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Dairy Free Tips

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I recently brought dairy back into my diet – after 8 months of staying dairy free for my sweet Ellie! I have several friends who have recently asked me for some advice because they too need to go dairy free while nursing their babies. So, I’m writing this post to help those friends and to document this somewhere easy for me to find again.

First off, having to go dairy free is a big change but it’s totally doable! It really stinks to have to stay away from cheese, yogurt, milk and ice cream… but if you really want to keep nursing your sweet baby and the dairy is making them sick – it’s an easy sacrifice!!

At the grocery store, read labels! It takes extra work, but you’ll get used to it. Eventually you’ll just remember what you can eat and you won’t have to read labels all the time. You can look for the “CONTAINS MILK” line under the ingredients. I would still look at the other list of ingredients to ensure “whey” wasn’t listed – sometimes labels would have “whey” in the ingredients list, but didn’t actually say “CONTAINS MILK”… so nothing is perfect!

Watch out for generic brands versus name brands – we had some cereals that the name brand did not contain milk, but then I randomly looked at the label on the generic bag one day and it contained milk! Just because they are the “same”, they may not be completely the same.

Breads and buns were the biggest surprise to us – some contain milk, some don’t. So, again, just read the labels. Canned crescent rolls and italian breads were fine – but other kinds of biscuits weren’t. I started making biscuits from scratch! Boxed muffins, cakes, cookies, etc. pretty much all contain milk – so I made lots of baked goods from scratch. When you can sub in your own “milk” (soy or almond milk), diary free chocolate chips (your grocery store will probably carry these in the special/organic section of the baking section) and dairy free butter (we used BestLife buttery spread)… you can make just about anything!! It’s a little more time consuming, obviously, but it’s totally worth it!

If you’re used to eating yogurt and getting that “good bacteria”, then “Good Belly” is a great substitute. I’ve been drinking Mango Good Belly for the past 8 months and haven’t had any issues. It smells funny, but it does taste good. It’s a little more expensive than yogurt, but it’s the only non-dairy probiotic I could find that doesn’t say “if you are a pregnant or nursing mother, consult your doctor…” on the label.

I love snacking – especially while nursing, I am constantly hungry… so packaged snacks that I ate include: Oreos, Nutter-Butters, Nature Valley granola bars, fruit snacks, some flavors of PopTarts, Chex Mix (watch out for cheese flavors), Kettle corn, plain pop corn, veggie straws, chips (watch out for flavored chips – sour cream & onion, cheese, etc.) And then of course there’s fruits and veggies. It’s sad when you can’t use ranch to dip your veggies – but there are other dressings that still make it worth while. Make sure there’s no parmesan cheese in some italian dressings.

We got pretty burnt out on the limited things I could cook at home – but we just made it work. I was constantly looking for new recipes online. I found a dairy-free cream of chicken soup recipe (I used that, plus the biscuits from scratch, in my chicken pot pie that we just absolutely love)… again it takes more time than opening a can to dump into a dish, but you gotta do what you gotta do! I also tried to make some things where I could  put cheese in Zach’s portion, but not mine: Hot Dogs wrapped in crescent rolls (I’d put a slice of cheese in his); Pizza bites (used pillsbury refrigerated pizza dough and then put cheese in his, but not mine); when I made chili Zach could put cheese and sour cream in his. I just learned that I couldn’t have those extra things and was okay with it.

Any time we planned to go to someone’s house for dinner, we just let them know I was dairy free and I would help them make plans accordingly. I would typically ask them specifically to look at the bread label, because everything else was pretty obvious. The hardest part is not getting to have dessert… so I started being the one who brought dessert to most places we went (there’s a lot you can do with diary free chocolate chips!) Oh, refrigerated sugar cookie dough is ok too!

Another big surprise is chicken noodle soup mixes and some pulled pork mixes. Even when you think something is probably safe, it might not be – so just be sure and check the label!

