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The Essential Dairy-free Guide to Plant-Based Milk, Cheese, & More [2020]

Goodbye cheese? 

And ice cream? 

Coffee creamer? Chocolate? 

No way! Life without cheese and chocolate is no fun, and believe it or not, you can still enjoy all of your favorite dairy-ridden foods while vegan.  

That’s right. 

A dairy-free and happy lifestyle is possible, as long as you have the perfect products in your grocery bags and a positive mindset to boot. 

So don’t give up on your dairy-free dreams just yet. 

Sit back, relax, and let the guide below do the dirty work.

Contents

  • 7 Simple Dairy-Free Swaps
  • Cook Up the Kitchen (if you want to)
  • Shop ‘Till You Drop
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Ice Cream
  • Coffee Creamer
  • Whipped Cream
  • Sour Cream & Cream Cheese
  • Condiments & Sauces
  • Chocolate
  • Sneaky, Dairy-FULL Ingredients to Watch For
  • Let’s Talk Nutrition
  • Restaurant Overwhelm? Don’t Know Her
  • 5 Dairy-Free Recipes for Dairy Lovers
  • Conclusion

    yogurt honey vegan swaps

    7 Simple Dairy-Free Swaps to Make STAT

    What if you’re eager to start your dairy-free lifestyle now, now, now? 

    There are a few simple, easy swaps you can add to your diet without sifting through non-dairy replacement products.

    1. Use almond, peanut, or cashew butter on your bagel instead of cream cheese or butter.
    2. Spread hummus on your wrap or sandwich instead of cheese.
    3. Top your baked potato with coconut oil, tahini, or avocado instead of sour cream and cheese.
    4. Use guacamole on your burritos, tacos, and fajitas instead of sour cream and queso.
    5. Bake with coconut oil instead of butter.
    6. Use pea protein powder in your smoothies instead of whey.
    7. Eat hummus dip with your veggies instead of ranch.

    cooking vegan recipes

    Cook Up the Kitchen (if you want to)

    Not in the mood to peruse non-dairy name brands? 

    You can make every substitute in the comfort of your own kitchen, even staples like cheese and milk!

    These recipes are excellent, easy starters to get the hang of dairy-free cooking at home:

    shop dairy free foods

    Shop ‘Till You Drop

    As creatures of habit, a lot of what we eat is subconscious. 

    We automatically grab products off the shelves without much thought as to what the ingredient list is hiding, because we always have. 

    However, dairy can be found in many foods we’ve ritualized into our routines, from beverages, baked goods, soups, sauces, and dressings. 

    So the very first step to going dairy-free? 

    Audit your daily food intake.

    Notice which foods have dairy in them to find suitable replacements, whether it’s the smoothie you grab from the gym, the granola bar you snack on at work, or your go-to Starbucks coffee concoction.

    Remember the typical dairy foods like yogurt, cheese, and milk aren’t the only products to drop out of your diet. Next time you’re on a grocery shopping spree, check each processed product’s ingredient list to ensure dairy isn’t an item.

    Keep in mind this isn’t to stress you out. It’s only part of the process.

    And with the below list of dairy-free replacements, you’ll be cruising the dairy-free drive in no time! 

    plant based milk

    Perfect Plant-Based Milk

    Milk is essential to foods like mac & cheese, simple (but necessary) late-night bowls of cereal, and silky smoothies.

    Don’t worry:

    You’ve won the lottery when it comes to plant-based milk substitutes. 

    With over ten different choices, almond milk is usually the winner if you’re craving that classic milky taste. 

    Almond Breeze Original Almond Milk and Califia Farms Almond Milk are top picks in the plant-based milk industry, but if you have nut allergies or don’t like the flavor, here are just some of the other great options:

    dairy free cheese alternatives

    All-Around Pleasing Cheese

    You’re not crazy for your intense love of this melt-in-your-mouth dairy wonder, as it’s been shown cheese can actually be mildly addictive due to how your body digests the dairy protein, casein.

