For the past 6 months I’ve been on a restricted diet free of dairy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts and fish because of Flora’s allergies. I was also dairy + soy free for a year while breastfeeding my eldest daughter, Piper. It seems most common to hear about moms going dairy free while breastfeeding to help with their babies intolerances -so today I thought I’d share a few tips about how I’ve managed cooking and eating out with this diet! I’ll be sharing another post with my favorite meals + recipes and then a third post with my favorite dairy-free products from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
Something to note — though Piper and Flora both had issues with food, they are very different. Piper’s was a GI food sensitivity (if I ate dairy or soy it would cause her to have blood in her stools) and Flora has an allergy that effects her immune system and can cause an anaphylactic reaction if she ingests it (she can’t go into anaphylactic shock from my breastmilk). Thankfully Piper outgrew her GI sensitivities by 13 months and has no issues today with food. We hope that Flora will outgrow some of her allergies!
There are SO many wonderful dairy-free options available now not only for cooking but when you eat out – I think the hardest part now for me is that a lot of them involve nuts which I also can’t eat. But thankfully, there are so many new products entering the market every month.
- My biggest tip is to work with your doctor before changing your diet while you are breastfeeding. I had a few instances where I tried to do an elimination diet on my own and my supply tanked because I wasn’t getting enough calories. Your doctor will be able to guide you through what to eliminate from your diet and how to do so.
- Meal planning and prep is CRUCIAL to the success of any restricted diet. Otherwise you will be left stranded wondering WTH can I eat!! This has happened to me too many times to count and I’ve slowly learned my lesson that I simply HAVE to meal prep to ensure there are plenty of options for me on hand.
- You can eat EGGS on a dairy-free diet. I was so shocked at how many people associated eggs with dairy. Eggs are not dairy. I can not eat eggs right now because Flora is also allergic to eggs, but if you are simply on a dairy-free diet while breastfeeding you CAN eat eggs! Eat the eggs!
- You will soon become a master at reading labels. Talk with your doctor to find out if you need to avoid ALL types of milk and whey. Find out from your doctor if you can eat something if dairy is the 4th or 5th ingredient listed. Allergens need to be listed in BOLD on the bottom of the ingredient list so it’s easier to spot these days when you are shopping. THIS TAKES TIME. Allocate extra time in your first few grocery trips.
- Test out different milks for drinking, using in smoothies, coffee and cooking with. They all are SO different and I’ve found that I like different milks for different purposes! I love vanilla coconut milk in my coffee drinks (especially iced coffee), I like to cook with Unsweetened Original Ripple Milk because it’s got a mild flavor and it’s not sweet and it’s also much thicker. I used to love to use Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk (Trader Joe’s) in my smoothies but since I can’t use that right now I like Coconut Water instead. Ripple makes a half & half that is a great sub for heavy cream in recipes.
- Find your grocery store groove and stay loyal. In general I find that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have far MORE options than my other area grocery stores. I try not to go into Whole Foods without a list and I try to avoid stocking up on only snacks there – its near impossible since there are SO many allergen free options! Your local grocery store may have a special aisle or section for dairy-free items, most of ours do (like Safeway or Giant).
- Eating out presents many challenges but just be sure to ask questions about the menu and you most likely will always be able to find something. I’m not as strict when I eat out because I’ve seen that Flora can tolerate me eating the occasional dairy here and there. My go-to’s for eating out are: burgers + fries, salads with protein (just skip the cheese that’s almost always on them), shrimp + crab dishes, Thai food (has very little dairy and is one of my favorite cuisines) and Pho. Sushi is also a great option!!
- When I travel I always like to bring my own food especially for smaller airports and road trips since you just don’t know what options you’ll have and no one likes a hangry breastfeeding mama!
- When it comes to cooking searching for recipes can be annoying — if you search Vegan recipes you’ll of course be left without meat, which you can eat when you are dairy free. Searching for Dairy Free often also brings up Gluten Free options, but you can have flour. It’s really trial and error when it comes to cooking – finding great recipes you love and just keeping them in rotation. My biggest tip is to try to adapt recipes you already use making dairy free swaps. Earth Balance butter is amazing – and the sticks work great for baking. The milks I mentioned above are great substitutes. Cheese is more difficult – more on that below.
- There are a TON of dairy-free cheese options on the market now. Daiya being the most common and having many options (though none are my favorite). Right now I love So Delicious shreds that melt to use in quesadillas and nachos. I’ve heard GREAT things about Miyoko’s brand (available at our Whole Foods) and I also really loved every Kite Hill cheese I found (they also make raviolis!!). Violife makes a delicious parmesan that really mimics the flavor of the real deal. It’s great on pasta and in recipes. Although….my favorite cheese replacements are homemade! I love making cashew or tofu ricotta to use as a replacement in recipes. They give a really creamy texture that works perfect in a dish like lasagna or mix with a cheese-free pesto and serve on pasta and you can’t tell a difference.
- Let’s talk ice cream. Second to cheese, it’s what I miss most while eating on a dairy-free diet! Good thing there are lots of options, again you’ll quickly find your favorites! Ben & Jerry’s Dairy Free options are heavenly (though sadly I can’t eat now because they all have nuts). Sorbets + some gelatos are dairy free and a great option! I love So Delicious’ Coconut Ice Cream Bars and their Whip Cream (tastes like a better version of Cool Whip and I can’t wait to eat on pumpkin pie). This new Hagaan Dazs ice cream is by far the best dairy-free I’ve tried, it’s so rich and decadent!
- Don’t forget to TREAT YOURSELF, MAMA. You are breastfeeding, raising a baby and on top of all that you can’t have dairy? Treat yourself with what you CAN have!! OREOS are vegan! Many potato chips are too. French fries -YEP.
- Google the term accidentally vegan – you will find a ton of products that aren’t marketed as vegan but don’t contain dairy. Even the PETA site has an enormous list full of products!
- Above all, remember that this diet is temporary and you are doing it for your baby. You are strong, capable and you got this, mama.