Plant-Based Mac and Cheese with Broccoli (Low Fat)

by Alena
Apr 23, 2020
two bowls of vegan mac and cheese with broccoli standing on the counter
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Any day is a good day for pasta – especially if that means comforting and secretly healthy plant-based mac and cheese. Low in fat and made with carrots, cashews and some nutritional yeast, it’s certainly different from the boxed version, but not a teeny bit less delicious.

Can we just all agree that macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food? Unfortunately, like most traditional, rich comfort meals, mac and cheese can leave you feeling kinda “bleh” afterward.

Luckily, we gave our plant-based macaroni and cheese a major upgrade in the health department. Say hello to creamy “no cheese” mac and cheese!

Zero dairy is involved, and every single component is a carefully-chosen, affordable and accessible pantry staple that helps to create a really delicious and super nutritious dinner!

This tender pasta tossed in creamy sauce and served with crunchy broccoli is a great vegan beginner recipe and perfect for anyone curious about a plant-based diet. It definitely deserves a spot in your kid-friendly recipe rotation!

Our vegan broccoli mac and cheese is the perfect exemplification of the fact that you can still eat your childhood favorites on a vegan diet – even as a much healthier whole food plant-based version.

First things first: this recipe isn’t going to give you the super-rich “melted cheese and crispy cracker topping” experience you might be used to.

Our plant-based mac and cheese is intentionally made with only a few budget-friendly staple foods, low in fat and high in nutrients.

Don’t get us wrong – there are plenty of decadent and convenient vegan mac and cheese options out there, including recipes made with vegetable oils, margarine or store-bought vegan cheese for the ultimate comfort food experience. 

We’re really grateful that tasty vegan convenience food like Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac exists because we’re all for cruelty-free food!

However, for our version, we wanted to make things a little healthier. That means low fat, plenty of veggies and, as always, it’s completely oil-free!

plate of broccoli florets along with cooked vegan pasta and dairy-free cheese sauce on a table

Images by Logan Ink

Vegan vs Whole Food Plant-Based

Since there are so many health benefits associated with a whole food plant-based diet, we always try to keep our recipes as wholesome as possible.

This means we choose healthy ingredients like whole wheat pasta and cashews in place of refined flour and vegan butter or cheese. That way, we’re getting the best of both worlds – flavor and health.

If you want to know the difference between a vegan diet and a whole food plant-based diet, the different versions of this recipe really exemplify it.

Full WFPB Diet Guide

You’ve still got pasta and veggies coated in a decadent, velvety cheese sauce, which makes for a dish that is salty, umami, and everything that’s good in the world – just without the refined ingredients.

Kids love it, non-vegan friends we’ve served this to love it – because who could say no to a bowl of creamy and flavorful pasta? 

Let’s see why you should try this silky smooth tangy and savory pasta dish!

Why This Is the Best Plant-Based Mac and Cheese

  • Creamy vegan pasta without the excess fat
  • Naturally dairy-free & whole food plant-based
  • Easy beginner recipe 
  • Ready in under 30 minutes (almost as fast as boxed!)
  • Totally customizable & great for meal prep
  • High in fiber, protein, Vitamin A, K & B6, copper, magnesium
  • Comparably low in calories but full of yum
  • Kid-friendly and family favorite comfort food

Once you try this mac and cheese, we can promise that you’ll want to make it all the time! It’s just one of those dishes where everyone will ask “That’s vegan?!”

Our homemade plant-based macaroni and cheese is the answer to your good-for-you comfort food and meal prep dreams. This is what makes it the best vegan macaroni and cheese!

1-Week Vegan Meal Prep
carrots, broccoli, potatoes, cashews and whole grain pasta next to a pan on a table

What Is Vegan Mac and Cheese Made Of

Vegan mac and cheese gets its signature flavor from a combination of nutritional yeast, salt and lemon juice. Together with some creamy blended cashews, you can make a really quick and healthy dairy-free cheese sauce at home to be served with your pasta of choice!

Quick note: some pasta varieties can be made with eggs, so make sure to check the label. Here’s what you need to make our plant-based mac and cheese!

