Moo-ve Over Cheese: Dairy-Free Eating Tips

It’s generally known that a mother sacrifices things for her kids: sleep, time, money, and sanity. I fully expected to give up these things for my sons. What I did not anticipate, was giving up my beloved cheese. Both of my boys were born with a milk and soy protein intolerance (MSPI), which means that to have a breastfeeding relationship, I needed to give up all dairy.

Cue my tears.

My youngest son is now almost 11 months old, and I have been dairy-free since he was two weeks old. Yes, that is correct, I have not had cheese, or milk, or anything creamy and delicious when it comes to cow’s milk in almost a year. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve learned a couple of tricks and tips along the way that have helped me survive being dairy-free.

Tip #1: Check all the food labels.

It is mandatory for food processed in the US to have an allergy label. This means that milk is always listed on these labels. However, some companies are not always the best at cleaning their equipment. This means that sometimes dairy-tainted equipment can be used to make something that is supposed to be dairy-free. Sometimes if you scan to the very bottom of a food label or the bottom of a package, it will warn you that this food may have been made in a factory that also processes dairy (AKA, shared equipment). Depending on your reason for being dairy-free, this may be a reason to not eat that item. Foods that are not processed in the US do not always have these types of labels, so be on the lookout for more obscure ways of dairy being in food, such as anything with the words whey or casein.

Tip #2: You can eat out, but be aware.

Luckily, more and more restaurants are becoming allergy-friendly. This is great for those of us who have an allergy issue but like to eat out on occasion. Most of the major chains have an allergy menu on their websites. This is a great way to scout out a restaurant before going in. Once I didn’t and was stuck with a plain salad with oil and vinegar. It’s also important that when you are out to eat, to speak with the wait staff and confirm a few things. Some things to ask are

  • Do you use butter on your flat grill?
  • Do you use butter on your vegetables?
  • Do you have separate fryers for allergy items?
  • Can they use a separate surface to prepare food to prevent cross-contamination?

If you are ever in doubt, it’s probably better to find somewhere else to eat or to abstain. If you can’t find the information you are looking for online, try calling the restaurant directly. If it’s a chain, sometimes shooting their customer service an email can be a great option to get some quick answers.

Tip #3: Find Alternatives.

I’ve found that once you can’t have something, it’s all you want. Sometimes, you just want what you know. However, when you are abstaining from something for a health reason (or because it makes your kid miserable and you are willing to do anything for them), it’s just simply not a choice to indulge.

I was craving ice cream for the longest time, so finally I gave in and tried some dairy-free ice cream. Turns out, Ben and Jerry’s makes a line of dairy-free ice cream now. Let me just say, it’s amazing! So Delicious is another great product that has not disappointed! It was amazing to find something that was familiar and safe for me to eat.

I also experimented with replacing dairy in recipes. This meant trying soy, cashew, and almond milk in many ways. By experimenting, I could recreate biscuits and gravy, by using cashew milk and vegan butter. It satisfied my urge and it’s now a regular meal in our house. Baking has also been interesting, but I have found that in most recipes, you can swap out milk with coconut milk and butter with vegan butter,  You can hardly tell the difference. I’ve been able to fulfill most of my cravings by being willing to try new, dairy-free options.

Tip #4: Accept that sometimes, there are no alternatives.

The vegan and allergy community try their hardest to introduce alternatives to most things dairy. Yogurt? Great alternatives! It turns out that coconut milk yogurt is delish. Coffee creamer? Vanilla almond milk is fantastic! Cheese? Um, well, about that…no.

Some people are content with vegan cheese. I, however, am not one of those people. I have not found a single alternative that hasn’t made me gag. So, I gave up. I have accepted that there just will never be that substitute in my life. I just avoid anything that should have cheese, or I find a non-cheese alternative that sometimes is enough. For example, I really love something creamy in my taco salad. I used to love cheese or sour cream in my salad, but since that is on the no list, I now use avocado. It gives the illusion of something creamy, even if it’s not quite the same.

I miss cheese. I miss the ease of being able to eat whatever I want.

But really, I’m okay with giving up cheese for a year if it means that my son gets a belly full of healthy milk that won’t wreak havoc with his digestive system. It is a sacrifice I am willing to make and I make it gladly. But, you can bet that I will hold over his head whenever he is in trouble for the rest of his life.

Do you have any tried and true tips when it comes to eating dairy-free?

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  1. I feel your pain! My now 17-month-old is dairy, egg and gluten intolerant. I breastfed her until she was almost a year old with no dairy or egg. You know, I couldn’t even bring myself to try the dairy free cheese! I still try to make at least dinners dairy free so we can all eat the same thing. Puréed cauliflower really does make a great base for a creamy sauce. Nutritional yeast in sauces, meatballs and casserole-type things gives good salty depth of flavor like cheese. Smells absolutely terrible but surprisingly good in places you might have used, say, Parmesan. I thought the best ice creams were cashew-milk-based or coconut-milk-based. The almond milk ice creams were not quite as creamy. Thanks for the past! It was so hard at the beginning.

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