Flavorful Food without Milk

20080604 - Haba play food
A couple of weeks ago I shared how Doug discovered he couldn’t have milk. At first I was a little sad to let go of some of my favorite recipes. We sure do like milk, cheese and butter! It seemed daunting to try a new way of eating, but I eventually discovered new delicious recipes to try. Here are good non-dairy recipes I like, ways to substitute for milk, and more helpful tips for someone who has an allergy or intolerance to milk.

I look for recipes that normally don’t use any kinds of milk, or only require a little substituting. To me these foods taste better than trying to make a traditionally creamy sauce without cream, or cheese cake without cream cheese. There are lots of other fresh foods to try instead!

For dinner:
Especially in the summer, the grill is always a good choice. Try this grilled salmon with soy marinade.  An easy and delicious dinner is Italian baked chicken. Doug gives this one a thumb’s up.

Savory soup:
Look for recipes with a broth or tomato base. I love this Spicy Chicken Soup. For this recipe I omit the extra whole tomatoes and tomato soup, and of course the sour cream garnish. This soup gets Doug’s highest rating, and it freezes beautifully.

Baking bread:
Stay clear from the recipes that include dried milk, because there are plenty of other good bread recipes to choose from. When a bread recipe calls for butter or margarine, I substitute olive oil, and it tastes exactly the same (1 Tablespoon olive oil = 1 Tablespoon butter or margarine). I use a bread machine, and I like this Cranberry Oat Bread (with a little extra cinnamon) or this Light Oat Bread.

Side dishes:
Vegetables taste even better without heavy sauces covering up all that fresh flavor. How about a spinach salad with dried cranberries, sliced apples, and pears, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette? Or a green salad with sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and crumbled bacon. You could try asparagus with a tasty aioli sauce.

Desserts were a little tricky for me, but I often make this apple cake and this carrot cake.  Both use oil instead of butter or shortening. These ginger snaps are so yummy.

Snacks and Party dips:
Most party dips contain some kind of sour cream or cream cheese. Instead of taking a chance, go for the tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole.

Milk Alternatives:
20080604 - Almond milk Almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, and coconut milk are all good options for replacing milk. Among these, Doug’s favorite by far is almond milk. It tastes good, doesn’t have an aftertaste like soy milk, and doesn’t have the extra sweetener of rice milk. The cartons are shelf stable for at least six months, so when my local grocery has it on sale, I buy several cases of it and stock up. Coconut milk is rich and a good substitute for cream in baked goods. It makes the best substitute for milk in pancakes or waffles. Goat’s milk is similar to cow’s milk, so it’s not worth the risk to try it.

Processed foods:
Prepackaged foods are hard to navigate because of the many milk ingredients that can be used as fillers and often don’t look like milk at first glance. A wallet card from FAAN can help identify common allergens while at the grocery store. Gravy mixes are trouble in a packet. Many “dairy-free” products still contain hidden milks, like how soy cheese has casein (a milk protein) so it can resemble cow’s milk cheese. Benecol is a butter-like spread that doesn’t contain milk (use it as a spread, but not for baking). Sara Lee Honey Wheat is a sandwich bread that has no hidden milk. Be sure to check the ingredient list every single time though since products can be reformulated.

Kosher labeling:
20080604 - Parve Do you see that little circled U by itself on the label? That is a trademark for classifying kosher food, and it means the product is certified to be dairy-free. If it has the words Parve or Pareve, that is also dairy-free. If you see a D or DE next to the symbol, however, that indicates the food contains dairy or was made on equipment that processed dairy. (Thanks to my friend Amy Joy for the tips.)

A final note for nutrition:
It’s important to find other sources for the nutrients that milk provides. Eggs, seafood, and cod liver oil are good sources of vitamin D, which helps your body to absorb calcium. Foods with calcium include collard greens, almonds, and even molasses, among many more options. Something that significantly helped Doug was adding probiotics to his dietary supplements. Probiotics are the beneficial micro-organisms your body needs for good digestion, and eating yogurt is one way to add them. Doug couldn’t eat yogurt, but he could add probiotics in supplement form and by drinking kombucha (a fermented tea featured in the book Nourishing Traditions).

Any more tips?  Share your own stories or suggestions in the comments, so we can all benefit from the experience.

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Regarding baking bread…From what I remember of bread machine baking, you wouldn’t have to steer completely clear of recipes that include dried milk. I think they include that to help make the bread a bit healthier. But you can do that by adding something like powdered soy, or just skip that ingredient.

    If I remember right my bread machine recipes wanted to include just a few table spoons of dried milk. I often left it out as my dried milk was the most difficult ingredient to get to and I was lazy. Bread turned out fine.

    Even in bread recipes that call for milk, if I’m short on it I just use water. (Like my favorite sweet breads – they often call for milk.)

    Be glad you don’t have to take out soy too. My daughter, when she was very small, couldn’t have cow’s milk or soy. It was awful. But I learned she could have goat’s milk. Expensive stuff, but it was worth it to help put a few pounds on her. Might want to check out alternatives like goats milk if you need milk, since some milk allergies are just cow’s milk.

  2. This is such great information for family’s that are struggling with these allergies. I am bookmarking it to try that salmon recipe too- thank you so much!

