“Plant-based” has become a buzz phrase these days, and it seems that you can get a dairy-free version of about anything if you look in the right place. Just because something is plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than its dairy counterpart; however, if you want or have to avoid dairy for any reason, it’s great to have options and the ability to satisfy cravings.
Personally, I don’t avoid dairy completely, and I’m not vegan. Sometimes I want a nice piece of cheese with my olives, and I am okay with that. That said, I do try to limit my dairy intake mostly because of the issues I have with the dairy industry that include how cows are treated and the environmental impact of raising dairy cows. The only time I’ve cut out dairy fully in the last few years was in the early days of breastfeeding my son, as I noticed less gassiness and fussiness without it. While my son has grown out of that issue, I still limit the milk products that he gets; however, I do serve dairy and let him have treats occasionally.
All that to say, I do have a lot of “plant-based” and dairy-free substitute products in my home. If you want my two cents on different products or want to start replacing some dairy items with their plant-based cousins, here are items that I regularly buy and have in my home. As an overall disclaimer, I have only tried a fraction of the options on the market, and I tend to go for middle-priced items because of my budget. I do most of my shopping at Kroger, and that is reflected in the number of their Simple Truth Organic products that I use. So with those thoughts in mind, here are my dairy-free favorites.
A snapshot view of the list:
- Mac and Cheese
- Best tasting: Field Roast’s Chao Shreds
- Chocolate Chips
Growing up, I don’t recall ever seeing anything other than a non-dairy milk in the fridge, and my mom often used soy milk powder. My parents were on the plant-based train long before it was on many people’s radar. Because of that, I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever had a glass of regular cow’s milk to compare alternatives to.
- Soy Milk: I started buying soy instead of coconut or almond milk when I was pregnant, because I needed something with more protein and fat in my belly ASAP in the morning to avoid getting sick. It stuck, and I’ve been buying it ever since. I like to buy unsweetened milk, because truly you get used to whatever flavor you have. If you drink vanilla, then plain tastes weird and vice versa. I normally buy Silk or Simple Truth, and my mom often buys the Califia Farms one.
- Ripple Pea Protein Milk- Ripple milk is fairly new to me, and if you haven’t heard of it, it’s made out of pea protein. When my son started to naturally nurse less (probably around 15 months or so), I began offering him the unsweetened version. I would give him soy milk; however, he doesn’t like the taste for some reason. There is a kids version of the Ripple milk in a bright blue bottle that has a higher amount of healthy fats, and I always pick that one up from the store if I find it.
- Oat Milk: I don’t always have oat milk, but I’m giving it an honorable mention. It’s nice in coffee, and I have used it in place of blended cashews to make soups or sauces creamy when I couldn’t wake up a sleeping baby with a blender. I’ve bought the brands Planet Oat and Chobani in the past.
I prefer the ones that have minimal or no artificial sweeteners mostly because I think they make coffee taste like chemicals. If a flavor looks particularly interesting, like the Silk Oatmeal Cookie creamer I have yet to try in my fridge, I’ll buy it; however, I usually stick to more basic ones and judge them based on the ingredient list.
- Nutpod– The texture of Nutpod creamers is really convincing, and the original flavor is probably the creamer I buy the most overall. I like their caramel flavor, but the french vanilla one tastes too thin and fake to me.
- Chobani– I will always grab their plant-based creamers when I see them now, because both the pumpkin spice and caramel macchiato flavors are amazing.
Not all vegan butter is equal, especially when it comes to ingredient quality and price. You kind of have to pick and choose your battles on this one. For a full breakdown and comparison of vegan butters, see here.
- Miyoko’s Creamery European Style Cultured Vegan Butter
- Pros: high quality buttery taste. It melts, browns, and bakes better than all other brands I’ve tested.
- Cons: high price tag
- Country Crock Plant Butter with Olive Oil:
- Pros: budget friendly, no noticeable difference in recipes. The only adjustment that I make is if a recipe calls for cold butter, I freeze it until the last second, as I find that it is softer than regular butter.
- Con: not made out of the healthiest oils.
- Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks:
- Pro: healthier oils, middle priced option
- Cons: I tried browning it for a browned butter chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it straight up smelled like fish when it was heated on the stove. I do not recommend using this if a recipe calls for the butter to be browned. Otherwise, I haven’t had any troubles.
Mac and Cheese
- Annie’s Vegan Cheddar Flavor Mac – It’s simply the best. To be fair, I haven’t had regular mac and cheese in a very long time, but I honestly can’t fault this one. It’s a big winner in our household for everyone (especially my son).