  • Pasta – choose whole grain pasta or legume-based pasta for the healthy wfpb option; any shape is fine, we went for fusilli because that’s what we had in our pantry.
  • Broccoli – drenched in our homemade cheese sauce, it won’t taste half bad – even if you’re no brocco-holic! Feel free to omit or swap for peas.
  • Cashews – the whole food plant-based foundation of our dairy-free cheese sauce; make sure to soak them for a few hours if you don’t have a high-speed blender!
  • Potatoes and Carrots – adding more volume and nutrition to the sauce without the extra fat; works great with leftovers.
  • Nutritional Yeast – the cheesy secret ingredient in many vegan sauces! Definitely don’t skip this one.

How to Make Plant-Based Mac and Cheese

To make a plant-based mac and cheese, you first need to pick up some egg-free pasta and cook it according to the package instructions.

In the meantime, you can prepare your plant-based cheese sauce by gathering the ingredients needed and blending them for a few seconds until smooth.

These cheese sauces can be made from an array of plant-based ingredients; many recipes call for nuts but you can also make a low-fat vegan cheese sauce without cashews by choosing solely starch-based ingredients.

You can see how easy it is to make a quick plant-based cheese sauce below – once it’s blended, you can just pour it over your pasta, give it a stir and serve it right away. We like to add a few veggies for a colorful nutritional boost, too!

pasta and broccoli in a white bowl over which plant-based homemade cheese sauce is poured

How to Make Dairy-Free Cheese Sauce

If you want to make your own easy dairy-free cheese sauce, you only need a handful of plant-based ingredients. Most recipes either go the creamy nut-based route, using cashews for their cheese sauce base, or choose a lower fat foundation, such as potatoes, winter squash or cauliflower.

Our recipe combines the two approaches to get the best of both worlds! Note: if you opt for veggies to compose your dairy-free cheese sauce, you need to steam them first.

While you’re at it, throw some onion and garlic into the pot, too! They make for a great flavor-pumping add-in.

Once your veggies have softened, remove them from the stove and add them to the blender along with a plant-based fat source. If you follow our recipe below, this will be soaked and drained cashews.

Make sure you add plenty of nutritional yeast as well as salt and lemon juice to your liking, then blend for a couple of seconds to obtain a smooth sauce.

Tip: If you’re looking for a higher protein cheese sauce recipe, you can follow our white bean-based recipe instead of the one below!

Low-Fat Vegan Cheese Sauce Recipe

Easy vegan cheese sauces, no matter if they are made with potatoes, nuts or beans, go really well with a variety of foods! From toppings for pasta, lasagna bakes, baked potatoes or roasted veggies, or as dips for homemade or store-bought chips, vegan sauces are definitely the way to go!

There are many good reasons to skip dairy for good, but here’s a quick fact you might find interesting: there’s an official allowance of somatic cells and pus in every glass of milk – for the U.S. dairy milk, that means up to 1,120,00 per spoonful.

Calories in Vegan Mac and Cheese

Our whole food plant-based mac and cheese with broccoli is a super satisfying yet “skinny” or low-calorie dinner option.

It’s super comforting and remarkably cheesy despite being low in calories! One serving comes to about 420 calories while offering a good amount of volume and satiety.

For an even lower calorie version, skip the cashews and add some cooked cauliflower to the sauce! Butternut squash also works well if you have it on hand.

If you want to make a richer version, add more plant-based fats like coconut milk to the cheese sauce.

close-up of a bowl with whole food plant-based mac and cheese with broccoli and a spoon

Tips for the Best Plant-Based Mac and Cheese

Although we’ve already shared a couple of tips to make this the best plant-based mac and cheese you’ve ever made, there are a few more tweaks we have to offer!

Jazz up Your Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese

Our healthy plant-based version of mac and cheese is made with whole grain pasta as well as a side of veggies – broccoli, peas or kale work best.

If you want to make the cheese sauce more umami and tangy, add a little bit of mustard and miso paste! You can also make it a bit more golden by adding a pinch of turmeric – it’ll boost the color and nutrition without interfering with the flavor at all.

To make it a really authentic vegan mac and cheese, use some stretchy Daiya cheese shreds or add vegan butter to your cheese sauce. In this case, you can also skip the veggies, go for plain white pasta and get the indulgent melt-in-your-mouth comfort meal of your dreams – which will still be healthier than pretty much any non-vegan mac and cheese!

