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

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!

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!

Delicious Vegan Pasta Salad
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 baked 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 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 have been looking for nutritional yeast in my grocery store and cannot seem to find it anywhere. I’ve asked a few workers and they didn’t even know what it was. Do you order it online or is in a part of the store I’m not looking, maybe? I can’t wait to try this!

      Reply
      • This message is for Jenna, you can find (if you live in or around Montreal) the best nutritional yeast (Red star ), at Aliments MERCI. They have four stores plus a warehouse in Montreal-North open to the public, where you can buy in bulk,different quantities and save money. Ps:if your not from around you can reach them by Internet ,and they will deliver a cross Canada… The warehouse phone number is 514-955-7295 .

        Reply
      • I live in Australia and it is labelled as savoury yeast flakes here, not nutritional yeast. So, depending on where you live, it might have a different name. In my experience, nutritional yeast isn’t stocked in general grocery stores, but in health food type stores.

        Reply
      • Hey Jenna,
        we can buy nutritional yeast in many grocery stores here in Germany. I’m glad Elisabeth and Regan helped out regarding the situation in other countries!
        If you cannot get it anywhere near you, consider ordering it on amazon, it’s sometimes even cheaper and you can store it for a long time if you choose to buy it in bulk.
        Where do you come from?

        Reply
      • Cashews blended with water make a super creamy almost milk. They can be blended with and used to dip your toast in French toast. Sounds weird but just try it.

        Reply
      • Hi Dianna,
        yes cashews work well in this recipe. Since there aren’t any truly raw cashews (they were all heated in the process), I’d rather describe them as ‘plain’. Not roasted or salted, just one single ingredient.
        Hope this helps! Let us know if you like the recipe.

        Reply
    2. Thanks everyone! I actually live in Pennsylvania…not the most vegan friendly place. I ordered it on Amazon and I’m making this tomorrow night!

      Reply
    3. Hi! Maybe a silly question, but you say ‘peel cooked potatoes’ but don’t say how you cooked them. Do you bake or steam them or something else first?

      Reply
      • Hey Elena,
        so sorry your comment was somehow lost! Yes it seems like I didn’t mention that you need to cook potatoes first for this recipe. It just says “cooked potatoes” in the ingredients section. You can just steam or bake them, doesn’t really matter. We love making this recipe when we have some leftover potatoes :)
        Hope this helps!
        Warmly,
        Alena

        Reply
    4. when i make vegan mac n cheese – BOIL potatoes, carrots & onions until tender then drop them in the blender. cashews should soak for and hour or two s well. ALSO if you are in PA (me too) you should be able to find Nutrional Yeast aka Nooch at Giant Eagle and Whole Foods. i get mine in bulk at local Food CoOp. But its definitely at the grocery store… check baking &/or spice isles. ✌?

      Reply
      • It never lasted longer than a day in our household to be honest because it’s just so yummy! I would shoot for 2 days to be safe? But no idea, honestly. Since it doesn’t contain any animal products it can last a little longer. I have batch cooked a similar sauce and have eaten it over the course of 5 days or so.

        Reply
      • Hi Eliza,
        you can use almonds here or just omit them altogether to make them nut-free and lower in fat.
        Hope this helps :)

        Reply
    5. This was DELICIOUS. I was craving Mac n cheese and was very nervous to try a vegan version (we have been eating completely plant based for 7 days and counting) and thus completely hit the spot. Thank you so much!

      Reply
      • Hey Krizia,
        thank you SO MUCH for your feedback! We’re very happy that our recipe resonated so much with you. We’re sometimes nervous to offer vegan dishes to people who aren’t used to them but this Mac N Cheese is usually a hit. Please let me know if I can support you in some way – congrats on the 7 days plant-based!! That’s so awesome.
        Hope this finds you well,
        Alena

        PS: How about joining our free e-course? :)

        Reply
    6. As my first ‘intentional’ vegan recipe, it was a triumph! Even my vegetable-phobe daughter ate (& liked) it! Trying more recipes very soon! Thank you!

