vegan veganuary dairy free starter guide food
Since cutting back on dairy and finally removing it from my diet for good just over a year ago I've tried and tested lots of different options. Making your own alternatives can be rewarding and often healthier but experimenting can be costly if you're new to cooking without dairy. Whilst they can also be expensive, convenient store bought versions can be a great place to start if you're new to a dairy-free diet as they can help you to figure out which kinds of alternatives are going to work best for you.

Although I wouldn't call myself an expert on the subject, I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for anyone looking to cut out or cut down on their dairy intake. Whether you've decided to ditch dairy for health reasons (I haven't had any eczema since I cut it out completely), are taking part in Veganuary, or are simply looking to introduce more plant-based foods into your diet this year, I hope you can take something useful from this list.

Milk

When it comes to dairy-free milks I feel like I've practically tried them all. I switched to milk alternatives a long time ago and spent a while testing out the different options from soy to almond, hazelnut to oat and hemp to rice - there are so many to choose from! My top pick for breakfasts such as cereal and porridge, as well as cooking sauces would have to be Koko coconut milk which I always pick up in the long life version. For me this one isn't overly sweet and doesn't tend to have too much of a distinctive coconut flavour meaning it goes well with most things. Unsweetened soy milks are also great for cooking things like sauces and yorkshire puddings!

For a chocolate milk alternative I adore Oatly's version which is equally amazing chilled and heated up as a quick and easy hot chocolate. It also tastes amazing with an added boost of coffee or a coffee alternative for a dairy-free mocha.

Cheese

It's no secret that my favourite brand for dairy-free cheese is Follow Your Heart, and their parmesan alternative (Italian Style Grated) is my number one top pick of all those I've tried. I've found it can be tricky to find cheese alternatives that aren't super sweet-tasting and I think this one tastes the most like a real dairy cheese!

I never used to eat cream/soft cheese before going dairy-free but I've fallen in love with alternatives like Tesco's free from soft cheese and Sainsbury's free from garlic and herb soft cheese. These are great for topping everything from pasta dishes to jacket potatoes, work well in a sandwich or bagel and are even great for a quick 'cheese' sauce layer in your homemade lasagne. If you need something to replace your beloved toasties/cheese on toast I'd definitely recommend Tesco's jalapeno and chilli cheddar alternative as it melts really well - it's also delicious on a pizza!

Yoghurt

One of the biggest struggles for me has been finding a plain yoghurt that isn't super sweet. My favourites of those I've tried would have to be the soy-based Sojade (which unfortunately isn't always easy to find), or Tesco's unsweetened yoghurt for a more supermarket-friendly option. If you're making something like a curry, or love a bit of coconut flavour Coconut Collaborative's natural yoghurt is a good option. For flavoured yoghurts I actually really enjoy Tesco's free from range, particularly the peach as well as the raspberry and passion fruit.

Butter/Spread

Although it doesn't have a 'buttery' taste, for everyday use I tend to stick to Flora's dairy-free spread as I used the same brand before going dairy-free and it's one that is readily available in the supermarket. It's also often on offer for £1 a tub so it's a good idea to stock up when it is! For baking the Flora spread works well but I would also recommend Pure as I've seen good results using this for cookies and crumbles. If you're looking to try something a little different there are also some really nice avocado spreads on the market too. 

Chocolate

If you're a big milk chocolate fan I would highly recommend Vego bars which also contain whole hazelnuts. If like me, dark chocolate is more your thing you'll find the switch easy as a lot of these don't contain milk - although it's always best to read the label as some do! One of my top chocolate picks is Tesco's 74% cocoa Ivory Coast bar which is just £1. I also can't recommend Booja Booja truffles highly enough if you're looking for a special treat - they are amazing!

Ice Cream

My favourite vanilla ice cream has to be the soy-based Swedish Glace which pairs perfectly with crumbles, puddings and brownies. For a more indulgent treat I'd once again recommend trying Booja Booja, in particular their Hunky Punky Chocolate flavour. Whilst they do cost a little more than your average ice cream (they're similarly priced to a tub of Ben & Jerry's) they are incredible and have very few ingredients - the creaminess comes from cashews - so I think they're totally worth it if you want to treat yourself.

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