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How to Eliminate Dairy From Your Diet: A Practical Guide

I have had to eliminate dairy from my diet and support cutting it from my husband’s diet for health reasons across various stages of our lives. We’re a household that has found out the hard way that dairy seems to be in EVERYTHING.

This guide is our approach based on our experiences. I’m sharing in hopes of helping make the transition easier for anyone who needs to make the change.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. However, I’m a problem-solver and researcher, so I wanted to offer a direct guide for getting started. Eliminating dairy from your diet is difficult, and this article is the starting point for transitioning to a dairy free diet.

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What Main Courses That You Already Cook Are Dairy Free?

Take out a pen and paper and make a list of dairy free meals you already make regularly, then put it on your refrigerator.

For many, that’s spaghetti, hamburgers, anything grilled, lunch meat sandwiches, BLTs, and produce.

For us, spaghetti, sloppy joes, stir fry, and grilled meat was about it in the beginning. 

I promise there are more options, but taking the time to do this exercise will map out where you are so you can start with what you know.

Determine What Dishes You Can Easily Make Dairy Free 

determine-what-dishes-you-can-easily-make-dairy-free

My husband and I tried a meal prep program designed to have a weeknight frozen Instant Pot meal every day for a month. Two recipes were pretty great, and they’ve been added to our favorites.

However, their dairy free options were to just remove cheese from the recipe. Some of these tasted terrible. They weren’t edible to us without cheese, which defeated the purpose. I don’t say it lightly when I say start by removing the dairy from recipes you like and see how it goes. However, I believe it’s worth a try. 

So, start elinimating dairy from your diet by just removing the dairy ingredient(s) and seeing how you like it. Make another list of foods that have a lot of other flavors like tacos, basmati rice and beans, and grilled chicken wraps.

Another thing you can do for these recipes is to look up a few versions online and add any ingredients that your household may enjoy. Search for recipes that use different herbs and spices, etc. I’ve spent a lot of time dissecting recipes and merging multiple recipes to get a better dairy-free recipe. It’s an incredible way to find something new that your family will enjoy, however, that takes a lot of time.

I strongly encourage creating a recipe box to add to as you go. This can be as simple as index cards from the school supplies section and a cheap plastic box to store them in. Bonus: you can get tabs to make sub-sections so you can find them more easily. Then again, if a chic wooden recipe box with tabbed organization is what will keep your attention, do that. I deeply regret not starting a system for capturing our dairy free recipes sooner.

Another place to start is easy recipes to get you through the first two weeks (both warm and cold season options). There are 20 options that are actually easy so you can get your footing without uprooting your life. They’re probably not earth-shattering (especially if you’re at the beginning of cutting cheese out of your diet), but they are easy, flavorful, a little midwestern, and a solid starting point. I’m not going for healthy here, I’m going for easy to make, and delicious to eat.

Cutting dairy may cut a significant amount of cholesterol, calories, and protein from your diet, so sliding in a different direction for a few months while you figure it out is probably validated.

Making non-dairy creamy dishes is an art that’s not easy to master. If you enjoy a cooking challenge, go for it. However, I found that what food bloggers called easy did not fit my definition of easy, so trying to make new recipes too soon and too often was too stressful while we figured out a dairy free diet that worked for us. 

The bright side? Once you haven’t eaten dairy in a while, cheese will taste weird. The first time I ate cheese after months of not eating it, I didn’t like it. The downside is that I started wanting it in subsequent meals the moment I kept eating it.

How to Cut Out Dairy When You Love Cheese

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Cutting dairy from your diet isn’t just hard because of the massive amounts of food that contain dairy. Food just tastes different without cheese taste.

It’s a hard choice to have to change something you’ve always eaten a certain way, especially when friends and family members don’t have the same restrictions and can add cheese whenever they want.

If you have to cut dairy but you love cheese, there’s a certain level of processing you’ll need to do. There’s some work to be done to accept that our restriction doesn’t feel fair. It’s a sad reality for us, but it doesn’t change the fact that we can’t have cheese anymore, or at least not as openly and easily as we used to.

