In my “Halloween Babies” group, we’re all chatting about switching our almost-one-year-olds to milk. It’s an easy decision if your kiddo can have cow’s milk– whole milk is the way to go– but what if they can’t? There are SO many alternative milks out there now, which in some ways is awesome and in others, it just adds another decision that new-ish mamas (and daddies) have to make. Since we have a dairy-allergic toddler in addition to the dairy-allergic baby, I have a fair amount of experience in finding a substitute for milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc. I wish I’d had a Milk Substitutes 101 class when we found out our eldest was allergic, but hopefully this will help prevent a few mamas from having babies with upset tummies.
The trickiest part about a dairy allergy, rather than lactose intolerance, is that milk hides in EVERYTHING. Flavored chips are a no-go because they generally use whey protein to hold the flavoring on. Breads made not just with milk, but with whey, aren’t okay. Greek yogurt hidden in chicken salad that would normally be made with mayo. There are so many times where Matthew has been sick and we’ve gone “Okay, what did he eat today?” and eventually found the culprit. Let me tell you, Costco trips are like running through a minefield, particularly with a toddler on the verge of a tantrum at any given time. So, having a list of alternative milks makes a huge difference for me when I’m making our food from scratch so that they can have all the yummy stuff (like cupcakes) they see everyone else eating.
As far as nutrition goes, they all have their pluses and minuses. Most don’t have nearly the protein of whole milk, but if they’re eating other forms of protein, that’s not a huge concern for us. We are more worried about the calcium content, which is actually nearly double the calcium in whole milk. For the purposes of the chart below, I used original unsweetened versions of the milks listed to keep the baseline even.
Alternative Milks Taste Test
Here’s the thing about nutrition: it only goes so far if they won’t drink it, right? So, my opinions on each milk are below. Obviously, I have my own taste buds and you may disagree, but hopefully this will at least give you a start for which ones to try first.
Ripple is hands-down our favorite milk. We use it for everything. I’m a cow’s milk drinker, especially with Oreos, but even I will drink this one straight or pour it over my cereal. The plus side is, the protein is higher and the sugar is lower than any other substitute I’ve found. It’s a little pricier than most, but for us, the nutritional difference is big enough that it’s worth the price.
Almond milk is one of the thinner options. I like it in my coffee, but it’s a little too nutty for my taste to drink straight from the glass. As far as alternative milks go, this is super popular right now!
Soy milk is definitely the sweetest, in my opinion, even in the “unsweetened” variety. It’s creamy, but not as much so as cashew milk. It’s a great all-around substitute because it doesn’t have a nutty flavor at all, but it’s not my favorite taste straight out of a glass.
Cashew milk is the thickest of the choices for milk substitutes. It’s the closest to real milk that I’ve found as far as nut milks, and has a much milder nutty flavor (nearly imperceptible for us). This is my go-to for ice creams, sauces, soups, cereal, or anywhere I need the most creamy option I can find.
Coconut milk is creamy, but it also has a coconut flavor (duh) which I’m not a huge fan of when I’m trying to substitute in something. Over cereal, in smoothies, or straight of the glass, it is definitely a yummy option, though, for alternative milks!
Goat’s milk is a little tart for my taste, but it does come in evaporated form in the baking aisle so it’s an awesome substitute when baking or as whipped cream (just make sure you add a couple teaspoons of sugar to combat the slightly sour flavor). It makes great cheeses and yogurts, too, which are my favorite when I’m trying to substitute those on sandwiches, with granola, etc. The only catch is, SOME people who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to goat’s milk, so use caution when you’re trying this one.
Dairy-allergic kids’ mamas definitely have their work cut out for them when it comes to ensuring their kiddos don’t get something they shouldn’t. A little known fact, though, is that even many dairy-allergic kids can have goat cheese. Just check the back to make sure it doesn’t say “contains: milk” because that means it’ll have the cow’s milk protein in it. It’s creamy, smooth, and makes for some awesome quesadillas. You can also check out your local Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts, sometimes even your normal grocery store, to find goat’s milk yogurt, Gouda, cheddar, etc. for replacing ALL the milk products in your fridge. You can even make your own Instant Pot dairy-free yogurt to save yourself some cash on alternative milks (and it’s seriously the easiest recipe in the world).
Milk Substitutes 101
In short, there’s nothing easy or fun about being allergic to dairy, but it DOES get easier the more you know. It becomes a way of life. My 3.5 year old understands when we say no to something, it’s for a reason. He’s even started saying things like “I told (friend) that I can’t have her ranch because it’ll hurt my tummy.” As sad as that used to make me, knowing we have so many options– even down to cashew milk ice cream– makes me feel a little better because I know I can still give him the foods he loves, just a different variety!