Have you been told that you can benefit from a dairy free lifestyle? Are you wondering what to eat, what to avoid and how to make the best go at this? I’ve put together this dairy free guide for beginners to help you navigate this brand new life! It includes some of my favorite dairy free products as well as swaps you can make when cooking at home.
Lots of people suffer from dairy intolerance or want to go vegan but just don’t know where to start. If that sounds familiar, I’m gonna share my story for going dairy free and also give you guys tips for doing it yourself!
My doctor told me I was lactose intolerant when I was about 11. I was devastated! The idea of a lifetime without ice cream really bummed me out….priorities, right?
So based on the doctor’s advice I stopped downing cups of milk. I did however continue to eat loads of ice cream, cream sauce and cheese and chose to ignore my body screaming at me to stop the torture.
There was even a time in college when I bought a box of strawberry shortcake ice cream bars and had them for breakfast for a whole week! I’m pretty sure Tim was reconsidering dating me at that point, because that was pretty bad, even for a college kid.
Needless to say I was a dairy (specifically ice cream) addict in need of some serious help. A miracle light bulb went off in my mid-twenties that said “maybe it’s not a good idea to have an upset stomach every day?”. I decided to actually listen to that little voice and I’ve learned to make the best of this dairy free life.
Occasionally, I’ll have dairy but I’ve found so many great substitutes that avoiding it doesn’t feel like as much of a challenge.
The key dairy obstacles I didn’t know how to tackle were: CHEESE, MILK/CREAM, ICE CREAM and CREAMY DIPS/Dressings.
Follow my road map below for navigating all of these popular dairy categories. I promise you won’t taste the difference. In fact you might even prefer the dairy free option or at the very least your stomach will prefer it!
Dairy Free Cheese Options:
- Cheddar: Most people don’t know this but because of the way that cheddar is made, most cheddar is actually lactose free. I love the Cabot “Seriously Sharp” cheddar because it’s exactly as described and melts really well. Their packaging even has a little box on it that says “lactose free”, just in case you had any doubts.
- Cashew cream/”cheese”: If you’re going dairy free for vegan reasons, then cashew “cheese” is the way to go. It’s made from soaked cashews (see pic above) that get strained and pureed. You can add any flavors you like to it. A lot of people like to add nutritional yeast to the pureed cashews to mimic the cheese flavor you know and love. Another option is to add water to the cashews before blending to create a dairy free alfredo or nacho cheese sauce. You can also sub cashew cream for heavy cream or creamy cheese in any recipe, so the possibilities are endless.
- Check out my Dairy free sun-dried tomato and chicken quesadillas recipes for some cashew “cheese” inspo!
- If you want a simple cashew cream recipe, take a look at this five minute cashew cream sauce recipe from Lindsay over at the Pinch of Yum food blog!
Dairy Free Milk/Cream Options:
- Almond milk or Lactose free milk- Great replacements for milk
- Almond milk is a great replacement for whole milk in your oatmeal or cereal. It has a mild earthy flavor and it’s not as watery as other nut milks. I really like unsweetened Califia Farms brand almond milk. Note: There is a common misconception that because it’s nut milk it’s better for you than dairy however you need to look out for additives like gums and extra sugar before buying.
- Lactose Free Milk is great if you just need to avoid lactose rather than dairy altogether. It tastes just like regular milk (because it is!) but I find that it’s a little less chalky. I actually prefer it to regular milk. Lactaid brand is my favorite but a lot of grocery stores have generic versions nowadays. Fun Fact: This is the only milk I use in mac and cheese!
- Coconut milk -Great replacement for heavy cream or whipped cream
- Coconut milk is a great swap for heavy cream in cream sauces. I use it to thicken my curry eggplant recipe and it’s so creamy and delicious you won’t miss the heavy cream
- Full fat coconut milk makes an AMAZING whipped cream! You’ll need to freeze the whole can for a couple hours or overnight and then whip it. Check out the creamy coconut cream peaks on my apple cobbler with oat crust recipe…insane right?
- As with the almond milk look out for additives like gums and extra sugar. Trader Joe’s coconut milk is my favorite because it only contains coconut milk
- Soy milk mixed with lemon juice- Great replacement for buttermilk
- If you squeeze a little lemon juice into soy milk and let it bloom for a few minutes, it makes a thick and tangy buttermilk alternative. I use it in my fluffy blueberry cornmeal pancakes recipes and it adds the perfect texture and zip.
Dairy Free Ice Cream Options:
On to the most important part, am I right? Below are some of my favorite brands and flavors. I’ve tried a lot of ice cream alternatives that just tasted plain weird. These are creamy, rich and indulgent just like regular ice cream.
Dairy Free Creamy Dip/Dressing Options:
- Coconut yogurt: For years I avoided yogurt. My body just couldn’t process it at all. I thought I’d never be able to eat it again but then I found COYO and fell in love. They’re an Australian brand but you can find COYO yogurt in Whole Foods. They make yogurt out of coconut milk! It’s thick like greek yogurt so you can eat it as is or use it like you would sour cream in dips or spreads.
- Tahini or nut butter: Sesame seed butter (tahini) or nut butter (any flavor you like) make great substitutes for mayo or cream in thick dressings. Check out my creamy dreamy almond butter recipe for proof!
These are just some building blocks to navigate the most popular dairy obstacles you might encounter. When going dairy free always be sure to:
- Read product labels: A lot of pre-packaged snacks use powdered dairy that can throw off your stomach
- Don’t think of dairy free living as a loss: While you might be losing cheese, you are gaining a bloat free digestive system and that’s pretty awesome too!
- Look at menus before going to restaurants: If you plan ahead, you won’t have to worry about what to eat when you get there or you can decide on a more accommodating restaurant instead