It can help to recognize that meals will be more difficult. It’s an active choice at every meal to say no, even when we don’t want to. One exercise you can do to help is to remind yourself of helpful identity statements, such as “I’m not the kind of person who eats cheese.”

This feels definitive, but that kind of values statement is what will help shift your mindset over time.

Another tool that may help is that if you’re able to have a cheat meal or cheat day occasionally, schedule it in. Pick a day a week or a day a month to eat foods with cheese. As odd as it sounds, if you don’t eat cheese for a month or so, it starts to taste weird and you might find that you don’t enjoy it in the same way anymore.

This can also be sad because you’ll miss the good days when eating cheese was a delight. But if you realize you no longer enjoy cheese, refocus on the foods you currently enjoy and go eat those instead. Find a way to look forward to these foods and incorporate them regularly.

It takes some time for tastes to adjust to not eating dairy. Most food that you’ve cut dairy from will taste a little bland for a bit. With time, some practice using spices, and learning a couple of cooking methods, it gets better. 

Skip the vegan Mac & Cheese for now

It’s tempting to try to recreate family favorites, but at the start, your taste buds will compare these to the real thing. Not to mention fake cheeses are expensive. The money saved by not buying cheese is better spent on convenience or trying new recipes than trying to replace cheese.

Once you haven’t eaten dairy for a while, you can try fake cheese and mock recipes.

Nothing can replace cheese. My household accepted that early on. Every time we tried a new cheese substitute, it tasted chalky and wasn’t at all satisfying. However, we learned about a few spices and sauces that make each dish more flavorful or expanded our cooking options.

Alternative Seasonings

alternative-seasonings

A few special mentions are herbs and spices like onion powder, garlic powder, and gourmet burger seasoning. These seasonings are the next step after salt and pepper to make meals taste more flavorful. They are also easy to learn to work with and easy to season to taste.

Marinating meat before grilling or baking is a surprisingly effective way to make it taste better. It usually only takes about 15 minutes to work. Marinading is not the most cost-effective method, but since it helps us eat in and eat healthier food overall, it’s a win for us.

Nutritional yeast is another seasoning that can assist in eliminating dairy from your diet. Don’t expect it to taste like cheese. It adds a flavor similar to cheese but lacks the texture. Try it on salads, burgers, tacos, or anything else you would sprinkle cheese on. A little bit of nutritional yeast goes a long way.

Finally, figure out which condiments you enjoy that you can have on hand. A popular dairy-free confinement that has a somewhat creamy texture is mayonnaise. Another flavorful option to keep around is Dijon mustard.

Cooking Methods

Learn a couple of cooking methods and ingredients that will make your current favorites delicious without cheese. Sauteeing onions, learning to add minced garlic from the refrigerator, and learning new ways to cook a variety of foods.

Also learn about new foods, such as basmati rice, which has a rich flavor and doesn’t take much to make a surprisingly delicious meal.

Learn How to Read Labels

Learn How to Read Labels

Reading labels is one of the first steps to eliminating dairy from your diet. You’ll spend a few days milling around the grocery store (or order) just trying to sort foods that contain dairy and don’t contain dairy.

Dairy and other allergens won’t be listed at the bottom of every label. If ingredients of common allergies are in the product, the manufacturer may choose to list them in bold at the bottom, which is where I look first. If there’s no section in bold, there could still be dairy in the food so take the time to read the label. 

Most common ingredients that contain dairy: milk, cheese, butter, cream, whey, and casein. This awesome hidden dairy cheat sheet by the site kellymom is a complete reference of the names used for different forms of dairy. It’s even the size of a business card and can fit into your wallet.

Practice reading a few labels in your pantry. You’ll likely notice a range of labels, ingredients, and dairy/non dairy products. Sometimes labels will provide a warning that the product is may contain dairy, which usually means it is made in a factory that makes foods with allergens, such as dairy. Our household still buys these products because the allergy isn’t severe, and we’re not worried about potential traces of milk.

When we first began our dairy free shopping list, I created a pickup order and checked labels online. It can be a pain sometimes, but I didn’t mind. It also helped me monitor how much I was spending and allowed me to save some ideas for later. However, if the label is a list in the product description instead of a photo in the product images, then it can be wrong from time to time.

