Food for the soul: Macaroni & cheese

February 5, 2021 Providence Nutrition Team

At Providence in Southern California, the Diversity & Inclusion program and Black Caregiver Resource Group are just a couple of ways we’re supporting diversity and inclusion efforts and empowering people to get involved when it comes to social issues and health disparities. The Providence Diversity & Inclusion program and the Black Caregiver Resource Group help drive racial equity at Providence by amplifying the voice of Black caregivers and supporting them throughout their careers.

The humble beginnings of soul food

This month is Black History Month — an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. With that in mind, we’re shining a light on soul food. But first — what is soul food, exactly? It originated with foods that were given to enslaved West Africans on southern plantations during the American colonial period. Now closely associated with cuisine of the American South, soul food is something that the Black community holds close to its heart. Like the feeling of going to Grandma’s house on Sunday after church, the smell of these classic dishes brings families together around the table and creates unity within the home.

To help you bring a little soul food to your tables, Providence chefs Joy Cantrell and Luis Castro have created some healthier alternatives to one of the most beloved dishes — macaroni & cheese.

Vegan macaroni & “cheese”


16 ounces dried elbow macaroni

½ cup raw cashews

1 cup potato, peeled and diced small

1 cup carrots, diced small

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

¾ cup vegetable broth, low sodium

¾ teaspoon granulated onion

1 to 2 teaspoons of salt (taste after 1 teaspoon)

½ teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

2 ½ tablespoons tapioca flour

2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons vegan butter

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced



  1. Salt water and bring to a boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Boil the cashews, potatoes, and carrots for about 9 minutes (until tender). Drain and set aside.
  3. Place all ingredients (except the vegan butter and garlic) in a blender or food processor. Blend until the potatoes, carrots and cashews are smooth. Set aside.
  4. Heat up vegan butter in a large pot. When the butter melts, add garlic and sauté for 45 to 60 seconds until golden, not brown.
  5. Pour the “cheese” sauce into the garlic butter mix. Heat up, stirring constantly.
  6. Add pasta, toss to coat, and serve immediately.

Note: You can make this recipe gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta.

Tip: To make this extra delicious, mix 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegan butter with 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs and a dash of paprika for color. Place mac & cheese in baking dish, top with panko topping and bake until topping is crisp and brown.

Nutritional value (based on 6 servings):

418 calories, 9 grams fat, 46 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 445 mg sodium

Southern-style macaroni & cheese


16 ounces dried elbow macaroni

½ cup butter

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup milk

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon mustard powder

1 to 2 teaspoons of salt (taste after 1 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons onion powder

½ teaspoon paprika

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons flour to thicken sauce, as needed


  1. Salt water and bring to a boil. Add elbow macaroni and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Warm the milk and heavy cream in a large pot. 
  3. Add the butter, stirring until it is dissolved into the milk and cream mixture.
  4. Add the seasonings. Add flour as needed to thicken the milk/spice/butter sauce.
  5. While still warm, turn off heat and stir in both shredded cheeses.
  6. Remove from the stove.
  7. Add pasta, toss to coat, and serve immediately.

Note:  For an extra crunch, make the crumb topping. To do this, combine 3 cups panko breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and a dash of paprika. Place macaroni and cheese in a baking dish and spread the panko mixture on top. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until topping is golden and edges are bubbly. 

Nutritional value (based on 6 servings):

901 calories, 46 grams fat, 84 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 1,019 mg sodium

Good smells and good songs

As slavery settled into the entrenched “peculiar institution” in the South, slaves used music to ease the drudgery of their lives, and sometimes to send messages. Christianization brought the onset of spirituals, and gospel music is still very important to the Black community today.

Music played a central role in the Black civil rights struggles of the 20th century and was often associated with political activism. Lyrics brought to light the roles that music and musicians played in movements for equality and justice.

The music by the artists below feature sounds and rhythms you might hear today in Black families’ homes. These songs paired with good smells of soul food dishes often remind us of another place and time in our lives. Food and music evoke good memories for many of us. We suggest listening to songs by:

  • Diana Ross
  • Al Green
  • Sam Cooke
  • The Temptations
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Gladys Knight & Pip’s

Join us in creating some of your own special memories by creating one of these recipes. Share your finished dishes with us! #Providence #FoodiesForTheSoul


Meet the chefs

Joy Cantrell is an executive chef and food production manager at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center Burbank. Prior to joining Providence 15 years ago, Joy was the director of operations for the catering division at Warner Music Group and has also owned her own catering company. Joy is also on the culinary board of directors at Los Angeles Mission College and is a Providence Mission Spirit awardee. Fun Fact: Joy was born at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center Burbank.

Luis Castro is a cook at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center Burbank, who will be celebrating his 12th year work anniversary in July. Luis oversees the Meals to Go program in addition to managing catering at Providence. Luis attributes his passion for cooking to his father who’s an executive chef at a reputable hospital.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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