How to Start a Dairy Free Diet

How to Start a Dairy Free Diet

Time to Read: 8 minutes


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A dairy-free, vegan diet offers tons of health benefits. You’ll be taking in fewer saturated fats. You’ll be packing in more healthy, energy-boosting carbohydrates and fiber.

A vegan diet is even known for helping prevent diseases and dangerous health conditions.

But making the switch to vegan can be a bit overwhelming. So many of the foods that we enjoy at mealtimes, when dining out, snacking, or enjoying a sweet dessert contain dairy, meat, and other non-vegan ingredients.

The most common of these are dairy products. Your morning coffee, your favorite dessert and even most vegetarian dishes are packed with milk, eggs, and cheese.

Learning how to avoid dairy and replace it in your favorite dishes and recipes is the first and most important step for going vegan.

If you’re ready to learn how, keep reading. We’re breaking down the steps you’ll need to take to cut dairy from your diet and go vegan today!

Get to Know Dairy’s Sneaky Hiding Spots

When you’re trying to transition to a dairy free diet, the first step is learning what foods you can’t eat.

There will be plenty of obvious items you’ll need to cut from your diet. But there are also plenty that aren’t so obvious. Many people who are first starting a dairy free diet are surprised to learn just how many foods and recipes contain dairy.

For instance, many types of potato chips that have added flavors contain lactose or other dairy alternatives. The breading on packaged, fried foods like fish sticks and chicken nuggets do as well.

Even seemingly dairy-free products like tomato sauce and tomato soup often contain dairy.

To help you track down sneaky dairy products in your favorite food or recipes, you’ll need to learn a few of the names that manufacturers use to disguise dairy.

Here are just a few of the most popular terms that indicate that a product contains dairy:

  • Casein & caseinates
  • Ammonium caseinate
  • Hydrolysates
  • Lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactate solids
  • Nisin preparation
  • Recaldent
  • Rennet, rennet casein
  • Simplesse

If you want to maintain your dairy free diet, it’s important to get used to reading food labels and watching out for these ingredients.

Start with a Milk Alternative

Once you know what to look out for to start avoiding dairy, it’s time to start looking for ways to replace those items in your diet.

Since milk goes in everything from our morning coffee to your favorite dessert recipe and everything in between, you should start there.

Luckily, there are plenty of milk alternatives for those looking to start a dairy free diet. Coconut milk is one great option. It’s great for coffee and sweet recipes, and even makes a great alternative for soups and oatmeal.

Almond, hemp, and rice milk are also great options.

Get Creative with Your Topping Options

The next type of food that you’ll want to start swapping out for your dairy free diet are toppings.

Think about what you put on your favorite sandwich, your morning bagel or muffin, and even your burger. If you answered mayo, cream cheese or butter, and cheese, it’s time to get creative.

There are plenty of alternatives to dairy toppings that you normally use.

Hummus is a great alternative to mayo and other dairy toppings on sandwiches. Avocado adds a tasty touch to a vegan burger. There are tons of vegan-friendly toppings perfect for your favorite breakfast food, including almond or cashew butter.

You can even get vegan-friendly cheeses that are great for topping your favorite sandwich or for just eating on their own.

Find Something to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Even if you make it through your first few meals of a dairy free diet, the cravings are certain to start sooner or later.

Those cravings usually come in the form of a sweet tooth. If you want to stick to your commitment and continue with your dairy free diet, you’ll need to have a plan in place for when these cravings hit.

Keeping some dairy-free sweets around is a great choice.

Look for a few of your favorite baking recipes, but swap out coconut oil for butter. Make a sweet smoothie with your favorite fruits and a splash of coconut or almond milk.

You can even get creative and whip up your own ice cream by mashing frozen bananas or by using coconut milk instead of cream.

Many grocery stores are beginning to offer more tasty vegan snacks and treats, or at least learning to label items that contain dairy or dairy products.

This makes it easier to shop for sweet snacks at your favorite store, or to find ingredients for whipping up your own sweet treats!