Ingredients can and do change, so check labels periodically. I personally found it to be a surprisingly easy habit to start. 

This is annoying at first. But it does get easier too. 

Organize Your Kitchen

Organize-Your-Kitchen

While practicing reading labels, make some changes to your kitchen to make it functional for your family. The biggest factor to how you go about this will be how many people in your household are making the change. 

If everyone who uses the kitchen is switching to dairy free, clear every product with dairy out of your kitchen. Either store shelf-stable foods in a box for a short time in case the experiment fails or you open up to cheat days, donate them, give them to a friend, or throw them away. Be ruthless. Now be even more ruthless.

If only one or some household members eliminate dairy from their diet, determine how you want to separate the dairy products. Where possible, group foods with dairy in one place, and non-dairy foods in another.

For example, my daughter eats dairy so we have a container in our refrigerator that has her snacks, some cheese, and anything else that has dairy in it. This way we don’t have to stress about checking labels constantly or be tempted to pull a dairy-riddled snack. We do the same for our pantry and snacks.

Nutritional Changes 

nutritional-changes

Because dairy is in so many things that we consume, eliminating dairy from your diet also reduces the good things that it offers. 

A quick list of things to be aware of in no particular order are protein, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, choline, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin A, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin B12. Reduced protein turned out to be an issue for me, and over time reduced magnesium and zinc were issues for my husband. 

There are a variety of non-dairy milks that are fortified with similar nutrients that milk has or is fortified with. Try them one at a time until you find one you enjoy for everyday things like eating cereal and cooking.

If eating enough nutrition-rich foods is an issue for your household as it sometimes is for us, then start with a multivitamin or a plant-based protein supplement or collagen, and go from there.

More information on how a lactose-free diet will change your nutrition and what you can do to make sure your body is getting what it needs can be found in Nutrition After Dairy.

One strategy that helped me was to set a goal for adding plant-based foods to my diet. A sample goal is to aim for 1/4 of all of my food to be plant-based. This might look like 1/4 of my plate being broccoli, or eating a handful of pistachios before reaching for the chips.

Save Money While Figuring It Out

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I recommend a lot of convenience options to make the transition easier for anyone who is drowning while eliminating dairy from their diet. When we started this journey, I didn’t like to cook in the first place, so not using dairy took away all of the easy meals I made.

However, I believe a convenient dairy free diet can still be budget-friendly, even with paying for some conveniences and supplements. 

If budgeting is a concern, put your grocery list into an online grocery order to see what it comes out to so you’re not surprised. Then decide if you need to pare down or if there are additional convenience items that are worth the cost in order to avoid eating out and excessive strain over food while you figure it out.

Aldi – I personally buy as much of my list as I can from Aldi. They have an abundance of allergy-free options, and with some trial and error, it gets easier to maintain a dairy free diet.

The downside is that I usually still have to shop at other grocery stores to complete my list. Sometimes this puts me over budget anyway, and I would have been better off doing the grocery order. Yet again, it’s a process.

Cheat Meals and Lactose Intolerance Enzymes

Cheat-meals-and-lactose-intolerance-enzymes

We don’t eat 100% dairy free anymore. There have been times when we were, but the less dairy we eat, the better we feel. We occasionally make macaroni and cheese and I keep frozen pizza in the freezer.

When we go out to eat, now that we know lactose intolerance enzymes (pills) work for dairy intolerance and eating out isn’t as difficult as it was. The amount of dairy in the food can still affect my husband’s digestion, but he enjoys himself despite the consequences. 

The enzymes in lactose intolerance capsules help him in the moment. If he only eats one meal with dairy, then he’s usually fine. Over the holidays when most meals have dairy and last for days on end, plus eating out for convenience, he feels pretty crappy at the end of it. Sometimes that feels like starting over, so we do.

The downside to cheat meals is that pesky fact that it fuels the craving. Be diligent about not choosing to eat dairy in the days following cheat meals. 

Eating Out

Eating-Out

A quick note on eating out. The easiest way to avoid dairy while eating out is to Google the allergy menu ahead of time. Restaurant and fast food workers don’t always have the resources or allergen knowledge available to determine if something is dairy free.

