The VegNews Guide to Vegan Boxed Mac and Cheese

The VegNews Guide to Vegan Boxed Mac and Cheese

There are a handful of foods the vast majority of North American children grow up with and universally love. Boxed mac and cheese is one of them. For most, this pantry staple came in an iconic blue box and featured the loveable dinosaur mascot, Cheesasaurus Rex, surfing on waves of molten cheese on TV. Mac and cheese from the box was familiar, comforting, and downright delicious. This nostalgia combined with a perfectly engineered food product triggers a fondness and a longing for boxed mac and cheese in vegan adults. 

While the plant-based version of the blue box has yet to reach the States (it’s already a thing in Australia), there are a handful of quality vegan boxed varieties that push those same buttons of satisfaction. The only difference between the dairy-based mac and cheese of your childhood and the vegan options you’ll enjoy today is that you’ll likely eat the entire box. Let’s not kid ourselves—there is no way one box contains two and a half servings. Here are 10 vegan boxed mac and cheese brands that will simply make you happy. 

While true that vegan boxed mac and cheese is free of dairy and the detrimental health effects that come with it (cholesterol, trans fat, and inflammatory properties, among others), this product leans toward the vegan junk food category. Some brands offer gluten-free options and others make concerted efforts to only use clean and/or organic ingredients, but when it comes down to it, mac and cheese does not offer much by way of micronutrients. 

The nutrition label ranges depending on the brand—we saw some calorie counts (prepared) as low as 260 calories per one-cup serving to as high as 410 calories per serving. Similarly, there was a wide range of total fat and protein. Depending on how you prepare your mac and cheese, total fat can be as low as three grams or as high as 14 grams per serving. The protein count varies based on the noodles. Traditional wheat-based noodles tend to be lower in protein—around eight to 12 grams—whereas bean or legume-based gluten-free noodles can boast up to 16 grams of protein. This all fits within the range of dairy-based mac and cheese which weighs in at 360 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein per serving (plus 10 milligrams of cholesterol, which you won’t find in vegan varieties). 

In regards to micronutrients such as fiber, calcium, and iron, vegan boxed mac and cheese isn’t your best source. Again, it depends on the brand, and some do fortify their product with calcium or happen to contain a moderate amount of fiber when using bean-based noodles, but it’s best to supplement the majority of your nutrient needs with whole, plant-based foods. 

Should vegan boxed mac and cheese become a daily habit? Probably not. But plowing through a box every now and then likely won’t derail your health goals when coupled with a relatively whole food, plant-based diet. 

There are purists, and then there are those who get creative. The purists of boxed mac and cheese follow the instructions to a tee—never deviating from the exact amounts of non-dairy milk and butter and never thinking to alter something so perfect with a mix-in. The creatives agree that boxed mac and cheese is a fine food product, but it’s just the start. You can play with the ratios of non-dairy butter and milk. The less milk you add, the thicker the sauce. For a more decadent cheese sauce, swap the plant milk for unsweetened vegan creamer. To amplify the cheesy flavor, the solution is simple: add more vegan cheese. Just be sure to choose a cheese that melts (check our vegan cheese guide here). When it comes to seasoning, try adding freshly cracked black pepper for a play on cacio e pepe or go truly fancy with a drizzle of truffle oil. 

Beyond gussying up the cheese sauce, there are a multitude of mix-ins to consider. Those with a taste for nostalgia will find comfort in the classics: frozen peas, broccoli, or sliced vegan hot dogs. Anyone else’s parents get you to eat your vegetables by serving Mac and Peas or Mac and Trees (broccoli)? It works. Perhaps unsurprisingly, roasted Brussels sprouts and wilted kale also work well with the humble vegan boxed mac and cheese, though it may be more challenging to entice kids to gobble this down. Mac and kale just doesn’t rhyme—it’s not as fun. Meatier mix-ins that bode well with mac and cheese include plant-based chorizo for a spicy kick, ground sausage, and ground beef (remember Hamburger Helper? This last add-in tastes like that). 

