Why is it so hard to eat milk-free?
Everywhere you turn there are delicious, dairy temptations like Fettuccini Alfredo and Strawberry Cheescake. Those are just a couple of the obvious milky delights. Upon closer inspection, you will be surprised to find many other sneaky places milk is hiding.
After just one week of diligently checking labels and cutting out dairy from my diet, I was practically starving. Very quickly I realized almost all of my favorite foods contained dairy products of some kind, either milk, cheese, butter or cream.
Everyone loves the classics, such as mashed potatoes, ice cream, pancakes, pizza, French toast, chicken pot pie, cereal, ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken fried steak with gravy, and the list goes on. Without these traditional staple foods, what are we to eat?
That was when I discovered something called the Alpha diet for people with food allergies. It starts out where you eliminate everything from your diet except three main things: plain rice, fruits and vegetables. Again, I was starving within a week.
Now, three years later, I am living dairy-free and I never feel starved. The hardest part was finding new things to eat once the all the normal meals I’d lived on for the previous 25 years were deemed off-limits.
After giving up several more times, I finally found the secret. There is only one way to eat milk-free and that is to dedicate yourself to reading every ingredient on every label before putting it in your mouth. The hard truth is that it takes more willpower, time and effort than anyone could imagine to live a dairy-free life. It means sacrificing old habits and old favorites, and sometimes even having dinner with old friends. Hang in there. One day it will become easier after months of practice.
The next hardest part was the total discouragement in reading practically every label in the grocery store. Packaged goods that you would not expect to contain milk had it hidden in there for seemingly no good reason. Apparently, the food industry believes milk makes everything taste better, whether or not you can even taste it.
For example, why is there no milk in the Krusteaz muffin mix in blueberry flavor while the same mix in the cranberry flavor contains milk? Or why do the Green Giant frozen potatoes contain milk while the Ida-Ore potatoes are dairy-free? These unsolved mysteries remain my biggest challenges when searching the stores for non-dairy foods.
Probably the number one thing that saved me on my quest to live dairy-free was using soy milk in place of regular cow’s milk. This single act makes it possible to eat most of the foods we all love, from cereal to pancakes to mashed potatoes.
The next most important discovery was non-dairy butter, such as Earth’s Balance buttery spread. This makes cooking and baking possible. Non-dairy butter can be used to bake cookies and spread butter over corn on the cob.
Finally, I have learned to special order many of my usual restaurant meals by simply asking for the sauce on the side or for the cheese to be left off. Bring on the crispy tacos with lettuce, tomato but no cheese, and the chicken Ceasar pita with the Ceasar dressing on the side.
By the Milk-Free Pantry, November 16, 2008