  3. My 2 y/o daughter has food allergies (dairy, eggs, nuts, and lots of tree fruit). We’re pretty lucky she likes veggies, but our biggest problem was finding replacements that made her feel more normal. Calcium fortified rice milk goes nicely in cereals, hot and cold. Soy Garden “Butter” is creamy and the rest of the family doesn’t even miss the real thing. But her favorite is low-sugar frozen fruit ices and sorbets in a cone. They look like ice cream cones, but without the dairy.

    For calcium we give her chew-able supplements and Calcium added rice milk and OJ (we even make freezer pops of the OJ for a double dose). So far she doesn’t seem deprived and is thriving despite her dietary restrictions.

  4. Thanks for this great article. My 9-year-old son is allergic to milk and I’m with you…I gravitate towards dairy-free recipes instead of trying to substitute ingredients.

    I will have to try some of your recipes…especially coconut milk in pancakes. Sounds delish! We have been using Krusteaz Wheat & Honey pancake mix. It doesn’t have milk and you just add water to mix them up so they’re super easy.

    I just posted a strawberry pina colada smoothie recipe you might like!

  5. smallnotebook says:

    Avlor, good to know about the bread experiments. Usually by the time I change the butter and the all-purpose flour, I’m halfway to a completely new recipe! Good thing bread is so adaptable.

    Amy, thanks for the comment, because I’m glad to get to check out all the good stuff on your blog!

    Jasi, I ran out and bought some Soy Garden buttery spread after seeing your comment. It is hard to find a butter substitute without casein. And I was really happy to see that it is not hydrogenated! Love the fruit ice idea too.

    Jessica, the smoothies sound great, and we always have leftover coconut milk to use up. Can’t wait to try them.

  6. My youngest is allergic to dairy and I just weaned him, so for a long time I had to go without, too. A GREAT cheat sheet for common food items that surprisingly do not contain milk are here at I Can’t Believe It’s Vegan: http://www.peta.org/accidentallyVegan/ -not all really good for you foods, but nice to know in a pinch!! We prefer rice milk and use that for everyone in the house. We really stay away from dairy to keep things safe!


  7. smallnotebook says:

    thanks for the link, Steph. That is a really extensive list and nicely organized.

  8. Great article! Can’t wait to try your dairy free carrot cake! My 18 mos. old daughter is allergic to dairy and all nuts. Since I’m nursing, I am on her diet. We’ve discovered Earth Balance natural buttery spread (won the 2008 best taste award). I’ve cooked with it too. We were drinking rice milk, but discovered a brand of soy milk that is my absolute favorite. I even crave it. We buy Trader Joe’s brand soymilk extra. It comes in original, vanilla and chocolate. All 3 are wonderful and require no refrigeration until opened. The chocolate is a little rich for me so I mix it with the original. I use the vanilla flavor to make my own lattes. Yum! My daughter likes it too which is a plus for me. Since it is a store brand, I’m not sure if you have access to it. If you do, give it a try.

  9. We don’t have Trader Joe’s, Terri, but we do have Whole Foods. I have to agree that the store brand rice or soy milk from Whole Foods tastes better than the name brands.

  10. This is wonderful! thanks for the tips! You can also look for anything that says Vegan or certified by the vegan society. Sodelicious by turtle mountain makes a delicious soy ice cream and coconut milk yogurt that are completely dairy free! and soy boy makes a vegan ravioli that taste just like the real cheese but its made with seasoned tofu. These have been some real life savers for me :)

  11. I may be that it is not necessary to give up milk to find relief…only Holstein cows that give us the toxic casein.

  12. A Veterinary in Georgia has found that milk, wheat, rye, barley and soy create health problems because effect of the gluten and casein on the gut and the enzyme in soy that mimics estrogen. His site is Dogtorj.net.

  13. WOW! I will have to come back for some recipes! A year ago I found out I couldn’t have dairy anymore, and you are RIGHT about processed food! Almost everything has some milk ingredient in it. Almond breeze VANILLA has saved me from scratching the homemade pancakes from my diet! I will be back! :)
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  14. Meridith Brokering says:

    I,m a special education aid at a elementary school. One of my 5th graders can’t have milk in any form. She is so thin and not healthy looking. I was hoping I could find something good for her to eat. I give her fruit. She loves it,but I want to make her other things. Thank you for having this on line. I want to make sure I read it correctly , I can give her almond milk?

    • Almond milk does not contain dairy, but if she has allergies I would talk to her mother before giving her any food, no matter how good your intentions are. She may have more allergies.

  15. Oh yeah, so been there. Good too see the casein intolerant coming online but I’m a little concerned that most of you guys are in the US. Do you know where we can get soy & dairy free cheeses, for example, in Australia? Also has anyone had any problems with washing dishes with cheese on it. I share my space with a dairy eater and I am not sure if the casein is peeling off the cheese grater and onto the other dishes. It’s a pain enough to find food and wash things here but that will really tear it. Any tips?

    Also, to the Holstein cows commentator,that breed is most commonly used for milk production but all sources of casein, including goat’s milk are a problem for casein allergies/intolerances. Even casein derived additives to non dairy foods are a problem. One molecule of casein is a problem if ingested, although some people are less sensitive to others.

    Don’t blame the cows, man. Blame the food labelling laws and the lax way that casein, among other things, is added to everything. Surprise surprise, people get sick when weird shit is put in the food, and when every food is so jumbled up that people have difficulty knowing what we eat.