- Banza Vegan Plant-Based Shells– This gets an honorable mention, because while the cheese sauce is not as good in my opinion, there is a lot more protein in the pasta. It’s also naturally gluten-free if that is of interest.
Silk Soy Yogurt
I use soy yogurt way more now than I ever have before. My son loves to snack on it, and he often reaches for it in the fridge. I prefer to buy the Silk plain flavor, because even though the vanilla one is delicious, I still enjoy the plain one without all of the extra added sugar. Another bonus of buying the plain version is the ability to use it as a substitute for sour cream and Greek yogurt in recipes (both cooking and baking).
I could (and should) probably make a whole post on ways to make homemade vegan cheese and substitutes for cheese in popular recipes. If a recipe calls for vegan parmesan, I am likely to avoid or leave it out, because I hardly ever buy it or want to go through the hassle of blending cashews. I’ll just find another recipe (probably one that utilizes tofu and/or nutritional yeast). That said, for the sake of this post, I will stick to store-bought cheese.
Like with vegan butter, not all vegan cheeses are equal, and price point has a lot to do with it.
Best tasting: Field Roast’s Chao Shreds
This is the best tasting and most convincing cheese substitute product that I’ve had, albeit it’s the most expensive as well. The texture is soft, not at all “plastic-like”, and the after taste speaks of butter rather than artificial cheddar. When opening the bag, I get hints of a buttered popcorn smell. Sesame oil is among the ingredients, so if you have a sesame allergy, you want to steer clear of it.
Best budget: Neither of the options below taste like regular cheese, but they are still good in recipes where cheese isn’t the star of the show. For example, they are still good melted on top of enchiladas amid the sauce and in crunchwraps among other fillings. In general, melting does wonders to hide the “plastic” texture that vegan cheese can have.
- Daiya– My husband greatly prefers the mozzarella one over the cheddar, and recently I have been experimenting with their southwestern-inspired varieties. I’ve been using Daiya for years, and I do believe their formula has gotten better.
- Simple Truth– I don’t mind the cheddar flavor, but my parents aren’t fans of it. Like with the Daiya, my husband prefers the mozzarella option.
Chocolate isn’t something that I think most people automatically think of when cutting out dairy, but almost every standard chocolate chip you find will have milk fat in them. I use the Simple Truth Semi-Sweet ones, but the Enjoy Life chips are good too (just more expensive).
Annie’s Vegan Cheesy Rice
Annie’s Vegan Cheesy Rice isn’t really a staple, but I think it’s delicious and a perfect side dish for vegetarian “chicken” nuggets in a pinch (shameless plug for my chicken nugget post). It has ¼ cup of “hidden veggies” per serving that appears to be from cauliflower and peas, and I’ll take what I can get when it comes to serving my toddler vegetables.
Kodiak Plant-Based Pancake Mix
I loved the traditional Kodiak Pancake Mix in college, and I was excited to see a Kodiak Plant-Based Pancake Mix option that I could make for my son before we introduced dairy into his diet. The pancake texture is slightly more grainy than the original, but they are still delicious and a great option for a quick toddler (or adult) breakfast.
I can live without ranch, but I’m not sure my husband can. We’ve had the Daiya and Simple Truth brands in the past, and we prefer the Simple Truth one. I’ve made homemade ranch before too, and honestly both of the store bought options tasted better.
Simple Truth Sour Cream
I’ve had the Tofutti sour cream in the past, but this one is much creamier. It doesn’t have as full of a taste as regular sour cream, but you forget what regular sour cream tastes like after a while. The texture is on the thin side, but I am amazed that it is made out of butter beans and oats.
Simple Truth Cream Cheese
This Simple Truth Cream Cheese is more of a spread than a block, but it has worked as a substitute in both dessert recipes (cream cheese icing for cinnamon rolls and spice cake) and savory recipes (in buffalo chickpea chili for example). Similar to the sour cream, I’ve also had the Tofutti brand before, and this one is much thinner in comparison.
I’m sure that I probably forgot some dairy-free alternative products that I’ve loved over the years, but these are the repeat offenders at my home that have become our “staples”. Whether you have an allergy or want to cut back on dairy for whatever reason e.g, health or the environment, these items are a place to start making simple alternative choices and still enjoy the foods that you love. You don’t have to be fully vegan to see the value in a plant-based diet and to incorporate plant-based items into your lifestyle.
If there are other plant-based brands that you love, please let me know, and I would love to hunt them down and try them. Until next time, have a great week, and enjoy some good food!
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