Gluten-free or not, this boxed mac and cheese is a tried-and-true favorite. The noodles are made with a blend of lentil flour, white rice, and pea protein which bumps up the protein without feeling grainy as many gluten-free products do. Each humble one-cup serving offers 17 grams of protein (prepared) and a satisfyingly cheesy taste. Flavors come in Classic Cheddar, White Cheddar, and Southwest Style (cheese sauce with taco seasoning).  Find out more

Daiya cheeses can be polarizing, but the brand has reformulated many of its items in recent years to improve on the taste and texture. Whether you’re a fan of the upgrades or not, most can agree that Daiya hit it out of the park with its Deluxe Mac & Cheeze line. The cheese sauce is pre-made—all you do is boil the short noodles and add the pouch of silky vegan cheese. Options include Cheddar, Alfredo, White Cheddar, Meatless Bac’n & Cheddar, and Four Cheese with Herbs. All flavors are gluten-free. Find out more

You’ll have to take a trip to the frozen aisles to find this vegan boxed mac and cheese. With both the Original and Chili Mac, the meal is ready-made for nights when you really need a heat-and-eat dinner. The sauce is delightfully creamy and the Original is pleasantly mild. Toss in a handful of frozen peas while cooking to trigger comforting nostalgia in a snap. Find out more

Not all of us grew up with Kraft mac and cheese. If your parents were the organic, healthy types, you may have been an Annie’s mac and cheese family instead. The company offers several vegan varieties, so you don’t have to switch brands. The plant-based pasta range includes Original Vegan Cheddar (plus a gluten-free version), Organic Vegan Shells & Creamy Sauce, and Red Lentil Spirals with Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Sauce. Honestly speaking, the original is the best of this bunny bunch.  Find out more

This product hasn’t always received stellar reviews, but some swear by it. The Original Ch’eesy uses minimal and fairly clean ingredients compared to its competitors, and the nutrition label reflects that with low saturated fat and a decent amount of protein and fiber (10 and three grams, respectively). Upton’s also offers Ch’eesy Bacon Mac. Both varieties can be made in virtually an instant—just mix, heat, and eat—no additional ingredients required.  Find out more

There’s no need to sneak veggies into your kid’s mac and cheese—this company does it for you. The vegan variety features gluten-free elbow noodles made with organic brown rice, zucchini, carrot, and pea protein, while the sauce contains small amounts of pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, maitake mushrooms, and sunflower seeds. Not to be fooled—there are some less-than-clean ingredients, too, but it’s the first boxed mac we’ve seen with such a varied vegetable blend. Note: this company ships directly to consumers—you won’t find this in store.  Find out more

If you’re already buying Banza, add a box of its Plant-Based Shells & Vegan Cheddar to your cart during your next grocery haul. Made with the same tender chickpea-based, gluten-free Banza pasta, this product gets its cheesy richness from a blend of sweet potatoes, coconut oil, nutritional yeast, and pumpkin (plus a few other ingredients). Like Modern Table, it’s impossible to tell it’s gluten-free.  Find out more

Elbow macaroni is fine, but part of the fun of mac and cheese is the limited-edition shapes. Pastabilities’ vegan range includes a slew of whimsical shapes such as sea creatures, springtime plants, and ruffles. No matter what kind of day you’re having, a piping hot bowl of decadently creamy, dolphin and seahorse-shaped vegan mac will surely elicit a smile.  Find out more

This mac may come in a box, but it’s made for grown-ups. The chef-driven product line emphasizes sophisticated flavors within its creamy cashew-based cheese sauce. Sure, kids will love it, too, but five year olds may not be as impressed with the robust tasting profile. Choose from Sharp Cheddar, Spicy Chipotle, or Roasted Garlic & Herb. Find out more

Amongst the wide range of Follow Your Heart products, there are two varieties of vegan mac and cheese marketed with kids in mind. Each box features vegetables dressed up as superheroes—it’s SuperMac, afterall. The ingredients are organic, relatively clean, and vegetable-focused. Flavors include Cheezy Carrot and Creamy Caulifredo. Don’t have a kid? We won’t judge if you pick up a box or two for yourself—this product is exceptional.  Find out more

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