I know many people think going vegan is hard because you have to give up dairy products, which is why I wanted to do a post on the best alternatives (or my favourites, at least). It takes 21 days to change any habit, and that’s just what eating dairy is – a habit! And trust me, you get so accustomed to new products and options that you won’t even remember the time when you used to think, ‘how on earth can I eat something that doesn’t contain dairy?!’
Let’s start with the most important dairy-free option first:
1. Ice cream
There are so many great dairy-free options for ice-cream that I cannot believe I didn’t find them sooner. You have soy, coconut, and almond varieties for ice cream, although coconut in my favourite.
- So Delicious (the makers of coconut milk ice cream) is just that... sooooo delicious! They have everything from ice cream sandwiches to fudge bars...
to tubs of ice cream! (I have yet to find one that I didn’t like.)
- Coconut Bliss: another great brand that offers frozen non-dairy ice creams with coconut milk. They have a wide selection of flavours and similar in price point to So Delicious!
I like to think that sorbet also falls into this category, since it’s also dairy-free and delicious. When dessert options are limited (aka: when I went on a family cruise in December, 2011), I will default to sorbet because it’s available in a lot of places that ice cream is!
I thought giving up butter would be the hardest since I was a huge butter lover (seriously, I snuffed people that called margarine, ‘butter’)…and then Earth Balance entered my life. Never have I met a better butter alternative. I love the organic whipped, and have tried original and the soy-free version, as well.
[Edited to add, February, 2014: Earth Balance also makes coconut oil now, or even if buying another brand coconut oil, is another great alternative to dairy butter! Earth Balance also has other great new butter alternatives to check out!]
It even makes amazing buttercream for cakes and cupcakes, in case you were wondering – so good that even a teenage brother wouldn’t know it was vegan. Just saying ;)
I must admit that when I went vegan, I thought yogurt was out of the question. I didn’t eat a yogurt alternative for the first few months because soy yogurt just didn’t do it for me (although others may love it), and I thought it was the only option available.
Canada is much more limited for dairy-free products compared to the States, just throwing that out there, but So Delicious coconut milk yogurt is in Canada (although not all the non-dairy yogurts they offer are here). I love buying vanilla and adding frozen berries to it, or adding it to smoothies.
A newer option is almond milk yogurt, but I find it much more chunky than coconut milk yogurt and it’s way more expensive. (It’s more of a ‘sale’ or ‘clearance’ item for me, and more of an acquired taste compared with it’s coconut milk friend.)
[Edited to add: February, 2014]
- Yoso: Another great brand we've more recently tried that makes aaaamaaaazing coconut yogurt. The unsweetened version is my absolute favourite (I talk about it more here), and another great dairy-free yogurt option.
The great thing about non-dairy yogurts, are that they still have probiotic cultures in them (from non-dairy sources), so you don't have to worry about not getting that healthy bacteria for your gut!
This is one I consciously try to think about for those who drink milk all the time, seeing as I’m so used to drinking non-dairy milk now, I’m not sure how it would taste to people that drink regular cow’s milk, but get that it’s a really hard change!
- Silk! brand almond milk in ‘unsweetened’ flavour is our 'go to' milk, and they also make a killer dark chocolate milk. They also have the ‘non-GMO’ stamp on their carton, which is why I love it even more.
- Coconut milk (not the canned variety, but one that you find in the refrigerated section in a cartoon, just like almond milk) is climbing up the ranks as a competitor for fridge space in our home! Silk makes a great coconut milk, and unlike the one by So Delicious, it's fortified! (Here is a link to all the milks that Silk makes.)
- Soy milk is a great ‘starter’ non-dairy milk just because it’s more widely available (think places like Starbucks offering it), but make sure you’re only buying organic soymilk. Never would I buy non-organic soymilk, because soybeans are one of the four most genetically modified crops! I’m not saying that to scare you, but just for you to be aware of your choices.
I get that drinking cow’s milk is a tough one, even for me, I started by adding almond milk to my smoothie first, and slowly transitioned off cow’s milk from there. Trust me, in time, almond/soy/rice/hemp/coconut milk with taste just as good, if not better than cow’s milk in your meals and drinks!
[Edited to add: I actually realize HOW different non-dairy milks are to dairy, as Starbucks messed up my order recently and gave me dairy instead...it was the first time I had dairy milk in a LONG time, and it actually made me want to puke :S - that's just how much my tastebuds have adapted and enjoy non-dairy milks instead now!]
I know this is probably the hardest transition for anyone, but now I wouldn’t even think twice about regular cheeses (remember: it only takes 21 days to break a habit :P). My favourite dairy-free cheese is Daiya. On top of having shredded cheese options (which come in cheddar (my fave), mozzarella and Monterey Jack), they also have cheese slices (with awesome options like havarti) and wedges. For a non-dairy cheese, they are the bomb.com.
Daiya's cheeses melt and stretches like regular cheese and tastes really good in a grilled cheese, on nachos, or even on pizza. We usually make our own pizza at home now, but you could easily order a pizza out, without cheese, bring it home, add Daiya, and broil it for a few minutes in the oven to melt it.
You can also try making your own mock cheeses, like tofu ricotta or using nuts to create nut cheeses (which can turn out seriously questionable that they aren't dairy-based!). The possibilities are endless!
6. Sour cream
This one wasn’t important to me…until I became pregnant. In the beginning, I really craved baked potatoes, and what is a baked potato's best friend?! Sour cream. I tried soy sour cream and wasn’t really a fan (sure, stuffed in a fajita with salsa, it was fine, but on a baked potato, no!). I fell in love with a coconut-flesh based sour cream when the husband and I discovered this place in Collingwood, Ontario that was raw and vegan (website here). My hubby would order from there a lot and just ask for a container of the sour cream on the side ‘to go’ and bring it home to feed my potato need!
You could try making your own vegan sour cream at home using (as mentioned above) coconut flesh, or another popular option is a cashew-based cream, which is actually up there on my list of things to make! (Like, this one by Oh She Glows!)
7. Cream cheese
- Tofutti: makes a great non-dairy cream cheese. You can’t expect to give up dairy and have everything taste exactly how you remember it to be, but they do a darn good job with their cream cheese. So good, that I wish I had some in my fridge right now!
- Daiya: has recently got into the cream cheese market and they might have actually taken over first place for most enjoyable dairy-free cream cheese. They just do such a great job giving it a run for its money against dairy cream cheese!
That concludes my list of non-dairy options! I think I’ve covered everything, but if there is something I’m missing, or anything you’d like for me to add, please feel free to let me know!
I hope I've inspired you to try one out!
Note: I know I haven't included a lot of non-dairy brands, but my focus was on the ones I use all the time!
What is your favourite dairy-free alternative from the above options?!?