The second easiest thing to do is if it’s an option for you, take the lactose intolerance pills if you have any concern about dairy being in the food. While you can order menu items that seem like they would be dairy free, any food that is prepared may be made with a dairy product, so be ready for the repercussions.

Gut health

Again, this is not medical advice, and I am not an expert, so you should consult your doctor if you’re experiencing gut health issues. But I like to research, and when a family member approached me with their (years-long) problem, I tried.

A combination of the following helped them feel better over time from a years-long gut health issue after trying it. It’s not a cure-all, but the following may be a starting point so you can do more research if you’re struggling with gut health issues like inflammation and dairy intolerance.

Topics to research:

  • Vitamins / vitamin powder / liquid vitamins / sea moss
  • Prebiotic
  • Probiotic
  • Various teas
  • Greek yogurt

While Greek yogurt seems counter-intuitive, there are studies showing that the bacteria in Greek yogurt is beneficial and is often tolerated by lactose intolerant individuals. The way it is processed eliminates the majority of the lactose, and probiotics in Greek Yogurt may assist with digesting lactose. Some lactose free options may also be available. We’ve experimented with this, try at your own risk.

FAQs for “How to Eliminate Dairy From Your Diet”

Where do I start when going dairy-free?

When you go dairy free, start by figuring out what meals you already make or eat that are dairy free. Then, look at what dishes, snacks, and condiments you like that will still be good without dairy (think tacos, grilling out, chili, or fried rice instead of casseroles). Slowly add new recipes that are easy and sound good to you. Also, figure out what you can eat at local restaurants ahead of going.

From there, figure out what you can freeze so you have convenient meals available. Try some new seasonings here and there, but avoid fake cheeses until after you haven’t had dairy for at least a few months. Determine if you can have cheat meals/days and what that looks like for you.

What does a no dairy diet look like?

A non-dairy diet consists of foods that don’t contain any dairy products like milk, cheese, butter, lactose, and etc. It may look like your usual diet, just without diary products, or it could eventually work in cheese alternatives. Produce and meats help replenish the nutrients that would have normally been found in dairy products, such as protein, calcium potassium, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin D. Other foods are entirely normal, such as original potato chips, Oreos, and popcorn.

How to cut out dairy when you love cheese?

If you have to cut out dairy when you love cheese, it’s going to be tough. Accepting that not eating cheese is a hard thing to do is part of the process of making the change happen. Focus on the food you currently make that is dairy free or can be easily made without dairy. Don’t try fake cheeses until after you have not had cheese for a while. Learn new, simple ways to season food that makes it taste good. Find non-dairy foods that you enjoy and focus on your excitement for those. Focus on convenience for a while, and make small goals that focus on what you are adding instead of what you are removing.

What to eat when cutting out dairy?

Eliminating diary from your diet still leaves room for a lot of foods, such as oven-roasted meals, grilled meat, an assortment of burritos, various rice bowls, sandwiches, and so much more. What you eat on a dairy free diet depends on your preferences, and is more of a journey than a destination. Create a menu of what you already like that’s dairy free and learn how to make old favorites in new ways where you can. When removing dairy from your diet, it’s important to eat a variety of plant-based foods and meat to replenish the nutrition that would have been found in dairy products.

Conclusion for “How to Eliminate Dairy From Your Diet”

conclusion-for-how-to-eliminate-dairy-from-your-diet

Eliminating dairy from your diet can be a massive challenge, but it can also be an empowering journey with the right mindset. In this guide, I’ve explored various aspects of adopting a dairy-free lifestyle, from determining how to start to navigating temptations and the challenges of dining out.

The key to a successful transition is knowledge and preparation. Familiarize yourself with dairy free meals, experiment with new variations of old recipes, and arm yourself with information about hidden sources of dairy in packaged foods. Make gradual changes where you can and have patience with yourself.

Consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs while avoiding dairy. They can help tailor a dairy-free meal plan that aligns with your health goals and requirements.

Like any dietary transition. it will take time time to adapt and fully feel the benefits as you wean off of dairy. As you move forward on your dairy-free journey, remember that you are not alone. Best of luck on your journey.