Living Dairy Free

Some people choose to live without dairy because they physically cannot eat it; it makes them sick. Others choose not to eat dairy because they subscribe to a specific lifestyle, like veganism or the paleo diet. Me? I choose dairy (over and over and over again) because yum. While I have gone short periods of time doing various food cleanses, I always come back to dairy. I have even toyed around with going vegan but my one big hangup is how much I love milk products. Milk in my coffee and tea. Cheese in my eggs. Yogurt for lunch every day. Butter in all of my various baking projects—I can’t get enough.

Flash forward to one month ago when the pediatrician told me it would be a good idea to go off dairy for a while and here we are, dairy free. It has been three weeks since I cut the dairy cord and I. am. grumpy. Before you read any further, let me say this is not a post written by some connoisseur of all the best vegan recipes or someone who has fully embraced the dairy-free life. To be honest, I hate it, and it has left me thinking about food all day long...but seeing as it might be the best thing for my daughter right now, I am committed to giving it the good ol’ college try.

Dahlia’s doctor doesn’t seem to think that she has a dairy allergy or intolerance, but our little one has been having some mild digestive issues, and since dairy is one of the most common food “irritants,” it was the first to go. I’m not so sure Dahlia has gotten any better in the three weeks I have been off of dairy, but that is another story. This post is about how I am surviving (and doing my best to enjoy) life without my beloved dairy products.

I have never experienced any disorders or addictions related to eating, but food makes me happy—genuinely happy. While vacationing once, my cousin remarked at how I seem to plan my days around my meals. I am just not one of those people who eats only for sustenance and nutrition. Sure, I like to eat clean, but I need to enjoy what I am eating or I would rather go without. Being dairy free, and having to avoid most of the little pleasures I work into my regular routine, has forced me to rethink all of my meals. Here’s a rundown of what I’ve been eating on a regular basis in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

  • Breakfast: eggs with sautéed veggies, oatmeal with raisins and nuts, fresh fruit, grapefruit juice, coffee

  • Lunch: toasted whole wheat pita with peanut or almond butter, smoothies

  • Dinner: stirfried veggies and rice, meat and potatoes, vegetable soups

  • Snacks: chips with salsa and guacamole, popcorn (lots and lots of popcorn), fresh fruit and veggies, Kind bars

That’s it. Things are pretty simple and repetitive, but that’s largely because I am in “survival” mode as I adjust to this new lifestyle (and being a mama of two). Eventually, I plan on being more creative with my meals, but for now, this is what I have the time and energy to prepare.

One tip I have is to avoid substitutes, at least in the early stages. Many dairy alternatives are loaded with not-so-great things, but even if you make your own, they just don’t compare to the real thing, in my opinion. Vegan cheese? No, thank you. Almond milk in my cereal? I’ll pass. So far, they have only made me crave milk even more and get down about all the things I can’t eat. For me, the one exception has been coconut milk in my fruit smoothies, but I enjoy that even when I am not excluding dairy.

Rather than stocking up on dairy substitutes and trying to make dairy-free pancakes and other treats, I suggest focusing on the foods you love that are naturally dairy-free. Seafood-based meals and Asian-inspired recipes will often be dairy-free, so that’s a good place to start.

Are you dairy free? What foods do you rely on to stay satisfied (both physically and emotionally)? Let me know in comments!

Jenna is a writer, educator, wife, and mama living in Colorado with her husband and two children. She founded American Ingenue as a personal blog in 2008 after losing her mother to breast cancer, using the forum as a reminder to live life to the fullest. Jenna loves cooking, dreaming, and adventuring with her family. She has been inspired to share her experiences with others as she navigates this crazy life and strives to have "it all."