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Can You Use Milk Instead of Cream for Homemade Mac & Cheese?

by Susan Lundman, studioD

Whether you dress it up with lobster or make a quick, stove-top version tossing in a few handfuls of frozen peas, mac and cheese is a popular American comfort food among adults and children. Using milk instead of cream allows you to avoid unnecessary calories and saturated fats, and it won't taste overly rich and heavy.


Not only can you substitute whole milk for the cream in mac and cheese, but you can also substitute low-fat, fat-free or evaporated milk in the same proportions as cream. Some recipes retain the dish's creaminess by using a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt or even cubes of cooked butternut squash to add a gooey texture. Other recipes use milk for 100 percent of the liquid, and some combine milk with chicken stock.

Mac and Cheese Basics

Baked mac and cheese begins with a roux of flour, butter and milk that you then turn into a white sauce with more milk and plenty of shredded cheese. Add the sauce and cooked macaroni to an oven-proof pan, stir it thoroughly and layer buttered breadcrumbs on top to balance the pasta's creaminess. Bake the mixture in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 30 minutes until the breadcrumbs turn golden brown.

Cooking Milk

When using milk instead of cream, it's important to heat the white sauce slowly over medium heat so the milk won't curdle before it thickens. You can boil cream with no consequences, but milk curdles at high temperatures over 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If curdling occurs, the dish becomes grainy and looks unappetizing, with lumpy bits strewn throughout.

Mac and Cheese Tips

The best mac and cheese has noodles that are not overcooked. Remove the noodles from their cooking pot while they are still a bit undercooked, or al dente, because they will continue to cook and absorb liquid once they are in the oven. If you want to add additional ingredients, such as broccoli florets, peas or flaked salmon, pre-cook those items so they will be tender and won't make the mac and cheese runny.

About the Author

Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.

Photo Credits

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