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Living Dairy Free — Brand Recs & Substitutes

When I was young, my mom had my brother and I had to start living dairy free. We got tested for food allergies and we both ended up being allergic to it. So that means no more milk, cheese, heavy cream and all their variations. 

But living dairy free isn’t as hard as you think. There are so many great alternatives out there now, it’s a piece of cake to make all sorts of dairy free confections and sweets and even in my cooking too.

I thought I would post about what dairy free alternatives are out there and what I use in my kitchen for those who are new to this, so you can see what options you have. I know cheese is amazing, trust me, but dairy free food can be just as good!

Shout out to one of my favorite dairy free brands, Immaculate Baking for making these amazing dairy and gluten free chocolate cookies. They are so good, I could eat all dozen myself.

*Note: This post contains affiliated links from which I will earn a small kickback. Thank you for your support!*

immaculate baking chocolate cookies

In My Pantry & Fridge

I keep a few things on hand at all times in my pantry and fridge. First would be the butter. I use butter A LOT, no exaggeration. I use it for cooking breakfasts, grilled cheeses, baking and more. Basically anything you would use regular butter with, I use dairy free butter. I always keep a regular tub of it and a box of the sticks for baking. 

Next is coconut milk. This is I think one of the most versatile dairy free alternatives available. I’ll go into in more detail below, but I always keep a couple of cans of the regular (classic/full-fat) and the light coconut milk in my pantry to use in baking and cooking. 

My regular milk alternative for breakfast smoothies and oatmeals and sometimes in baking as well is almond milk. I usually have the unsweetened vanilla, just because I don’t want to be having that extra added sugar in the morning. 

I usually keep on hand dairy free american cheese and yogurt for quick meals or snacks during the week. I make a lot of grilled cheese. Dairy free ice cream and whipped cream are also a must have in my freezer.

Dairy Free Milk Alternatives Explained

There are quite a few alternatives for milks out there for people who are living dairy free. I go over here the dairy free milks that I use in my kitchen. If you want to read about the other dairy free milks out there, check out this guide

Almond milk is super versatile. It’s available in a lot of different brands. It’s good for breakfast food, cereal, smoothies and coffee. I make ice cream with it too.  

This, however, is a milk with a low fat content so if you have a recipe that requires whole milk or heavy cream for a custard or thick filling, I don’t recommend using it. You can get away with it in cakes and breads though. I usually use almond milk in the cinnamon buns I make or sometimes I’ll do light coconut milk.  

Light coconut milk is equivalent to whole milk in it’s fat content, so it’s a good replacement for whole milk in recipes. I use light coconut milk all the time in my baking. You’ll see it in recipes like my garlic naan bread and homemade donuts.

It’s also good for adding a little creaminess to sauces in cooking, or putting into a dairy-free milkshake. 

It might say classic coconut milk on the can or just coconut milk. This has a high fat content, and is closer in equivalent to heavy cream. This is great for making custards like creme patissiere or creamy dairy free ice cream like my smore’s or strawberry ice cream recipes. It’s good for cooking too when a sauce requires heavy cream like my creamy chicken tikka masala.

If a recipe calls for coconut cream, it’s just the fatty white cream that separates from the liquid in the can. 

Oat Milk is a milk my husband and I have recently taken a liking to. It’s thick and creamy and perfect for making boba tea or smoothies. Definitely creamier than almond milk. 

My mom also makes it homemade and it comes out quite creamy. Here’s a recipe from minimalist baker if you want to try it. 

Other Milks

There are other milks out there too like rice milk, soy milk, and hemp milk. Rice milk has quite a strong taste that I believe is acquired. My mom used to give it to us when we first started living dairy free.

Soy milk is a good creamy alternative. I tend to not use it just because soy is heavily genetically modified in the U.S. and I do not eat genetically modified foods. 

I have never tried hemp milk, but I hear that it’s another thick, creamy alternative. I definitely want to try it in the future. 

earth balance butter

My Favorite Brands

Once I find a dairy free brand I like, I tend to stick to it. So I’m going over my favorite brands for the dairy free products I use in case you want to start living dairy free too.

When my family started living dairy free, my parents started bringing home earth balance butter. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t eating this butter. I feel like it’s a very good alternative to regular butter. It comes in different spreads depending on what you want and it comes in stick form. I usually get the soy free spread.

