This post is from contributing writer Mary Voogt of Just Take A Bite.
I remember when I first made the decision to switch to a gluten free diet almost nine years ago. It felt pretty monumental. Especially since it wasn’t as popular as it is today, and gluten free convenience foods were slim pickings.
I was dealing with a lot of digestive issues, hypothyroidism, and infertility. It felt like the right thing to do.
I told myself I’d try one month of foods that were naturally gluten free and see how I felt. No expensive foods and learning new techniques. No push back from my husband about eating strange, new foods. That meant lots of rice, corn and potatoes. And to be honest, you can make a LOT of food this way. No special ingredients required.
I did feel better, and I wanted to keep going.
But let’s face it, we all eventually want some pasta or bread! Maybe even pizza. So after my trial run I dove head first into gluten-free baking and have never looked back. In the end, I truly kept up a gluten free lifestyle for my kids. Their reactions to gluten have opened my eyes to the impact it can have (you can read more about why we eat gluten free here).
Maintaining a Dairy-Free Diet
Eating dairy free was a bit harder to come to grips with. It was sort of forced on our family due to food allergies. I’ve had to cut out dairy while breastfeeding for kids two, three and four. My second child has been dairy free since he was two years old. And now five out of six of us are dairy free.
On top of dairy-free and gluten-free I’m still egg, nut, and nightshade free! I’ve even added low Vitamin A to the list (if you haven’t heard about how too much Vitamin A could be causing your health problems, check out the new fascinating research HERE!). We have had to adjust our diet a LOT! Just dairy-free doesn’t sound so bad anymore!
It’s easy to swap gluten-free flour for wheat flour. But dairy? Milk, cheese, ice cream…not as easy to replace. We love our raw milk and supporting a farmer just down the road. At first it feels like a huge change. You only think about restrictions and what you have to give up.
But over the years I’ve learned to embrace whatever our dietary needs are and focus on what we CAN have and how we can use those foods to nourish ourselves. I’ve come to love the simplicity of our meals. My kids do too! Not to mention I’d rather make a few food swaps if it means feeling my best.
Also, this may seem like common knowledge to some, but I hear this misconception far to often – eggs are NOT dairy. They are in the dairy aisle at the store…but eggs come from chickens, not cows. So you can absolutely eat eggs on a dairy-free gluten-free diet!
How to Stick to A Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free Diet Long Term
If you are on a dairy-free and gluten-free diet (DF/GF) for the long haul I’ve got some tips for you to make it easier. Life certainly doesn’t have to be boring or bland. I have yet to find a food that I ate before a DF/GF diet that I couldn’t replace. And I love challenges in the kitchen!
If you have a favorite food you want modified for a DF/GF diet let me know in the comments! Or browse my recipes…you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.
Here are my tips for sticking to a dairy-free and gluten-free diet long term.
Know Your Why
The most important component of a dairy-free and gluten-free diet is not the food at all. It’s the mindset. If you are committing to this lifestyle because “Suzy the health guru” said you should…you’re going to fail. Sorry, but it’s true.
You’ll focus on restriction and bemoan how you “have” to eat. Don’t do it. The other day my daughter (age eleven) said her friend is vegan because “it’s cool.” Do you think that will last?
If you know why you are on the diet (and it’s a valid reason), then you will have the proper mindset. It can make all the difference in the world!
There are many reasons to eat a DF/GF diet. Some are purely choices (for health or morals). Some are necessity (allergies or autoimmune disorders). Either way, being confident in your why will help you have a positive attitude.
Find a Dairy-Free Milk Alternative You Love
One of the easiest ways to eat dairy-free is to find a milk alternative that you love. Even if you don’t drink it plain, a milk substitute is very useful for both cooking and baking.
My oldest loves almond milk. My second loves rice milk. So we always have both on hand. My third child won’t drink any milk. But I use either almond or rice milk in her food.
I prefer homemade milk alternatives since most store-bought versions contain synthetic vitamins and stabilizers. Not to mention many are made with fluoridated water. This super simple homemade rice milk is our favorite!
We do buy this almond milk since it only has two ingredients – and water!
Find Other Dairy Replacements
If you are dairy-free long term you are probably going to start missing some of your favorite dairy items like cheese, yogurt and ice cream. Fortunately they can all be replaced quite easily!
My biggest dairy free kitchen success was a simple cheese sauce. We use it in so many ways! Nachos, pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, omelettes, baked potatoes, broccoli…they are all great with cheese sauce. It takes less than ten minutes to make and only uses a few, real food ingredients. My ten year old can even make it by herself. That’s how easy it is.
You can get the cheese sauce recipe along with nine other dairy substitutes HERE!
Take note of the fat content in your dairy replacements. It will make a difference in taste and texture of your food. If you want dairy-free ice cream, you need to use a replacement with a high fat content. If you are making yogurt, the fat doesn’t matter so much.
Be Careful with Coconut
One of the most popular dairy substitutes is coconut. Coconut milk works amazingly well for ice cream due to its high fat content. I actually prefer the texture of coconut milk ice cream to dairy ice cream! (Use the coupon code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at Wildly Organic)
Coconut milk is also super easy to make and works in most recipes. Plus it makes delicious yogurt. Coconut oil is a popular healthy fat in the real food world too. It makes a great butter replacement.
That being said, more and more people are becoming allergic to coconut. My third child had an extreme coconut allergy starting at five months old. We had to avoid every food from palm trees (palm shortening and even dates!). So observe how your child responds. Many people with a nut allergy find they don’t tolerate coconut either. Though technically not a nut, it can be problematic.