Full Going Dairy-Free Guide
two dark bowls standing next to each other on a table filled with whole food plant-based mac and cheese

How to Make a Baked Vegan Mac and Cheese

For a baked vegan macaroni and cheese, preheat the oven to 350° F while preparing the pasta and sauce. 

Pour the dairy-free cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, stir, then place the mixture into a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes. 

If you want to add a crunchy topping, sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top before baking! You’ll find the recipe for our baked vegan mac and cheese below.

What to Serve with Vegan Mac and Cheese

Feel free to enjoy this delicious vegan dinner all by itself – but if you’re wondering what goes well with plant-based mac and cheese, here are a few ideas!

  • Simple green side salad or baby spinach salad
  • Baked sweet potato cubes or fries
  • Carrot or broccoli slaw
  • Freshly cooked garlic bread
  • Roasted veggies like broccoli, mushrooms or red pepper
  • White beans or chickpeas stirred into the creamy pasta
  • Steamed green beans or leafy greens
  • Brussels sprouts salad
picture of a bowl with plant-based creamy pasta and the words vegan mac and cheese easy & healthy written above it

Pin this recipe here

Other Creamy Mac and Cheese Recipes

The internet is full of plant-based mac and cheese recipes! Here are some of the best versions you can try if you want to play around with different ideas.

There’s the famous butter squash whole food plant-based mac and cheese by Veggie Inspired, a delicious & healthy baked vegan macaroni and cheese recipe by Plant-Based Cooking, this creamy cauliflower mac and cheese by Nyssa’s Kitchen and finally this vegan mac and cheese with Daiya by The Cheeky Chickpea.

In our opinion, there are never enough plant-based pasta recipes to try!

More Easy Vegan Dinner Recipes

If this plant-based mac and cheese really hit the spot, don’t miss out on our other delicious vegan dinner recipes! Try these next.

Did you try our plant-based mac and cheese? Share with us in the comments below how you liked it, and don’t forget to rate the recipe! You can also Pin it here or tag us on Instagram if you made it – we’d love to see your version.

two bowls of vegan mac and cheese with broccoli standing on the counter

Plant-Based Mac and Cheese with Broccoli

Yield: 3
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Our creamy plant-based mac and cheese is made with a delicious homemade cashew sauce and crunchy broccoli florets! It’s the perfect comfort food for veg-curious people, picky eaters or those with food intolerances. Using simple ingredients like potatoes, carrots and nutritional yeast, it’s low in fat, healthy and really approachable. This kid-friendly dinner is ready in under 30 minutes!

Ingredients

  • 7 oz dry whole-grain macaroni (200 g)
  • 7 oz broccoli florets (200 g)

Cheese Sauce

  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, cooked and chopped
  • ½ medium-sized carrot, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup cashews, soaked for at least 30 minutes (65 g)
  • ¾ cup water (180 ml)
  • ¼ cup soy milk (60 ml)
  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • dash of paprika
  • dash of cayenne

Instructions

  1. Get a medium-sized pot and cook your pasta according to package instructions. 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli florets.
  2. Once the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is soft with a little crunch, drain and set aside.

Make the Cheese Sauce

  1. While the pasta is cooking, heat a small pot over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and carrot. 
  2. Sautée in some water or vegetable broth until they have softened, then add the cooked potatoes to warm them up for a few minutes.
  3. Now, place all of the ingredients for the easy vegan cheese sauce into a high-speed blender jar and blend until smooth.

    Assemble the Pasta

    1. Transfer the cooked and drained pasta and broccoli into a large bowl and add all of the tasty cheese sauce on top.
    2. Mix everything with a spoon to distribute evenly so all of the pasta is coated with some sauce. Enjoy warm!
    3. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container and taste even better the next day. Eat the mac and cheese over the next 3-4 days. This recipe also freezes well.

    Notes

    • You can replace soy milk with any other plant-based milk.
    • Try to soak the cashews for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, go for overnight soaking.
    • Any kind of pasta will work for this recipe; whole grain, white, gluten-free or legume-based.
    • You can use frozen broccoli instead of fresh!
    • Instead of cashews, you can use blanched almonds. If you don't have a good blender, feel free to add some almond or cashew butter to the potato mixture.
    • To make the sauce creamier, add more plant-based fats like coconut milk, tahini or nuts.
    • If you're allergic to nuts, simply omit them or use seed-based butter instead.
    • If you want this dish to be lower in calories and more weight-loss friendly, you can skip the cashews entirely.
    • You can add some white beans to the sauce, replacing some or even all of the potatoes, to make this meal higher in plant-based protein.
    • If you or your family isn't keen on the broccoli, choose another vegetable like kale or peas, or omit entirely.
    • Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. This plant-based mac and cheese also freezes well.

