Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Vegan copycat Panera mac and cheese is going to be your new obsession and you won’t believe it’s vegan – it’s THAT delicious and so indulgent. If you’ve ever been to Panera, I am sure you have had their signature white cheddar mac and cheese. It’s creamy, decadent, and total comfort food. Before I went plant-based, I used to love Panera’s mac and cheese, however, since it has dairy, I don’t eat it anymore. I knew everyone would love a vegan version.

Let’s get cooking!

What ingredients will I need for the vegan copycat Panera mac and cheese?

  • boiled or soaked raw cashews
  • nutritional yeast
  • plant-milk: I use macadamia milk
  • garlic powder
  • lemon juice
  • veggie broth
  • dijon mustard
  • vegan butter (optional!)
  • salt + pepper

How do you make vegan copycat Panera mac and cheese?

First, blend all of the ingredients in a high speed blender or food processor if you don’t have powerful enough blender. Blend until creamy and smooth. A trick to getting the mac and cheese sauce smooth is to boil or soak the cashews to soften them, that way it will make them much easier to blend.

While making the sauce, get a pot of water boiling for your pasta! I use shells to keep it authentic to Panera’s mac and cheese. I used chickpea pasta but you can use any kind of shape or pasta you like. I do think the shells work super well though with this dish! Combine the sauce with the pasta then heat on the stove until heated through. It’s optional if you want to add a little vegan butter – it just makes it that much more rich!

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Why macadamia nut milk?

I love macadamia nut milk – it’s easily one of my favorite vegan milks! It’s creamy, nutty, smooth and absolutely delicious. I use the unsweetened one in this recipe. My favorite brand is Milkadamia and I am excited to have teamed up with them on this recipe! Their vegan nut milks are made from raw macadamia nuts that are sustainably farmed (so cool right?!). If you want to read more about their regenerative farming practices, head over to Milkadamia’s website to learn all about it! Milkadamia’s products are all non-GMO, soy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Use the Milkadamia store locator. 

Also, I don’t know about you but I LOVE a company that is earth-friendly and actually cares about our planet and the animals. If you are allergic to nuts or can’t find it in stores near you, use any unsweetened nut milk.

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

What makes this mac and cheese healthier?

Mac and cheese is typically made with a lot of dairy products including heavy cream, milk, butter and cheese, all of which contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer risk, inflammation and a whole host of other issues. This vegan copycat panera mac and cheese is 100% dairy-free! If you’re lactose intolerant or have a severe dairy allergy, you know how dairy can affect your stomach. This recipe is much easier on digestion. It is definitely rich because it’s cashew based but it’s a way healthier version. Nuts in general are a good source of plant-protein! They also have fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Will my non-vegan family and friends enjoy this?

Absolutely! It’s creamy, dreamy, pasta heaven! It’s so indulgent and comforting your friends and family, whether they are plant-based or not, will be begging you for more of this. It is possible to eat plant-based meals that taste incredible. Sometimes plant-based eating gets a bad reputation (I promise it’s not just lettuce and tofu!). The secret is to learn little tricks that make plant-based cooking easy and delicious. This recipe is a great example how to turn cashews into a cheese sauce.

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

A few important tips:

  1. Make sure to combine the sauce with the pasta right after you strain the pasta! If you leave the pasta in the strainer it will clump together and it will make it harder to stir the sauce in.
  2. If the sauce is too thick you can add a bit more plant-milk to thin it out.
  3. Store this in the fridge for up to 4 days.
  4. Make sure to boil or soak the cashews ahead of time so that they blend more easily.

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

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Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Vegan Copycat Panera Mac and Cheese

Veganized version of Panera's white cheddar mac and cheese. This is creamy, 100% dairy-free, plant-based, gluten-free and oil-free optional.
serving 4 servings
prep time 5 minutes
cook time 10 minutes
total time 15 minutes

the ingredients

  • 12 oz shell pasta
  • 1.5 cups raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup macadamia milk I use Milkadamia
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup veggie broth
  • 1/2 lemon juiced
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp vegan butter optional I use Milkadamia


  • Boil cashews for 5 minutes to soften. Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth.
  • Make pasta then strain. Add pasta back into the pot and combine with the mac and cheese sauce. Stir on medium until heated through.
  • Serve and enjoy!

Danielle Brown

Hi! I’m Danielle Brown, the face behind HealthyGirl Kitchen! I share easy, approachable plant-based recipes that are not only healthy but taste amazing. Follow me on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook for free vegan meal ideas, recipes and healthygirl tips.

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  1. Ben says:

    This was delicious. It tastes more like an Alfredo sauce to me. Maybe I needed to put more nutritional yeast in it but this is definitely a keeper.5 stars

  2. 5/5 says:

    Super hearty and flavorful.5 stars

  3. LKD says:

    This is great! I just made it for dinner tonight with some peas. It is absolutely delicious and comes together so quickly and easily.5 stars

  4. Diane Peterson says:

    Any substitution for cashews?

    1. Danielle Brown says:

      macadamia nuts!

  5. Hunter says:

    Sauce tastes so good. The texture isn’t as fine to me as it looks in your photos. I have a ninja professional 1500 watt machine, using the food processor. The cashews didn’t seem to get blended too well I guess.

    1. Hunter says:

      I transferred it from my food processor to blender and it was night and day difference. I re-read your notes on using the blender as a preferred, but food processor if one doesn’t have a blender.
      Great stuff. This will be our Mac N Cheese dish for 4th of July…hoping the Omnivores of my extended family enjoy it 🙂

  6. Danielle says:

    Is this 3/4 cups milk or 3 or 4 cups?
    I made it to 3/4 and it isn’t creamy! But still tastes great 😅

  7. Laurie Edwards says:

    I used oat milk, because it is what I had. It is delicious!! One key, keep blending until it is smooth! Thank you!!5 stars

  8. Kathy says:

    Would this be okay to make and then freeze to be warmed up as a meal to take to someone?

    1. Taylor From HealthyGirl Kitchen says:

      I have never tried freezing it and then defrosting. It will taste best if made same day or day before and warmed day of.