So maybe you’ve been toying around with the idea of giving up dairy for a while. You know you need to give it up – it’s causing you or your family health issues (see why I gave up dairy). You have started to research how to go dairy-free, so you can learn what to look for on labels and how to navigate the grocery store. You can even plan meals with the best of them. What’s holding you back? It’s that emotional tie. Those dairy-full food favorites – ice cream, yogurt, milk, butter, and the most common – cheese.
What will you do without cheese?!
I’m here to tell you – you can live without cheese. Not only live, but you can thoroughly enjoy your meals, and not feel like you’re missing a thing.
I received some great feedback from some of you last week on my How To Go Dairy-Free post. One commenter, Alisa, shared:
“The words of advice I always offer to newbies are: Focus on the foods you CAN eat. Stop worrying about what you are ‘missing out on.’ and focus on all that you can enjoy. Dairy is just one, single, component.”
Such excellent advice, and so true. Dairy is just one single component in a diet. There are so many other delicious foods available out there that you can work to incorporate into your diet, and your meals can be much more exciting and nutritious! This time of year, when so much excellent produce is in season, it’s even easier to make bright, flavorful dishes that are naturally dairy-free – but it can be done effortlessly anytime.
How? Rather than relying on butter, cheese and cream to flavor your dishes, think “outside the cow” and try some new spices. Some of my favorite go-to spices are smoked paprika, cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala, and chipotle chile powder. They’re different – not the usual salt and pepper variety – and they add some lovely depth and dimension to a lot of dishes. Make sure you buy fresh spices. Often natural foods groceries will have bulk bins that allow you to buy various quantities of spices at a fraction of the cost at the traditional grocery store, and they’re fresher too. I also love to buy spices at ethnic groceries – the Indian grocer near me always has cumin, and it’s unbelievably fragrant and fresh.
Also, try to incorporate fresh herbs into more of your dishes. Rosemary can really make a roasted chicken sing. Basil and mint make any salad or dressing taste bright and full of summer. Just about anything can benefit from a handful of chopped parsley, and cuisines from Thai to Mexican to Indian cuisine incorporate a lot of cilantro. But don’t stop there – dill, tarragon, oregano, and thyme are all also wonderful additions to many dishes. If you have even the tiniest of spaces, you can grow a few herbs in a pot, allowing you to snip off fresh herbs for any meal. They’re easy to grow, and will save you a ton of money compared to grocery store prices.
Other flavorful condiments and ingredients can elevate the flavor in any dish. I love adding sun-dried tomatoes to casseroles and sauces. Olives add a briny, salty component to dishes that used to benefit from a salty cheese. An easy dairy-free pesto can add a burst of flavor to pasta or chicken salad. And of course, guacamole and avocados add a creaminess and are welcome (in my opinion) just about anytime. Try spreading your favorite nut butter on your (gluten-free) toast or biscuit, or whip up some coconut butter. Add that nut butter to your baked sweet potato – I promise, it’s delicious! And you may find that using a touch of coconut oil on your green beans is your next new craving, and butter is only a distant memory.
When you first go dairy-free, don’t cheat. Many of us have dairy cravings, especially at first. (Did you know sometimes cravings can be a sign of an intolerance?) The first 30 days are the hardest. But rather than give in to your cravings, remind yourself why you are no longer eating dairy (you want to feel well, you want to have energy to work/run/play, etc) and instead seek out an exciting, enticing dairy-free alternative that you will look forward to eating. Those cravings will subside, and you’ll find that your tastebuds will adjust. You might even find your tastes are more receptive to the many flavors of various foods that were previously “covered up” in a layer of cream and cheese. Be sure to plan your meals, and stock up on your favorites, including snacks. Then you can feel satisfied, and even look forward to the next planned meal, rather than wishing you were able to eat something that makes you sick.
While there are many dairy-free products out there intended to substitute for dairy products, take your time introducing them into your diet. The dairy-free milk substitutes shouldn’t be an issue – there is an increasingly wide variety of “milks” made from soy, almond, hemp, rice, oat, coconut, and more, and many are very tasty. I personally love almond milk and coconut milk beverages – and sometimes even make my own almond milks. But as for some of the trickier “substitutes”, such as cheese, give yourself some time to allow your tastebuds to adjust to dairy-free eating. You’ll be more accepting of those substitutes, and will find them pretty tasty and satisfying, if you give it some time before you try them out.
Once you’re over that initial “hump” though, and are interested in trying out some substitutes, you’ll find that most substitutions are fairly easy, not just in simple cooking, but even in baking.
Milk: Almond milk, Rice milk, Soy milk, Coconut milk, Coconut milk beverage, Hemp milk, Oat milk (be sure to check labels for gluten, if you are gluten-free as well)
Cream: Coconut milk (refrigerate can and scoop the hardened cream from the top, leaving the watery part behind), MimicCreme
Butter: Earth Balance buttery sticks or buttery spread, coconut oil, olive oil, ghee (not dairy-free, but it is casein, whey and lactose-free)
Buttermilk: non-dairy milk + vinegar or lemon juice (1 cup of non-dairy milk and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, let sit for 5 minutes)
Sour cream: Coconut cream + vinegar or lemon juice (1 cup of coconut cream and 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, let sit for 5 minutes) or Tofutti sour cream
Whipped cream: Soy whip, whipped coconut cream
In case you can’t deduct from this list, I regularly stock a lot of cashews and cans of coconut milk in my kitchen, just in case I need to whip up any of these ingredients. Honestly, though, on a day-to-day basis, dairy-free alternatives aren’t even used. It’s easiest to simply eat naturally dairy-free. Good to know, however, that these things can still be part of your new and improved, dairy-free diet!
If you are already dairy-free, what dairy-free substitutes do you enjoy? If you’re looking to go dairy-free or are newly dairy-free, but looking for a replacement for your favorite dairy-full food, share! We can all learn from one another as we take this journey towards healthier living together!