Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”