No Dairy, No Problem: Tips for a Dairy-Free Lifestyle

Dieting has never been a foreign concept for me.

Both my parents and grandfathers are diabetic, and my dad has Crohn’s disease, a chronic bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. Because nutrition and diet were always things that interested me, I did a lot of my own research. Sometime in late high school, vegan diets piqued my interest. The research I found regarding the benefits of a non-meat diet really spoke to me.

I had stopped eating red meat by my sophomore year of high school, and I always wanted to cut meat out completely.Finally, my sophomore year of college, I made the switch, but not completely. I still ate fish and animal products (things like eggs, yogurt, etc.). I always thought I was lactose intolerant so I shied away from dairy as much as possible. But cheese was one of my first loves. About 3 months after going pescatarian, I finally cut out the dairy — and God, was it hard! Especially no cheese, of course. I mean, one of my first words was “cheese.” I’m not kidding, my mom will show you where she wrote it down in my baby book. Not only do I personally love cheese, but being a “vegetarian” at restaurants means your options usually have cheese in them. A Caesar salad mixed with shredded cheese, for example. It definitely hasn’t been an easy journey, but along the way, I’ve learned some tricks that can make cutting out dairy a piece of non-dairy cake.

1. There’s a number of good faux cheeses out there.

My favorites are Daiya, Chao and Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese. Daiya is probably my overall favorite, or at least the one I’ve had for the longest time. It’s not the best cold, but when you melt it, it just tastes magical.I personally don’t notice the difference between Daiya and real cheese, but I’ve heard from others they do taste different. Either way, it’s amazing. Chao is the cheese I would recommend to eat cold. My parents and I love to snack on the Gouda Chao with crackers. The Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese is a new find, and I’m in love with it. The Jewish soul inside me can rest happily because I’ve finally got my bagel game back with this cream cheese substitute! This cream cheese is honestly just as good as the real stuff, in my opinion. 

2. When in doubt, try nutritional yeast.

Nutritional what? Is that like the yeast in bread? I had never heard of nutritional yeast myself until I started following a vegetarian lifestyle. Basically, nutritional yeast is a great substitute for cooking mimic cheese dishes. Macaroni and cheese, chowder, Alfredo sauce — whatever cheese dish you’re trying to make, you can probably make a decent replica using nutritional yeast. Pinterest has plenty of recipes, so search away!

3. There’s a lot of options out there.

This is a run-down of my other favorite non-dairy products for any of my dairy needs. Unsweetened, unflavored almond milk is what I prefer for my smoothies and cereal, as well as for baking. For this I typically use the boxed Almond Breeze. I like this one because you don’t have to refrigerate it until it’s opened, and I think it has a slightly longer shelf life. For milk, I prefer to use unsweetened (if possible) vanilla soy milk. I typically grab Silk’s vanilla soy milk. For coffee, my favorite is Silk’s Vanilla Soy Creamer. And for yogurt, I really like both Silk’s soy yogurt as much as So Delicious’ Dairy Free Coconut Milk Vanilla Yogurt. They’re honestly both great, but Silk’s flavored yogurt, like the strawberry flavor, is great for adding a creamy texture to your smoothies, while also giving a sweet strawberry flavor. And the So Delicious’ yogurt is amazing for yogurt parfaits. Just add some cut up fruit, granola and maybe even some chia seeds, and you have a healthy, easy breakfast. The hint of coconut from the milk is a nice added touch.

Dairy-free sounds much harder than it actually is. Don’t go into it limiting yourself to this new strict lifestyle. Find alternatives, see which ones you like and which ones you don’t. Everyone’s taste buds are different, so just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it’s going to be your favorite. And don’t have the mindset that you’re giving your favorite foods up. Rather, think of how much better you’ll feel and how good these new things will taste. And don’t kick yourself if you slip! I still have cheese every now and then. And I really enjoy it when I do, but don’t dream about having it when I go without it. This is a lifestyle, not a diet.

Just like you make mistakes in life, you can slip what you eat every now and then, too. Have fun exploring the dairy-free life — I know I am.