You know you love it: the classic American comfort food: macaroni and cheese. Mmmm…gooey, creamy, salty…makes you hungry just thinking about it, right?
Personally, I wasn’t that huge of a fan until I had the real macaroni and cheese. You know what I’m talking about: the homemade, fat macaroni, lots of fabulous cheese, browned, and crusty-on-top kind. The boxed mac and cheese isn’t the same, obviously (but I’ll be the first to admit it does just fine in a pinch). 😉
Food Allergy Disappointment
When Izzy was first diagnosed with food allergies, this was one of the meals I thought we would never be able to make. I was devastated. What kind of childhood doesn’t have mac and cheese? (Of course, I say that facetiously. I know a great childhood doesn’t require mac & cheese.) 🙂 Frankly, I also lamented that yet another backup dinner idea had gone down the tubes.
Thankfully, we’ve found a few alternatives that have worked well for us. One is a homemade version that I make when I’m feeling okay about dirtying pans. The others are no-fail microwave or ready-made stove top options for those nights when time or energy is running low. Just for kicks, I’ve also provided some links to other alternatives. Without further ado…here they are!
Stovetop Homemade Macaroni and “Cheese”
For those of you who just can’t bring yourself to use anything boxed, processed, pre-cooked or frozen, try this recipe I adapted slightly from this vegan website (I halved the recipe since I’m usually just making this for my oldest, and I substituted a couple ingredients that better fit our multiple-food-allergy situation):
2 cups Daiya cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups uncooked macaroni (we use quinoa or quinoa/brown rice blend pastas at our house, because we like the taste better)
4 tablespoons margarine (we like the Earth Balance soy-free, dairy-free sticks for baking & cooking)
12 oz plain unsweetened coconut milk (you can substitute whatever milk alternative you need for your situation)
For the “cheese” sauce:
- Bring the coconut milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
- Mix in the margarine, reduce the heat to medium, and stir until melted.
- Add the “cheese” shreds, stirring gently until they melt completely and make a creamy cheese sauce. (Optional: season to taste with salt, pepper (we like white pepper), onion or garlic. If a thicker sauce is your desire, stir in a pinch of corn starch.)
- Reduce the heat to low and stir every few minutes.
For the pasta:
- In a deep skillet or wide, shallow sauce pan, cook the pasta according to the directions provided on the package.
- Stop when about 90% done and drain, leaving a little hot water with the pasta. (This will mostly cook down as you continue to heat the pasta.)
Combine the two!
- Mix the cheese sauce into the pasta, stirring well.
- On medium low heat, let the pasta continue to cook, until it’s the desired consistency. Stir constantly during this last step so that none of the pasta or cheese sticks to the pan.
Amy’s Gluten Free/Dairy Free Rice Mac & Cheeze
When you need to pop something in microwave to eat and run, or when it’s Friday night and you’re going to let everyone eat in the living room during the family movie (ahem), make this!
We’ve been so impressed with the few Amy’s products that we’ve tried. They are delicious, safe for our specific multiple food allergies, and fairly affordable. Izzy LOVES this stuff. A box of Amy’s Rice Mac & Cheeze usually costs around $3.69 at the big box grocers in our area. So…not super cheap for a small dish of mac and cheese, but the portion size is great for my seven year old, and it’s a lower-cost option than a fast food meal on a busy day. I’ll be honest: I keep a couple of these in my freezer for those crazy nights that come up every once in a while.
*Note: when purchasing, be sure to get Amy’s Rice Mac & Cheeze and not the Amy’s Rice Mac & Cheese. Amy’s does make products with traditional dairy cheese, so you need to read their packages carefully! Products that are dairy-free (and not just gluten-free), are usually labeled with the moniker “cheeze.”
Daiya Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac
Of course, all you food-allergy folks are probably familiar with Daiya products. 🙂 What would we do without them?!?!? This company makes excellent allergen-free alternatives for all kinds of milk-based items: cream cheese, cheese, yogurt, etc. When we first saw the boxed mac and cheese mix, we had to try it. Around here, it costs a bit more than Amy’s: more in the $4 to $6 range.
The box comes with the pasta and a ready-made cheese sauce to pour over the noodles. While the dish was very easy to make, it did dirty a pan, so you will have at least one dish to wash. 😉 While the sauce was very creamy and cheesy, it was also pretty salty. Unfortunately, many allergy-free food products do have either a lot of sugar or salt to make up flavor, but I personally felt Daiya’s mac and cheese mix was a bit too sodium rich. Izzy did say that she loved it, but she didn’t eat as much as normal and wasn’t that interested in leftovers, which usually indicates it wasn’t the biggest hit.
Overall, the Daiya box was easy and decent, but Amy’s beats it out on price, convenience, and taste.
So there you have it: our top three allergy-free macaroni and cheese options!
There are a ton of recipes out there on the internet, and a few new products have been popping up in the stores lately, as well. Here are some other options that have caught our eye. We haven’t tried these yet, but maybe you’ll be interested in giving them a whirl. If you test them out, let us know what you think!
- Earth Balance Mac & Cheese, Vegan Cheddar – We love this company, but unfortunately this is made with traditional wheat pasta. If wheat is not an allergen you need to avoid, you may want to try this product.
- Dairy Free Mac & Cheese (Gluten Free Vegan) – This is a homemade recipe from one of my recommended blogs. She uses carrots instead of cheese substitute to get the same effect! We haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds intriguing. I’ve seen other recipes that use veggies in place of the cheese, but they usually use a blend of vegetables (and to be honest, when I’m thinking mac and cheese for dinner, I’m usually not wanting to go through a lengthy preparation process).
- Pumpkin Mac & Cheese – Pumpkin? I know. Crazy right? But this recipe is from one of our go-to recipe blogs for allergy-friendly stuff, and almost every single recipe we’ve tried from here has been delicious. Also, her recipes are usually ridiculously simple and easy, which is why we on them so much.
Do you have a favorite recipe or allergy-free mac and cheese option to share?
*** DISCLAIMER: Please note that every person’s sensitivity to their given allergen(s) varies. Some of the items that I review or use may have been produced in a facility that manufactures other products with certain allergens. The items may also contain ingredients which cannot initially be confirmed as allergy free (such as “natural flavoring”). You should always check with the manufacturer to confirm that you or your children can have their product(s). The products that I review or list are items that I have used and have proven to be safe for my two girls (for wheat, soy, milk, egg, peanut, & tree nuts).***