For eating out I made a list of all the restaurants I liked and what things were on the menu that I could eat – that way I was prepared when we wanted to go out to eat. If you go to each restaurant’s web site (mostly just the chains) there is an “allergen” or “allergy” link on their site that lists all their food items and if they contain specific allergens. Sometimes it’s hard because a sandwich that typically has cheese on it will almost always say “contains milk”… some restaurants are better than others about breaking out every single ingredient (McDonald’s does this). If I wasn’t sure, I just didn’t eat it. Sometimes I would call a restaurant before we went and ask specific questions – “do you use butter or oil on the grill?” or even just “is there diary in your bread, sopapillas, fried okra, etc.?” Typically whoever answered the phone would have to go talk to someone else to get the answers – but it’s easier than when you’re at the restaurant during dinner rush and need to get that question answered.

When we went to nicer restaurants, I would just tell the waiter that I had a diary allergy (that’s so much easier than trying to explain that you are nursing your baby who can’t have dairy, etc.). They would make sure the veggies weren’t cooked in butter, the bun wasn’t floated (that’s when they put butter on the bun and cook it on the grill for a minute), or the steak wasn’t finished with butter. All things I had NO IDEA about before! One really great resource that taught me a lot of these things about eating out was: www.godairyfree.org. There’s a link for “eating out”… that was SO helpful!

There are lots of things about “cross contamination” in many restaurants – like when breaded chicken is fried in the same fryer as the french fries. I didn’t worry about that because many of the reviews I read where people had real dairy allergies, none of them seemed to have an issue with possible cross contamination.

Here’s the list I used for fast food I could eat:

Chick-fil-A: Chargrilled chicken sandwich, coleslaw (I know – no dairy!!), french fries.

Wendy’s: burger, french fries (of course, no cheese. They have new buns on the Single – I’m not sure if that’s diary free or not).

Arby’s: I would get a regular roast beef sandwich, but ask for it on the double-cut bun. The regular bun has diary in it. Fries & curly-fries are fine. I didn’t do a turnover because I could never find out if the icing had dairy or not.

Subway: certain breads were ok (Italian and Honey Oat are my favs)

Taco Bell: obviously stay away from cheese, sour cream and other creamy sauces… but you can always substitute guacamole.

Noodles & Co: I only ate the Pad Thai, but I think everything on the “Asian menu” was diary free.

Sonic: French fries, tater tots and onion rings were okay. I read on the web site that the buns are always different at each Sonic, so you have to ask specifically. One time I asked someone to look and see if “contains milk” was on the label – they said it wasn’t. I went to another Sonic and the manager came out and told me that all their buns on always in a big bag that has NO writing on it at all! So then I would just get a burger without the bun… they thought I was on Atkins!

McDonald’s: this was a BIG surprise… their french fries contain milk!! Their big mac bun contained milk, but all their smaller burger buns were fine. The chicken nuggets were fine too.

Breakfast foods eating out was the biggest limitation. French toast sticks at Burger King were fine, but the ones at Sonic contained milk. McDonald’s breakfasts all contained milk (even the eggs!) – most places that have some sort of concocted egg has milk in it. We ate breakfast burritos a lot from Tamale Kitchen because I found they don’t use butter and I was okay without having cheese in my burrito.

Restaurants that we didn’t eat at because I couldn’t eat the bread: Which Wich, Scholtzsky’s, Jimmy John’s, Five Guys.

When ordering and making specific requests at fast food restaurants, like substituting a different bun or condiments – I would just follow it up with “it’s a diary allergy thing” which helps smooth over any weird looks. If you go through the drive-thru, make sure to check your order before you drive all the way home. It’s such a bummer to get home with a messed up order and food you can’t eat!

The weekend I decided to go back on dairy, I took it slow. I documented each thing I ate that had diary in it. Once I knew Ellie was doing fine with me on dairy (she was 10 months old), I stopped documenting it and just started enjoying all the things I had to stay away from for 8 months!

Good luck in this endeavor! It’s a challenge and sometimes frustrating, but it can be done! It’s quite the education! The whole time I was dairy free, Ellie was healthy and happy… I would do it again in a heartbeat! My baby’s heath was worth it to me!