    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 3 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 426Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 987mgCarbohydrates: 65gFiber: 10gSugar: 6gProtein: 18g

    Did you make this recipe?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

    Alena enjoying a bowl of fresh plant-based food and coffe in a restaurant
    Alena Schowalter is a Certified Vegan Nutritionist (CPD) who has been a vegetarian since childhood and vegan since 2012. Together with her husband, she founded nutriciously in 2015 and has been guiding thousands of people through different transition stages towards a healthy plant-based diet. She’s received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy and social work. Alena enjoys discussions around vegan ethics, walks through nature and creating new recipes.
    dark grey spotted bowl with a variety of vegetables next to small bottle of green smoothie isolated on light background

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    62 thoughts on “Plant-Based Mac and Cheese with Broccoli (Low Fat)”

    1. I just finished making this with walnuts (didn’t have cashews). Sauce consistency is amazing! Very good protein main dish with pea pasta. I’ll try cashews next time and see if there is a major change in flavor. Good stuff!

      Reply
    2. Great recipe! We love this sauce on baked potatoes with chives from the garden! We added a little turmeric for flavor, anti inflammatory properties and of course, color!
      Beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
    3. I made this today for my kids and I. They really liked it! I’m new to the plant-based diet (only a week in) but I already feel amazing! This recipe was easy enough, though I couldn’t get the consistency very smooth. I think next time I’ll blend the cashews separately and see if that helps. It’s definitely going to be a staple for us! Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
      • Hey Jessica, that’s so wonderful to know! Thanks for the feedback :) Yeah, you truly need a high-speed blender for the cashews. Did you soak them prior to blending for an hour or so?
        Really happy to hear you discovered a new staple for the family! Makes me want to create more such recipes.
        Best wishes,
        Alena

        Reply
    4. I’m planning to make this amazing sounding pasta dish and wondered if it’s suitable for freezing.
      Thank you so much.
      Sue.

      Reply
      • Sounds great, Susan! I haven’t tried freezing it before but wouldn’t know why that should be a bad idea :) Seems like you’re more experienced in this regard, would you like to let us know whether that works?
        In any case, enjoy the pasta x

        Reply
    5. This is amazing! I am new to plant-based eating and it has been a hard adjustment for my children. This recipe is just what I needed to show them they don’t have to give up their favorite foods. Thank you so much for posting!

      Reply
      • so happy to read that, Amber! You’re exactly right, just tweaking old favorites and preparing healthier versions is a great way to change someone’s diet for the better :) Really glad they liked it x

        Reply
    6. If you cook the broccoli florets with the pasta – the last 3 minutes – it will save you some time. Just throw them in with the pasta and when the pasta is done cooking … voila … the broccoli will be ready too.

      Reply
    7. Wow! Made this tonight and my husband had 4 servings. Said he likes it better than regular Mac-n-cheese. I’m a huge Mac-n-cheese afficianodo so I was skeptical. This is an excellent substitute and I’m enjoying not feeling yucky afterwards like I do with the regular version. Thank you!!

      Reply
    8. Thank you so much for the extra notes at the end of the recipe – I have had this recipe open in my browser for weeks waiting to make it and I just never seem to get round to buying cashews…so I am glad I can just leave it out. Going to try your suggestion of white beans instead of potatoes too :) Look forward to finding more simple and delicious vegan friendly recipes :D

      Reply
      • Hi Susan,
        yes you can actually! The consistency might be a bit thicker and the sauce would need some thinning out and adjusting with spices to taste again. When you defrost it, leave it on the counter all day so it can slowly come to room temp. Then slowly heat it in the microwave and stir well.
        Hope this helps! Enjoy our recipe – it definitely needs some updating with more information :)
        Best wishes,
        Alena

        Reply
      • great idea, thanks for sharing! Yes, pretty much every soy sauce is vegan. You need to be careful with Asian sauce, though – they often contain fish, oyster or shrimp as a flavoring.

        Reply

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