    But not to worry; vegan cheese can be just as satisfying, especially on your go-to cheesy favorites like pizza. 

    You can find the below brands at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, and other food co-ops near you, or you can ask your local chain grocery store to place a special order for you.

    Most of the time they’re happy to comply!

    Also, you can check your local farmer’s market or health food store for other smaller-chain vegan cheese brands; dairy-free cheesemongers might live right around the corner!

    Slices

    The best mentioned sliced cheese brands are Field Roast’s Vegan Chao Slices and Follow Your Heart

    Field Roast has unique flavor profiles to choose from like Tomato Cayenne (cheddar), Garden Herb (pepper jack), and Original (provolone/mozzarella).

    Follow Your Heart has a wider variety of typical flavors like American, Cheddar, Provolone, Mozzarella, Smoked Gouda, Garden Herb, and Pepper Jack.

    A few others to consider:

    • Violife Mature Cheddar
    • Miyoko’s Vegan Mozz
    • Violife Smoked Provolone (best for eating raw)
    • 365 Plant-Based Cheddar (best for grilled cheese)

    Treat the above brands just like you would normal cheese. Toss them on top of veggie burgers, sandwiches, crackers, and more!   

    Shreds

    These shreds are perfect for pizza, salads, tacos, mashed potatoes, dips, soups, pasta, lasagna, and quesadillas. 

    Basically, they’re the ultimate dairy-free cheese shreds:

    • Follow Your Heart Vegan Shredded Parmesan
    • So Delicious Cheddar Jack Shreds
    • Go Veggie Parmesan Grated Topping
    • Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds

    Gourmet

    Don’t kick gorgeous, cheese-loaded charcuterie boards out of wine night yet! 

    Stock up your own board with these amazing non-dairy, gourmet cheese block brands: 

    • Miyoko’s
    • Treeline
    • Kite Hill
    • Yvonne’s Vegan Goatless Cheese
    • Punk Rawk Labs

    Last but not least, I’m finishing off this cheese list with one of the healthiest substitutes: nutritional yeast. 

    Nutritional yeast can have a yummy, cheesy flavor when cooked and is also loaded with nutrients, like complete proteins, B vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. You can usually find it in the health food aisle of your local grocery store. 

    Hello, dairy-free win!

    dairy free yogurt

    Totally Yum Yogurt

    If you’re not ready to give up this creamy probiotic source all-together, there are some wonderful soy, almond, and coconut-based yogurts to eat instead.

    You can try these brands:

    • Kite Hill
    • So Delicious Dairy-Free
    • Silk
    • Forager Project
    • CocoYo
    • Stonyfield 
    • The Coconut Collaborative
    • Trader Joe’s

    Thankfully for die-hard Greek yogurt fans, Kite Hill also offers Greek-style flavors, like plain, vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, and peach.

    And if your diet limits soy, nuts, and coconut, Good Karma sells a fantastic flax milk-based yogurt with plain, vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry flavors.

    Who knew dairy-free yogurt could be oh so good?  

    vegan butter

    Better Than Better Butter

    There’s nothing quite like the taste of rich, smooth butter to finish off a recipe, and dairy-free dreamers don’t have to be left out of the magic.

    When cooking, coconut oil is a great substitute, as it has better nutritional properties and wonderful texture results.

    When baking, you can swap in applesauce, mashed banana, or avocado, making sure to adjust the liquid/flour measurements to reach your desired consistency.

    However, if you’re in a warm-piece-of-toast-that-needs-butter situation, there are a few brands to purchase:

    • Earth Balance
    • WayFare
    • Miyoko’s Creamery
    • Melt Organic

    Earth Balance is the most widely used and easily found next to the regular dairy butter in typical grocery stores. 

    They have plenty of spreads (original buttery spread, soy-free buttery spread, olive oil buttery spread, organic coconut oil spread, as well as pressed avocado, sunflower, and extra virgin olive oil spread) and baking butter sticks to choose from.   

    dairy free coconut ice cream

    Downright Indulgent Ice Cream

    Ice cream is one of the main reasons many decline the dairy-free deal.