Snack Smarter

Another issue that can derail your dairy free diet is snack time.

So many common snacks have dairy in them in one form or another that finding ones that you can enjoy can seem a little overwhelming at first.

But there are also plenty of tasty snacks that don’t have dairy.

Munch on carrots and celery with hummus in your favorite flavor, like Greek-style or a spicy blend. Air pop popcorn and skip the butter for a quick and simple snack.

Shop for fruit and nut bars or granola bars, and just make sure to check the label for any hidden dairy.

Fruit cups or whole fruit like apples and bananas also make great vegan snacks.

If you work in an office or are planning a full day away from home, it’s a good idea to plan ahead and pack your own snacks.

That way when others around you are eating snacks that contain dairy, or when the cravings start, you’ll have an easy alternative. This will make it much easier to stick to your vegan diet, no matter what you’re doing.

Have a Plan for Eating Out

By creating a shopping list and reading food labels, keeping a dairy free diet at home can be easy. But dining out is a different story.

That doesn’t mean that you need to avoid get-togethers with friends or date-night at your favorite restaurant. By planning ahead of time and knowing a few vegan-friendly restaurant dishes can make it easy to eat out just about anywhere.

Order a salad but swap out ranch or Caesar dressing for oil and vinegar or a vinaigrette. Pasta made with olive oil and topped with veggies is a great choice as well.

Stir fry with rice, veggies, and soy sauce or teriyaki are tasty vegan dishes too.

Beware of dishes that might seem vegan. Creamy soups like chowders and bisques often contain milk or cream.

When you’re dining out at a restaurant that doesn’t offer dishes specifically advertised as being vegan, it’s a good idea to let your server know about your dairy free diet.

Some restaurants use butter for sauteeing veggies or cook meat and other menu items on the same grill. Letting your server know that you’re vegan will allow them to tell you if this is the case, and hopefully, offer alternatives.

Find Your Favorite New Recipe

Now that you know what foods to avoid and which to indulge in, you’re well on your way to enjoying a healthy, dairy free diet. The last step to replacing dairy in your diet is to come up with a few go-to recipes.

If you pack a lunch for work, you’ll need a few tasty recipes that are easy to pack. If you love hosting dinners, you may want a couple of recipes that both vegans and non-vegans can enjoy.

Creating a few recipes and making them your own will make adjusting to a fully-vegan lifestyle much easier.

It’ll help you avoid the stress of trying to plan your first dairy free dinner hosting or potluck. It’ll also help you stick to your diet when your work caters in a non-dairy free lunch.

A few simple go-to recipes for an easy, packable lunch are spiralized veggie noodle salads topped with oil, quinoa, and salads.

For your next potluck or get-together, consider making a spread of different types of hummus and veggies for dipping. Or whip up a tasty vegan recipe for soy meatballs or veggie burgers.

While vegan recipes can seem a bit intimidating, simple meat-free and dairy-free ingredients actually make these recipes easier than many non-vegan ones.

Start Your Dairy Free Diet Today

Switching to a dairy free diet is a healthy, rewarding lifestyle choice.

With so many changes that need to be made to switch to a vegan diet, thinking about taking the leap can seem a bit overwhelming.

But with a little bit of research and planning, you can make the transition much smoother.

Follow the tips on this list to start swapping out common dairy ingredients with vegan-alternatives. Use our advice to learn how to dine out or prepare for a potluck, dinner party, and even just lunch at work.

Choosing to start a dairy free diet is a big decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re still on the fence about whether it’s the right choice for you, check out this list of the ten things you need to know about going vegan.

About the author

Julia Ott
Hi! I'm Julia and I'm a junior developer, vegan recipe inventor, furniture collector and mum to a little boy. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years, and a vegan for 3. I spend all of my spare time visiting farmers markets, searching for antiques at flea markets and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! I co-founded Vegan.io to make the world a better place.

Want to try a vegan diet?

We created a meal planner app to help you! Get your fresh customized meal plan full of delicious, quick, budget friendly, healthy recipes.

GET YOUR MEAL PLAN!