Whether you’ve decided to go dairy-free for health reasons, nutritional concerns, or ethical reasons, it can seem like a challenge at first—so many dishes in many cultures rely on dairy, and so many store-bought foods contain any number of dairy products. But, not to fear—it actually can be easier than you think, and, as a result, you’ll end up making and trying so many dishes that you may have never even thought of before. Or even better, you can recreate your favorite dairy foods as dairy-free without sacrificing the taste you've become accustomed to.
Learn the Difference Between Dairy-Free and Non-Dairy
There are so many foods that contain “hidden” dairy products that reading labels can be a frustrating, though important, task to get used to. However, once you’ve learned what to look for, it will get easier. When people new to the dairy-free diet ask for “tricks" when reading labels, we usually suggest that they look for products labeled “vegan,” “dairy-free,” or “pareve” as these will contain no dairy ingredients, whereas products labeled “non-dairy” often still contain milk proteins or other dairy-derived ingredients.
Stock Your Pantry With Dairy-Free Staples
It's important after finding out what does contain dairy to find out the alternatives and dairy-free substitutes that work instead. After you’ve stocked your kitchen with dairy-free pantry staples, learning to prepare your favorite recipes will be a breeze. Find a local grocery or market near you or an online distributor that carries the products you like and keep a small stash on hand so you’ll always have plenty of lactose-free options for you and your family.
Make Dairy-Free Substitutions in Your Favorite Recipes
It's easy to think you'll completely change everything about your diet, but the truth is you will want some of your staple dishes before going dairy-free. Compile a list of recipes for previous favorites and search for dairy-free recipes that will satisfy you. Whether you’re someone who prefers to make all of your dairy-free substitutions yourself or you’d rather find prepared dairy-free substitutes that you can purchase at your local store, keep the same amount on hand that you would have it it was a dairy product you were replacing, so when you're ready to make something you used to love, you won't be in a bind.
Try New Recipes and Restaurants
We humans are stubborn when it comes to changing things as routine as diet, but changing over to a new way of eating is a great way to explore new tastes and flavors that you might not have otherwise. Search for restaurants that feature vegan and dairy-free meals and try them out. Recreate the recipes at home or frequent these places during celebratory or social times. The new exposure will help you stay focused on your new dairy-free diet and give you some choices. It'll also open you up to new recipes to try at home. So, try different international foods or new cooking methods, and you’ll probably end up realizing that you’ve widened your options instead of reducing them.
Keep Easy Dairy-Free Meals and Snacks Available
After finding the best of the best of dairy-free recipes and meals, you may also seek out simple recipes to add to your repertoire. If you're encouraging your family to take part or cooking for a dairy-free kid as well, keeping quick and simple recipes and snacks available is important in not only eating well but also maintaining a positive relationship with food. The goal is to not obsess over this change, but see the good in making the dairy-free switch. Keeping quick meal and snack options that you enjoy on hand is an easy way to avoid feeling “deprived” of foods you love. These homemade dairy-free kids’ snacks are some of my favorites, and several can be made in advance and frozen or stored for a later time. For quick pancakes, waffles, and desserts, these dairy-free baking mixes and dairy-free pancake mixes are easy to find at larger grocers as well as health food stores, and they cut down on some of the time and the mess of making these recipes from scratch.
Find the Right Alt Milk for You
With so many alternative milks on the market, it's actually quite easy to enjoy a plant-based milk with your morning cereal or cup of coffee. Soy and almond milks are readily available at major supermarkets, and oat milk—a favorite among baristas for its creamy texture—is becoming easier to find as well.