    But there are a lot, and I meant A LOT, of delicious brands on the market that are just as heavenly– if not more so.

    • Coconut Bliss
    • NadaMoo!
    • So Delicious Dairy-Free
    • Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy
    • Haagen-Dazs Non-Dairy
    • Halo Top Dairy-Free
    • Frankie & Jo’s
    • Cado
    • Steve’s Ice Cream
    • Van Leeuwen
    • Blue Skies

    The above dairy-free suggestions are only the tip of the cone; nowadays you could stand in the freezer section for hours trying to decide among the countless non-dairy flavors.

    To help you narrow it down, So Delicious has a huge variety of milk bases, from soy, oat, and cashew, to almond and coconut if you prefer one over the other. 

    Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy pints also have a fabulous selection of fun flavors, from cinnamon buns, milk & cookies, and peanut butter half-baked, to mint chocolate cookie and cherry garcia.

    You can’t go wrong! 

    dairy free coffee creamer

    Tried & True Coffee Creamer

    If you need that milky, beige beverage to fire up your morning motivation and satisfy the caffeine craving, grab any of these non-dairy creamers:

    • Califia Farms Dairy-Free Better Half and Creamer
    • Trader Joe’s Soy Milk Creamer
    • So Delicious Dairy-Free Coconut Milk Creamer
    • Coffee Mate Natural Bliss Almond Milk Creamer

    Califia Farms Dairy-Free Better Half Creamer, one of the top-voted on the healthy front, is a mix of almond milk and coconut cream– perfect if you need an unsweetened version of half n’ half without any additives. It also comes in original, vanilla, hazelnut, and pumpkin spice flavors.

    On top of their Better Half Creamer, Califia Farms has oat milk creamer in unsweetened, hazelnut, and vanilla flavors and almond milk creamer in unsweetened, vanilla, pecan caramel, and hazelnut.

    Beware of many individual pod and ultra-processed creamers with a dairy-free claim! 

    Some contain milk derivatives, like caseinate, as well as an abundance of unhealthy sugars and oils to fake a smooth taste. 

    dairy free vegan whipped cream

    Best Ever Whipped Cream

    Dairy-free doesn’t mean you have to miss the beautiful whipped cream dollop that sits perfectly on all of your favorite desserts. 

    Dairy-free whipped cream is incredibly easy to make and prevents you from buying the spray can whip with not-so-healthy ingredients.

    Just mix coconut cream and confectioner’s sugar, and voila!

    Other pre-made non-dairy whipped cream brands:

    vegan dairy free sour cream

    Go-To Sour Cream & Cream Cheese

    Did you know you can use firm silken tofu in place of sour cream?

    Yep, and it actually works. 

    But in case tofu isn’t your jam, Tofutti makes a great milk-free sour cream along with Follow Your Heart and Forager.

    When it comes to cream cheese, you have a few more options, although Tofutti and Follow Your Heart win again for best-ranked.

    Other pre-made cream cheese options:  

    • Miyoko’s
    • Daiya
    • Kite Hill 

    Keep in mind both sour cream and cream cheese aren’t the healthiest of foods, and while these substitutes could be considered a little bit healthier, they still aren’t very nutritionally-dense. 

    These are ranked solely for flavor purposes and your bagel breakfast delight!

    vegan dairy free condiments and sauces

    Super Tasty Condiments & Sauces

    As mentioned earlier, dairy is everywhere, even in the last places you’d think to look:

    Like your favorite condiments, sauces, and dressings.

    Daiya has amazing non-dairy Creamy Italian, Hon’y Mustard, Blue Cheeze, Creamy Caesar, and Homestyle Ranch dressings, as well as cheese sauces.

    And Follow Your Heart seems to have every dressing under the sun: Vegan Ranch, Vegan Caesar, Thousand Island, Miso Ginger, Creamy Garlic, Lemon Herb, and more.   

    For a pre-made Alfredo sauce, try Victoria Vegan Alfredo Sauce. It packs a wonderful, rich punch!

    dairy free vegan chocolate

    Out-of-This-World Chocolate

    Would you sacrifice chocolate to go dairy-free? 

