How to Survive Holidays with Food Allergies

Over four years ago, I realized my dairy allergy. Adjusting to the massively food-limiting restriction was rough. One of the biggest issues: how to handle holidays.

I dropped all dairy just before Halloween 2013. Bad timing for my taste buds — as I only enjoy chocolate candy and dislike fruity treats — but appreciated by my waistline. It was a hardship that first Halloween learning to abstain from all of the fun-size goodies, but I did. I knew it’d get easier with time. And it did.

Then came Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pies, green beans, corn, rolls, even the turkey are more likely than not to contain dairy. Around the holidays, milk/butter/cheese/cream/whey is in everything. I mourned missing out. It was a death, of sorts. I thought Thanksgiving was dead.

At first I adjusted by making and bringing some of my own dairy-free versions of traditional dishes and — my then-omnivorous self — asked for the turkey to be made dairy-free. My family kindly obliged. However, despite all loving intentions, I got inadvertently dosed with dairy that year. It was awful; a holiday meal wasn’t worth a week of suffering, especially when I had an infant and a toddler to wrangle.

A month later, Christmas came and I tried my approach again. Fail! Dosed yet again, I decided from then on not to attempt others’ contributions unless the cooks, themselves, were dairy-free.


The next year, I made more side dishes to bring, ate beforehand, and stuck to my meal offerings. No accidental dairy dosing! I had my new holiday survival technique. This was key, now that two of my children accompanied me on the dairy-free journey.

Three years later — now a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I will absolutely maintain my tried-and-true holiday survival technique. It’s my safest route.

Is it hard not being able to eat everything? Not really, anymore. Once I shifted my focus from food to people, it made a world of difference. The day after a holiday, I won’t look back on the celebration remembering how the green beans tasted or how the squash was flavored. I’ll reflect on the people, the experience, the laughter (and eye rolls… because what’s a family gathering without that balance?) And that’s where my focus should be.

So what do I bring? This year, I will bring herbed green beans sauteed in olive oil, baked squash (delicata, butternut, and acorn) seasoned with herbs and Earth Balance, and a garlicky lentil-mushroom dish. Often, I bring dairy-free rolls and herbed carrots. Usually my belly is too full for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m too busy wrangling my tiny trio while helping with dish clean-up to indulge, but if I did want to bring a sweet to enjoy it’d probably be this.

Looking for some gluten-free vegan holiday recipes? Try here. On the hunt for sweet recipes? Look here for some vegan dessert finds.

When it comes to food allergies, there’s no dish worth risking a reaction, no matter how delicious. It is hard at first but, like any adjustment, it gets easier. Life is about so much more than just food.


Product Find: Vegan Yogurt

On the hunt for a creamy dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan yogurt without the weird aftertaste or powdery mouthfeel? I found it!

Back in my dairy-eating days, I ate yogurt most mornings. Whether straight out of the small peel-and-lick-top container or scooped into a bowl with fresh berries and dry cereal, it was my go-to morning meal maker. Then, my dairy allergy hit.

Lots of product sampling later, I landed on So Delicious. Their dairy-free yogurt alternative was a good option. It was accessible, my kids loved it, and it was a passable yogurt substitute. Still, I didn’t crave it like I did dairy yogurt. Then, I found this:


Game over. Creamy, smooth mouthfeel, no weird tangy flavor, zero powdery texture, no sugar headache, and just the slightest yummy hint of lemon and vanilla. Kite Hill’s vanilla yogurt could easily go spoon-to-spoon with Dannon vanilla yogurt.

Kite Hill, you win again.

My Favorite Dairy-free Items

Looking for dairy-free grocery must-haves? These are mine.

2016-07-29 07.23.03

(Please note: I am not anaphylactic to dairy, so potential cross-contamination through shared equipment is acceptable for me. If that risk is unsuitable for you, please do not venture the gamble. As always, be sure to read the product labels thoroughly before ingesting; you never know when a recipe may get switched.)

Milk: Silk Cashewmilk

Heavy cream substitute: Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream

Butter substitute: Soy-Free Earth’s Balance Buttery Spread or Wegman’s Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Unrefined

Parmesan cheese substitute: Red Star Nutritional Yeast

Chocolate chips: Enjoy Life Mini Chips

Sliced cheese substitute: Field Roast Creamy Original Chao Slices (for a provolone-like flavor), GoVeggie Vegan Cheddar Singles (for a melty, cheddar flavor)

Cream cheese substitute: Kite Hill Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread (only available at Whole Foods), or Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese (for a more widely available option… it’s not actually “better than cream cheese” but it’ll do.)

Brie substitute: Kite Hill Soft-Ripened Cheese (my dairy-eating husband actually prefers this to standard brie, do note that he’s a beer-burger-and-baseball kind of guy.)

Sour cream substitute: Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream

Bread: Wegmans Whole Grain White Bread for a kid-approved sliced option, Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 7 Sprouted Grain Bread for an earthier variety, or Country White or Honey Whole Wheat Bread from Great Harvest for a fresh option

Yogurt substitute: So Delicious Cultured Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative 

Ice Cream substitute: Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss

Chicken, seafood, or beef stock: Kitchen Basics Stock (I use this in place of broth)

Dairy-free wine: (yep, there’s dairy used in wine manufacturing) Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc

Dairy-free cheesy crackers: Earth’s Balance Vegan Cheddar-Flavored Crackers

Pre-prepared soup: LAJ Foods’ soup varieties

Granola bars: Dark Chocolate Chunk KIND Bar

Cereal: Original Cheerios

Snacking chocolate: barkTHINS

Tortilla chips: UTZ Multigrain Tortillas

What other dairy-free products are you looking for? Let me know and I’ll do some product research.

