Alisa Fleming ~ If one more person tells me that they are only eating bland boring food since cutting out dairy, I might just throw my oven mitts up in defeat! Don’t get me wrong, I know how difficult a big dietary change can be, I respect every single one of you, and I’m here to help as much as possible. But please, hear me when I say this … MOST BASIC FOODS ARE DAIRY FREE! There are so many incredible flavors to choose from, and I want each of you to grab your fork and dig into them.
That said, if you are like me, then culinary skills did not come naturally. Creative food pairings and daring new ingredients may be a little further down the line. So today, I’m starting with the simple stuff …
Below are two weeks of everyday meal ideas for lunch and dinner that don’t require any imagination to create since they are relatively familiar entrees. As an added bonus, you won’t need to experiment with any dairy alternatives to whip up these meals (save those vegan cheese tastings for another day), since they traditionally use foods and seasonings that you kind find at any ‘ol grocer.
All of the ideas below are dairy-free by nature (yes, that includes lactose, casein, whey and any other milk form you can imagine), and can be easily adapted to meet most dietary requirements, including vegan, gluten-free, tree nut-free, peanut-free, and even soy-free:
1) Taco Night: Milk-based ingredients can linger in premade seasoning packets, but you can whip up my easy taco seasoning mix in mere seconds. Serve seasoned meat (or meat alternative) with your choice of tortillas, lettuce, salsa, beans, avocado, guacamole, hot sauce, etc. Trust me, no cheese is required.
2) Spaghetti: Good old spaghetti is a favorite with most of us – comfort food at its best. If you feel the need for a salty topping, forgo the parmesan and sprinkle on chopped olives instead. No recipe is required for this easy weeknight meal, but don't be afraid to attempt a fancier bolognese sauce (again, skip that dash of cheese on top) when company is coming; even a vegan version will impress. For gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free pasta; we like the corn-based ones!
3) Asian Stir-Fry: Stir-fries are incredibly quick to whip up and they give you an excuse to add a variety of vegetables to meal time. Start with a basic teriyaki sauce or my favorite weeknight stir fry, but don’t be afraid to step it up a bit with a kung pao or sweet and sour sauce. For gluten-free needs, be sure to seek out wheat-free tamari to use in place of soy sauce. If you can’t do soy, no need to give up Chinese food, simply invest in some coconut aminos; they make a great alternative to soy sauce.
4) Thai Curries: Most stores sell ready to go cans or jars of thai curry paste. Follow the directions (usually to add coconut milk and perhaps another simple ingredient or two), add meat, fish, or tofu and vegetables, and serve over rice to soak up the rich goodness of the sauce. Many Thai curries do call for fish sauce, but you can always use soy sauce or vegetable broth if preferred, like in this Potato Curry recipe.
5) Chili: Make it spicy or mild, meaty or vegetarian, with or without beans. Top each bowl with avocado or guacamole, and crushed tortilla chips. Better yet, if your chili is nice and hearty, serve it with a side of tortilla chips for scooping. If your bored with tomato-based stews, try some white chicken chili instead.
6) Kabobs: Thread some meat, tempeh, and / or vegetables on skewers, marinate in some tasty vinaigrette, and heat up the grill or roast them in the oven for that nice caramelized flavor. Skewers are great for barbecues and also a fun finger-type food for kids. Not to mention, the flavor possibilities are endless; use fresh herbs in summer or a favorite spicy seasoning blend in the cooler months.
7) Creamy Potato Soup: Starchy potatoes have been used for generations to make rich and hearty soups. I like to add a touch of cashew butter to my potato soup recipe (it cuts through the starchiness and makes for a smoother texture), but you can certainly enjoy it as is. For an extra flavor boost, cook a little bacon or vegan bacon and add it to the final pot.
8) Pesto Pasta: Even some store-bought pestos are dairy-free, but you can easily make your own with a bunch of basil, good olive oil, nuts, and some salt. The salt, and sometimes a twist of lemon, add plenty of flavor, no Parmesan required. See my versatile dairy-free pesto post for a good starting point and flavor ideas. See my note in the spaghetti idea above for making this one gluten-free, too!
9) Jambalaya: Just like the name sounds, this stew is a jumble of wonderful flavors. As an added bonus, this one-pot feast is traditionally dairy-free.
10) Thai Peanut Wraps: Peanut sauce is one of my favorite foods, and for good reason, it’s super easy to make and packed with flavor. Toss some spinach, chicken, and any other ingredients you desire in a tortilla, drizzle with peanut sauce, roll-up, and enjoy. For a vegan option, tofu goes wonderfully with peanut sauce. Can’t do peanuts? Sunflower seed butter is a great stand-in for peanut butter.
11) Falafels: These little chickpea gems are naturally dairy-free and vegetarian, right down to their rich tahini sauce. Some recipes use egg, if you need egg-free, a vegan falafel recipe will still work deliciously. Traditional falafels are deep-fried, but I love them baked – cleaner, lower in fat, and just as tasty.
12) Burgers: Grab a veggie burger or season some beef or turkey patties, and fire them on the grill. If desired, whip up some “special sauce” with regular or vegan mayo. Can’t find hamburger buns without milk? Try my favorite recipe for speedy sandwich buns, look to Rudi's or Udi's for some gluten-free and dairy-free options, or simply wrap that burger in a big lettuce leaf for a low-carb option!
13) Paella: Like Jambalaya, paella is another traditional meal that can be made in one skillet and is typically dairy-free by nature. Paella is a rice-based dish with a Spanish flair, but you can customize the additions to whatever you have in the refrigerator – now that I think of it, you can even swap out the rice for a quinoa paella. Just don't skip the saffron!
14) Cheese-less Pizza: Yes, I will keep telling you until it hits home. Cheese-free pizza is AMAZING! Simply slather on some extra sauce and double the toppings – you won’t believe how much it still tastes like “real” pizza.
Article and photos by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of the best-selling book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a freelance writer for several publications and a recipe creator for the natural food industry with an emphasis on dairy-free living and other special diets.