While I wish I could say it’s a warm mommy snuggle, the truth is there’s really only one way to my daughter’s heart: an overstuffed mouthful of creamy vegan mac and cheese.
That's fine, I guess. I mean, at least I'm making the food for her, adding super secret mommy kisses to the mix and maybe a few shunted mommy tears from my rebuffed snuggle attempt. The point is though, kids love mac and cheese, or as my 2-year-old calls it "HOT NOODUL." And it's a meal we don't have to feel guilty about serving to our kids. In fact, we can feel pretty darn good about it.
The secret to any mac and cheese recipe, is of course, the cheesy sauce. I'm pretty sure my daughter would eat it atop shredded paper, the barrettes she's constantly pulling out of her hair, or on one of her beloved Legos (which may or may not have already happened).
I can't guarantee that your child won't go totally bonkers at mealtime, but I can assure you that you and your Little Hurricane don't have to miss out on this American food classic, whether you're vegan or avoiding dairy for other reasons. This vegan mac and cheese recipe stacks up. While you can now find vegan mac and cheese box options at supermarkets and health food stores, the truth is you only need three ingredients to make a delicious vegan mac and cheese at home—and in less than half the time it takes you to rip open one of those cardboard boxes, spilling half the noodles on the floor in the process.
This recipe gets its cheesy flavor from nutritional yeast, which is usually a great source of B vitamins for vegans (it’s most often fortified with the vitamins, but double check labels to be sure). You can find it in the bulk bin section of most Whole Foods Markets and health food stores or online. There are two kinds of nutritional yeast: small or big flakes. For this purpose, it doesn't matter. The smaller flakes are just a very fine powder, which will mix about a nanosecond faster than the big flakes. So go with what's available, what's cheapest, or whatever you prefer.
3-Ingredient Vegan Mac and Cheese Recipe
One pound whole wheat macaroni noodles or noodle of choice
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package directions.
In a separate bowl, mix together yeast, olive oil, and slowly pour in some of the boiling noodle water, a tablespoon at a time. For a thicker sauce, add less water, and if you like it thinner, add more water. You can also add in a few splashes of unsweetened nondairy milk and nondairy butter to up the creaminess.
Once the noodles are cooked, drain and toss with the sauce. Season and serve!
Options: You can add steamed and smashed carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, or squash to your sauce mixture. This is especially helpful for kids who don’t eat enough veggies. Simply steam your vegetables until soft, mash and mix with the yeast, oil, and water. Orange foods up the sauce color and add sweetness too. Kids love it.
Spice up your vegan mac and cheese with a few dashes of cumin, paprika, or cayenne pepper (or all three!). Or try adding in some roasted garlic or red chili flakes.
Up the texture and veggie content with steamed peas (I steam them right over the noodles in a mesh strainer) and broccoli. Or saute up some kale or chard and top them onto your mac and cheese.
To turn this recipe into a baked mac and cheese, preheat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Follow directions above, making sure your sauce is on the slightly thinner side so that it doesn't dry out during baking. Oil a 9x13 baking sheet and pour mac and cheese into the dish. Top with breadcrumbs and shredded vegan cheese if you like. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes until brown and crisped on top.
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Image of child with macaroni and cheese via Shutterstock