Dairy foods are an important part of nutrition for kids since they’re a great source of calcium, vitamin D, protein and other vitamins and minerals, but sometimes there are reasons they may need to be excluded from a diet. Whether it be allergies (did you know milk is one of the top allergies in children?), intolerance and personal preferences, dairy foods are not always a good option for everyone.
Fortunately, there are many dairy alternatives available. When I was nursing both of my children, I had to be dairy-free because they both had intolerances as infants. They eventually outgrew them, but I had to temporarily exclude dairy from my diet and know firsthand the challenges of adapting recipes and following a dairy-free lifestyle! That said, dairy-free eating and grocery shopping is now much easier due to the recent increase in popularity and availability of dairy-free options in stores.
This article does a good job of describing the differences between various types of milk alternatives* and dairy-free substitutes for other foods that you may enjoy. Overall, the milk alternative with the closest nutritional profile to cow’s milk is soy milk – most other milk alternatives lack protein, calcium and vitamin D (unless they are fortified with it).
Personally, I have found that soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk can easily be used as a substitute in most recipes. If you use coconut milk, be aware that it adds a coconut flavor to a dish. Also, I would recommend avoiding using rice milk for baking and cooking applications as it tends to be too watery.
Family-friendly, Dairy-Free Recipes
Below are a variety of family-friendly, dairy-free recipes; some are naturally dairy-free whereas others use dairy substitutes or milk alternatives. When grocery shopping, carefully read the ingredient list on packages and labels to be sure the foods you are using are truly dairy-free.
- Banana Coconut Pancakes
- Grab-and-Go Granola Bars (use dairy-free chocolate chips like those from Enjoy Life!)
- Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry
- Vegan Tamale Pie
- Soy Marinated Flank Steak
- Warm Banana Split in a Jar
Another great resource for allergy- and kid-friendly recipes is the recipe section of Kids with Food Allergies website. You can quickly search many easy recipes by choosing the main allergen you want to avoid.
Because dairy foods contribute vital nutrients to our diet and promote healthy growth in children, it is important to ensure your family still receives these nutrients from other sources. Consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in dairy-free diets or allergies can help you determine the best solution for your family.
*Please know that milk alternatives made from nuts, such as almond milk, cashew milk and even coconut milk, should not be given to individuals with nut allergies.