Unrefined coconut also contains free fatty acids, such as lauric acid, palmitic acid and more, that have a questionable impact on health. You can read more here.
Find a Gluten-Free Flour Blend You Love
Gluten-free living is a bit less complicated than dairy free. So if you’ve made it this far on the list you’re past the hard stuff!
If you are new to gluten-free baking there are two foolproof ways to ensure success:
- Use a well-tested recipe and follow it exactly.
- Buy a pre-made gluten-free flour blend. It’s usually a one-to-one swap with wheat flour in your favorite recipes.
I prefer the first option. Pretty much all gluten-free flour blends contain some type of gum to mimic the gluten. Usually this is xanthan gum. I made the decision from the start to never use xanthan gum in my gluten-free baking. I don’t use gums of any kind.
I keep a variety of gluten-free flours on hand (like white rice, sorghum, teff, and amaranth) and use a combination of two or three of them when I bake. If that sounds like a hassle you can mix up your own gluten-free flour blend in bulk so it’s ready whenever you want to bake. This guide tells you how to mix them. This recipe is a tried and true mix.
Start with Your Favorite Foods and find GF/DF Swaps
One of the easiest ways to transition to a gluten-free dairy-free diet is by swapping your favorite foods for their new counterparts. Mac ‘n’ cheese, pizza, spaghetti, even grilled cheese! You can have them all. And once you figure out how to enjoy your staple foods on a new diet you won’t feel deprived.
The funny thing is that my kids often like the replacements better! Here are recipes for some of our dairy-free gluten-free kid-friendly, family favorites.
- Grilled cheese
- Macaroni and cheese
- Fish sticks
- Fried chicken
- Sloppy joes
- Gluten-free pizza with dairy-free cheese sauce
- Sweet and sour meatballs
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Chocolate pudding
- Cheese crackers
- Graham crackers
- Banana ice cream
- Coconut milk “Thin Mint” cookie ice cream
Have Fun with New DF/GF Recipes
Once you’ve mastered your staple foods it’s time to have some fun with new recipes!
Maybe you’ve been stuck in a rut with mac ‘n’ cheese and spaghetti as the only pasta you make. Try pesto pasta (we make pesto by blending thawed frozen peas with olive oil, salt and garlic powder) or pumpkin pasta. Brown rice pasta is readily available and holds up very well.
Do you have pizza every Friday night? Change it up. We love to have breakfast for dinner on Fridays.
Are crackers with cheese a go-to side dish with soup? Try baking a batch of double raspberry chocolate chip muffins instead.
Foods from other cultures are often naturally gluten and dairy free. You can have fun eating a diverse assortment of dishes.
Skip the Processed Foods
I mentioned at the start of the post that gluten-free and dairy-free convenience foods hardly existed when I first started on this journey. That’s probably a good thing. Today you can find pretty much anything you want – bread, pizza, pasta, cheese, granola bars, cookies, chicken nuggets, corn dogs,…you get the idea.
Unfortunately they are still processed foods. And that means they are not healthy. Even if they are free of gluten and dairy.
As much as you are able, stick to homemade food. Gluten-free bread is a cinch with this recipe. You can make big batches of any DF/GF baked good to store in the freezer for convenience, like muffins or granola bars.
Get your kids involved too!
Your kids can learn to cook, even if you don’t know where to start.
My 4 kids and I created the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse to help bring real food and independence to families all over. Over 10,000 kids have joined us and we’d love to invite you along for the adventure!
PLUS we’re so pleased to offer a little gift from our family to yours: “10 Snacks Your Kids Can Make” packed with our favorites for the road! GRAB THAT HERE!
Rethink the Way You Snack
Typical snacks these days are mostly starch and dairy – crackers, cheese sticks, cereal, yogurt, chips, granola bars,…
Living a dairy-free and gluten-free lifestyle is a good excuse to rethink snacks. Focus on more fruits and veggies. They can still be low prep but with more nutrition. My kids love cucumbers with hummus (this recipe has three ingredients and is ready in three minutes) or apple slices and bananas dipped in sunbutter.
Dried fruit mixed with nuts is another great option. They all contain some protein and fat to keep your kids going through the day without a blood sugar spike and crash.
Although there are plenty of delicious homemade baked goods that can serve as snacks, focus on foods that are naturally gluten and dairy-free to simplify your life.
Eating Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Away from Home
A DF/GF diet is easiest when you are at home. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat away from home. Most restaurants now have gluten and dairy-free menus. You can call ahead to be sure they are willing to accommodate your dietary needs.
When visiting family and friends simply ask for the menu up front. Most people are very understanding of dietary restrictions. You can also offer to bring food or be the host.
Here are more tips for sticking to a special diet when you’re not at home.
Life as a Dairy-Free and Gluten-Free Family
What started as a little experiment to improve my own health has become a lifestyle for my whole family. There may come a day when we have all healed enough to be able to tolerate gluten and/or dairy again. Or we may choose to remain dairy-free and gluten-free for life. Either way, for now this is our norm.
We enjoy a wide variety of nourishing, whole foods. Nobody feels deprived. My kids are happy and healthy. That is what matters to me and motivates me to put in the effort to make so much of our food from scratch, grow our own food as much as we can, and keep a positive attitude about our diet. I don’t see it as a negative, so my kids don’t either.
A long-term dairy-free and gluten-free diet is very possible and very delicious!