      Reply
      • Hi Tracy,
        thanks so much for the amazing feedback! We’re very happy that you and your daughter liked it :) We’re planning on sharing more recipes like these on the blog soon.
        Best wishes,
        Alena

        Reply
    7. This recipe is INCREDIBLE. So good. And so healthy. You won’t believe it’s vegan. Vegan recipes of non-vegan foods are usually disappointing but that’s not the case here. The only thing I would suggest is putting the cashews in with the potatoes, carrot etc so that they soak in some water and get a bit softer and easier to blend. Yay mac n’ cheese!

      Reply
      • Hi Maria,
        so happy you like the recipe! And your suggestion is AMAZING, never thought of that… especially helpful to those who don’t have a highspeed blender like we do.
        Again, so glad you liked it :) Share it with friends and family, make their world a little brighter!
        Best,
        Alena

        Reply
    8. This is by far the most amazing vegan sauce I’ve ever tried. As a lactose-intolerant person, Mac and cheese always meant sickness after, even with lactaid. This is just hands down sinful. There is no way this sauce is healthy… also, I’m new to cooking. This wasn’t difficult to follow at all. I’m so grateful for this recipe, thank you!

      Reply
      • Hi Mikayla,
        we were so happy to read your comment! Thanks sooo much :) Very happy this sauce tasted delicious to you. I know it’s really healthy and you probably don’t miss the tummy ache after a heavy dairy cheese sauce… I love simple recipes as well!
        Thanks again for checking in and feel free to email us for more support.
        Best wishes,
        Alena

        Reply
      • Hi Jenna,
        I haven’t tried it but assume you could even use water instead of the soy milk since the cashews already make the cheeze sauce very creamy :)
        Hope this helped!

        Reply
    9. I have been eating a plant-based diet for 4 months now and have tried what feels like thousands of cheese sauce recipes. I’m always so hopeful, but ultimately disappointed – UNTIL NOW. I was skeptical when I read the recipe because it’s just similar enough to the other recipes that i’ve tried, that I thought the results would be the same, but this is the most cheese-like sauce! Right away I took a 1/2 cup and mixed it with my favorite salsa and it was an amazing queso! I’m looking forward to making broccoli cheese soup with it, too – thanks so much! (My only changes were to use mild flavor coconut milk and also cooked the potatoes and cashews with the other ingredients in step 1. )

      Reply
      • Wow, that’s an AMAZING feedback! Thank you so, so much for leaving that comment, we had no idea that this recipe could excite you so much, haha :) Guess we’re just so used to the flavor by now. So happy to know that this has been a game changer! Curious to see how else the sauce can be used :)
        Thank you so much for everything, keep sharing if you like x

        Reply
    10. My 3-year-old grandson is visiting for the week. I prepared the recipe with orzo pasta and broccoli. He LOVES it. Thank you for sharing. This is definitely a keeper.

      Reply
      • Hi Lisa,
        thanks so much for sharing! We’re so happy to hear that the little one is enjoying this recipe – what a great, delicious way to eat more whole plant-based foods :)
        Hope other readers will be inspired by your words!
        Warmly,
        Alena

        Reply
    11. SO GOOD! Any recommendations for rehearing? Had some left over last night. Brought it for lunch today and it’s still yummy but not quite cheesy.

      Reply
      • Sorry to not have seen your comment any sooner! Definitely add some salt and nutritional yeast when reheating for a stronger cheese flavor :)
        Glad you like the recipe x

        Reply
    12. Hi! I wanted to know if instead of using raw cashews, would the sauce still work/taste good if I add in cashew cheeze to the blend? Looking forward to making it this week!

      Reply
      • Hey Maria,
        actually never tried it with actual cashew cheeze! Have you by now? I can imagine that you just have to adjust the other ingredients for the taste and consistency but it should overall be fine :)
        Looking forward to your feedback!

        Reply
    13. I’m new to cooking. My mom would always just shoo us out of the kitchen. So I’m not sure what cooked potatoes means. In the oven? How long? What temp? I need instructions ?

      Reply
      • Hey Melissa,
        sorry for the late reply. We cook our potatoes in a small pot on the stove, cutting it in 1-inch pieces and covering with water, letting it boil for a bit, until soft. Hope this helps :)
        Best wishes,
        Alena

        PS: I’m sure you can use baked potato here too, it just shouldn’t be raw.

        Reply

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