    Wait. 

    Don’t answer that...because you don’t have to!

    Dedicated dairy-free chocolate companies exist, so get ready to dig right in.

    If you’re looking for baking chocolate, Enjoy Life has a sweet selection of chocolate chips and chunks.

    But if you’re in the mood for some good ole’ fashioned chocolate bars, this list has you covered:

    • Green & Black
    • Cocoa Parlor
    • Endangered Species
    • Moo Free
    • Chocolove

    A good rule of thumb when you’re shopping from mainstream brands is to check the dark chocolate selection. Heavier cocoa concentrated bars are less likely to have dairy in them.    

    shopping aisle

    Sneaky, Dairy-FULL Ingredients to Watch For

    Remember how dairy shows up when you least expect it? 

    Unfortunately, it can also take many sneaky forms, instead of the typical ‘milk’ and ‘lactose’ names.

    Milk derivatives can show up as any of the below:

    • whey
    • caseinates
    • casein
    • dry milk solids
    • lactose
    • curds
    • non-fat dry milk
    • dry milk powder
    • recaldent (in gum, mints, even toothpaste)
    • diacetyl
    • ghee
    • lactalbumin
    • lactoferrin

    Try not to let the list overwhelm you.

    As long as you’re staying aware, moving towards whole vegan foods, and reading ingredient lists, dairy will naturally phase out of your lifestyle.

    Easy as pie!

    Let’s Talk Nutrition

    When you’re switching to a new diet lifestyle, it’s important to be aware of the nutrients you’re consuming.

    Although it’s common to gain your calcium intake from dairy foods, there are plenty of other calcium-rich resources: leafy greens, some beans, and calcium-fortified, plant-based milks and tofu.

    [ Check out our vegan guide to calcium for more info ]

    Along with calcium, milk is usually a primary source of protein, Vitamin D, and iodine. But again, this doesn’t mean there aren’t other plant-based sources of these nutrients to consume!

    You can find protein in tofu, lentils, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, quinoa, and more, as well as vitamin D in mushrooms and other fortified products. 

    Iodine can be found in seaweed, prunes, lima beans, and iodized salt. 

    According to the Vegan RD, a colorful plate with lots of fruits, veggies, legumes, and healthy fats is best!

    If needed, always consult a doctor to help you with supplements and other concerns.

    restaurant eating out

    Restaurant Overwhelm? Don’t Know Her

    Eating out can be tough when you have restrictions, but you have a secret weapon: 

    Preparation!

    Although not very glamorous, preparation can save you a whole lot of time and stress worrying about what to eat.

    Before you leave for the restaurant, look at the restaurant’s menu to get an idea of what you might be able to choose and call ahead with any questions or concerns.

    Keep in mind cream-based foods (heavy soups, thick dressings), fried foods, and desserts usually contain some sort of milk ingredient.

    It’s always a good idea to communicate (nicely!) with your server beforehand to explain your preferences. 

    They usually have a better idea about how they can accommodate you, especially if you’re at an upper-end restaurant.

    5 Dairy-Free Recipes for Dairy Lovers

    With great non-dairy substitutes come great dairy-free recipes.

    You won’t believe how amazing these dishes taste, even without real milk products.

    1. Healthy-Ish Cheesy Vegan Nachos
    2. Dairy-Free Mac and Cheese
    3. Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup
    4. Vegan Fettuccine Alfredo
    5. Best Damn Vegan Lasagna

    califia almond milk

    Ready, Set, Dairy-Free!

    Are you still here? Congrats! 

    You’ve gone through this entire dairy-free guide and are ready to begin this amazing step towards health and happiness. 

    Before you start shopping, it might be helpful to go back up the list and write down the products that catch your eye.

    This way you have a better idea of what you’re looking for in the shops and online.

    Ready? Set, dairy-free! 

    Want to learn more about eating vegan? Check out our guide: How to Transition to a Plant-Based Diet!

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