A Beginner’s Guide to Ditching Dairy

Looking to ditch dairy completely? Confused about where to start? Here are my tips.

2016-07-10 08.11.08.jpg

1) This is the very best resource I have found for everything dairy-free, from product recommendations to restaurant guides. This site is your best friend. The dairy ingredients list is a must-bookmark link for your phone. I’m closing in on 3 years into my dairy-free journey, and I still reference the list.

2) Read labels! If you’re purchasing anything in a box or package (sauces, bread, cereal, seasonings, etc.), read the ingredient list carefully. Dairy is sneaky; it hides in the weirdest places. Don’t just look at the allergen list. Don’t expect dairy ingredients to be in bold font, either. When in doubt, refer to the dairy ingredients link noted above. If you ever wonder about a questionable product, contact the manufacturer for allergen information.

3) Be wary when eating out.  Whether it’s takeout, a 5-star restaurant, or grandma’s kitchen table, be extra vigilant of food prepared by others. Dairy allergies and intolerances are still not understood by the general public. When ordering at a restaurant, always ask the server to double-check with the chef that your food selection is — or can be — prepared dairy-free. (Do not simply take even the most well-intended server’s word for it.) If you have a dairy allergy, make that abundantly, though politely, clear to the waitstaff. Also, take a look at your food before digging in, searching for obvious dairy such as a cream sauce, cheese, or pat of butter. When eating at another’s home, you need to decide the most comfortable option for you: go potluck by bringing your own dairy-free item(s) to share — with the host’s permission of course — or go over your dietary restrictions with the host ahead of time to determine what menu items you will be able to eat. You will find, eating out will be your greatest obstacle.

4) Eat naturally dairy-free. When you go dairy-free you have two choices: try to eat as you did before or change your lifestyle to suit your new dietary needs. Don’t get me wrong, there are many increasingly available dairy-free substitutes for everything from cheese to protein powder. However, sticking to a diet that’s predominantly naturally dairy-free will not only be better for your waistline (dairy-free substitutes often contain more fat and extra processing) but for your wallet, as well. Aim for animal or vegan protein sources alongside fresh produce and whole grains, and you’re set.

5) When in doubt, go vegan. New to dairy-free ingredient searches and feeling anxious about making the wrong selection? Choose the vegan option. Since a vegan diet eliminates all animal products and biproducts, dairy will not be an ingredient. However,  if you’re sensitive to cross-contamination, you’re going to want to be even more vigilant (see #9.)

6) Don’t cheat! The better you are about maintaining a dairy-free diet, the easier it is to stay dairy-free. Your tastes will change. You will stop craving dairy. You simply have to power through. The first month will be hard, but things will get easier by the six-month mark. By your first dairy-free anniversary, you’ll likely barely think about dairy, no less crave it.

7) Find basic substitutes you enjoy. I know I said to go predominantly naturally dairy-free, but you will need some substitutes. Do some experimenting to find your preferences. Do you like coconut oil instead of butter, or are you a dairy-free margarine fan? Do you prefer coconut milk, cashewmilk, soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, or hemp milk? Do you like GoVeggie vegan “parmesan” or is nutritional yeast your go-to? Do some taste-testing and recipe experimentation.

8) Learn to make a roux. Cream sauces, cream-based soups, gravies… they become readily accessible once you learn to make a dairy-free roux. My favorite uses Earth’s Balance Soy-free Buttery Spread, all-purpose flour, cashewmilk, salt, and pepper. I add nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor.

9) Know your sensitivity level. Some people are highly sensitive to dairy, others are not; know where you lie. Can you handle cross-contamination? Can you risk a questionable dairy content? Be knowledgeable. Know your risk so you can make the best dietary decisions for you.

10) “Milk-free” doesn’t mean dairy-free. “Lactose-free”, “Milk free”, “Non dairy”… none of these actually mean “dairy-free.” Confusing, right? The only way to know for sure is to read the labels… carefully.

11) Know what is and isn’t dairy. Eggs are not dairy. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk are dairy. Butter, ghee, yogurt, ice cream, margarine (if not specifically dairy-free), cheese, whey, and casein are dairy. Mayonnaise is generally not dairy.

12) Learn to self-advocate. Being dairy-free means learning how to navigate a dairy-filled world. You will need to determine how to best advocate for yourself.

13) Find a good grocer. Do your research and find a good grocery store — online or brick-and-mortar — that offers a variety of dairy-free options. The more options you have, the less deprived you’ll feel and the more content you’ll be in your diet.

14) Find a balance, find sustainability. As with any diet, balance is key because without it the eating pattern is unsustainable. Eat healthy but also find dairy-free indulgences that satisfy you. Read labels, peruse product reviews on, join a dairy-free group on social media… tasty dairy-free products are out there.

15) Think of it as a new journey, not a burden. Sure, being required to drop all dairy from your diet can be challenging, even isolating at first. You’ll find your way though. You’ll find new recipes, learn new cooking techniques, become more aware of your health, likely eat in a more nutritious manner, and possibly even lose a little excess weight. Sure, it’s annoying not to be able to give in to every cupcake craving or pizza desire, but it’s probably better for you not to do that. You’ll feel better. You’ll live better. In time, it’ll be standard operating procedure… life as usual.

You can do this!