My husband and I go through 2 or 3 of these a week because we drink a lot of smoothies in the mornings or make oatmeal with it. This is a very great brand that doesn’t contain any bad ingredients.

I actually find that 365, Fair Trade and Native Forest canned coconut milks (and light coconut milk) are all good quality. I use them interchangeably depending on what’s available when I go to the store. The 365 brand is the most inexpensive though. 

I have tried the Trader Joe’s brand as well, but I find it actually doesn’t have as much of the coconut milk cream in it, so I would recommend trying the three other brands before getting this one. 

This is the dairy free cheese brand I usually go for. I like the cheddar or american slices for grilled cheese. The feta is also really good too. My husband and I eat it like it’s going out of style. 

Follow Your Heart is another great dairy free cheese brand. Both the Violife and the Follow Your Heart are melty like real cheese, which is what I really look for when buying dairy free cheese. 

I was eating coconut milk yogurt until I recently discovered this thick creamy cashewmilk yogurt. It’s delicious. It has a little nutty after taste at the end depending on the flavor you get, but I find this to be one of the best non-dairy yogurts I’ve tried so far. 

I swear by this whipped cream. It has a slight coconuty flavor, but oh my god it is to die for. I could eat it straight out of the tub. I put it in my Semi Homemade Chocolate Oreo Trifle which people goes nuts over. 

A Note on Cream Cheese

I have yet to find good dairy free cream cheese. I tried some nut cheeses a while ago and they were a little too salty for me. I tried the Violife cream cheese and it was also too salty and didn’t really taste much like cream cheese to me. If you have any suggestions for a dairy free cream cheese, please write in the comments below! 

dairy free ice cream

Dairy Free Ice Cream

I have tried a many dairy free ice creams in my day. Here I’ll go over what I’ve tried and which brands are my favorites. Here we go:

This is one of the first dairy free brands I have every tried. They make consistently yummy dairy free ice cream. They’ve lately been coming out with newer products, ice cream bars and oatmilk ice cream. I love their coconutmilk strawberry and chocolate peanut butter swirl the best. 

I was consistently eating this brand for a while until they sadly stopped carrying it at Whole Foods. This is a coconut milk based ice cream. My favorite is the chocolate hazelnut decadence. 

Another coconut milk based ice cream. This brand is a dollar or so more than the others I’ve mentioned so far, but oh my goodness is it worth it. Every flavor I’ve tried is amazing. I think I might say my favorite so far is the strawberry cheesecake. 

This is the whole food generic brand. They make a variety of dairy free ice creams. I’ve eaten them occasionally and the Berry Chantilly Cake flavor is my favorite so far. 

If you’re looking for a healthier dairy free ice cream, pick from the three options above. Ben & Jerry’s dairy free flavors, I must say are delicious. My favorite so far is the Netflix and Chill’d. I love the PB & Cookies flavor too. BUT the second ingredient for all of these are liquid sugar. So not the healthiest. 

Breyer’s only has two dairy free flavors so far. I’ve only tried the peanut butter swirl. It was super delicious, but it could have used more peanut butter. I really love my peanut butter. The other flavor they have is cookies and cream which I want to try at some point.

So Haagen Daz does have dairy free flavors but I do not recommend them. We bought a couple of flavors and I’ll admit they tasted good. BUT if you look at the ingredients there is no alternative milk in it whatsoever. It’s just different oils and sugar. There’s also a lot of sugar in this ice cream. I haven’t eaten it since. 

Another brand that has dairy free flavors that I do not recommend. I will say that I haven’t tried any of it. I’m sure it tastes good. My problem with it is that it contains erythritol. This is touted as a zero calorie natural sweetener, but I don’t trust it. 

violife cheese

So that is the basics of living dairy free for me. There are of course plenty of dairy free snack brands that I buy besides ice cream and Immaculate Baking. I’ll give a shout out to the Alternative Baking Company too for making the softest, yummiest giant vegan cookies.  Simple Mills is also one of the cleanest snack brands, vegan and gluten free and I love everything they make!

If there is a brand that I haven’t mentioned or another dairy free alternative you would recommend, please comment below. I would love to hear what you have to say, especially if they’re snacks I haven’t tried yet, wink wink. 

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