If there’s a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance in your family, life without milk, cheese, and cream can seem like a total bummer. But fear not! In addition to a wide variety of ready-made dairy free cheeses and creamers available on supermarket shelves, there’s a whole world of creamy tips and tricks for bringing dreamy sauces back into your life using ingredients you probably already have in your pantry or fridge.
Cashews are magic. With a quick soak in hot water and a blender, this humble nut can transform itself into a decadent dairy-free alfredo-style cream sauce for pasta, nacho-ready smokey queso, and pale-green herb sauce or ranch dip for dunking raw veggies
Pop quiz: what’s a roux? A mixture of fat (like butter or oil) and flour (any flour, both all purpose and gluten free work great) stirred together over heat to thicken sauces. A roux and a good whisk can turn almost any kind of dairy-free milk into a nut-free creamy sauce reminiscent of bechamel. Lots of combinations are possible, depending on what you have on hand: olive oil and soy milk, vegan butter and rice flour + corn starch, or coconut oil, gluten-free all purpose flour, and cashew milk.
Cornstarch + almond milk + dairy free half & half = a fail-safe combination. This combination is amazing for making savory sauces for chicken. This tasty recipe isn’t originally dairy free, but the method works perfectly (We tested it! Twice!) with dairy-free half and half and without the parmesan—simply add a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast for that cheese flavor.
Coconut milk is a great swap for cream (or half and half). If you don’t mind a little coconut flavor in your cooking, the creamy thickness of pantry-friendly canned coconut milk is an excellent swap. This recipe combines coconut milk and cauliflower (!) for a delicious, dairy free creamed spinach. Coconut milk is also a pretty reliable substitute for creamy Indian dishes, like tikka masala or butter chicken.
White beans will work in a pinch! Cannellini, Great Northern, and other white beans are a pantry stand-by for lower fat cream sauces without nuts or flour. From protein- and fiber-packed alfredo sauce to macaroni and cheese, canned white beans are a sneaky cream sauce shortcut that’s friendly to the budget, too!
As you can tell from this list, your kitchen is full of substitutes just waiting to be discovered. Cooking with kids living with food allergies can be a challenge, but it can also be a doorway to creativity. The world of dairy-free cooking invites little chefs to think inquisitively about all the ways a creamy taste and texture can be created with unconventional ingredients.
So follow a recipe when you’re in a time crunch, but don’t be afraid to use these methods as a template rather than a step-by-step guide. Showing children that it’s fun and freeing to cook without a roadmap is an awesome life lesson that will empower them to embrace any dietary limitations as an invitation to discover and experiment.