after graduating! Although I hesitate to say I’m even fully out of it because I would still consider it a guilty pleasure. I LOVE that this recipe is vegan though, will have to try it next time I get a craving! Thanks!
    Xo
    Alex

  • Thank you so much for starting to include more vegan recipes! As a newly-turned vegan, I appreciate it when I don’t have to figure out substitutions for every recipe I find. Love it!

  • I love Mac & Cheese. My favorite cheat meal and I would love to eat it every day haha! I guess a vegan version is also a cool thing to try! Thank you!

  • I adore macaroni cheese & you just made it easier for me to eat it all the time! Not actually sure if I Gould thank you or not…

    I can’t see where you add the almond milk in the instruction though…

  • So you wrote this recipe for me no? I am currently hooked on boxed mac n’ cheese at the ripe old age of 31, so maybe this recipe will save me from myself! I don’t usually eat vegan, but since this recipe seems a tad healthier than the boxed version I might try to get hooked on it instead! Just one question though…does the nutritional yeast really taste like cheese? Thanks for the recipe!

  • You add the almond milk at the same time as the butter. In the directions I just listed it as butter and milk instead of spelling out vegan butter or almond milk as you could use any type of milk you have or prefer. I’ve made this with almond milk, cashew milk, and whole (dairy) milk before so I know it works well with all of those. I haven’t tried coconut milk yet but I bet it’s only a matter of time. 🙂 This is one of my favorite fast dinners so I tend to make it with whatever milk is open at our house and we tend to have different ones depending what I’ve been cooking lately.

    -Emma

  • I’m 30 and still love boxed mac and cheese, so you’re in good company. 🙂

    The cheese mix (made with nutritional yeast) is VERY similar in taste to other boxed powder cheese mixes I’ve had before. But no, it does not taste exactly like cheese. It’s got a slightly different taste/smell. If you ate a spoonful of this and then a spoonful of mac and cheese that is made with real cheese as opposed to nutritional yeast I think you would be able to tell the difference. Or at least I think I would be able to. But it’s very similar and I think just as good, but a bit different.

    Vague enough for you? Ha! Just trying to describe my perspective on it. I think if you go into a recipe that is a non dairy version of something else (or no added sugar version of something else sweet) and you expect it to be exactly the same it can sometime be a disappointment. It’s not the same. BUT that doesn’t mean it’s not really good and, at least in this case, better for you.

    -Emma

  • This sounds delicious! I might try this recipe as I have vegan friends over for lunch tomorrow.

    Tiffany Tales – A British Beauty & Lifestyle Blog

  • Sounds amazing! I am gravitating towards a plant based diet so this will defos be tried and tested!! I just need cashews and I am ready to go! xx
    alicekatex

  • I have been reading your blog for years now and for the last 2 years I eat mainly vegan. I love all these recipes lately that can be made vegan friendly!

  • I’ve been vegan for a long time and making my own cheese powder has never occurred to me. Thank you so much for this recipe!

  • This recipe sounds delicious! I’m a new reader and have noticed that a lot of your recipes use a food processor. I’m new in the kitchen as well and do not have much experience. I was thinking about picking up a food processor, but goodness! There’s so many choices. Is there a food processor that you would recommend for a beginner? I’d love to hear your opinion!

  • Yum!! This looks amazing. I wouldn’t necessarily have cared about it being healthy – whether that be vegan, gluten-free, or anything like that – until recently, and this is right up my ally at the minute xx You guys are obviously psychic!! x

  • Thank you for posting this. I just recently found out that I’m allergic to dairy and eliminating cheese from my diet is the biggest challenge. This gives me hope!!!