A Beginner’s Guide to Dairy Free Cooking for Babies and Kids
Dairy allergies are a common trigger for eczema in babies, children and adults. In some cases, eczema can be largely controlled through avoiding milk. Allergic reactions, including eczema and asthma are associated with milk proteins rather than the lactose content (which can cause digestive problems, known as dairy intolerance). Some eczema children are able to use goat’s milk, whereas others are allergic to both cow and goat milk so it’s worthwhile excluding all dairy products in the first instance. Cutting milk out can seem daunting, hopefully our beginner’s guide to dairy free cooking for babies and kids will show that, with a bit of home cooking and careful shopping, it’s not that hard. And it can make such a difference to your child’s eczema.
An Introduction to Dairy Substitutes
Milk: There are a number of non-dairy alternatives to milk readily available in supermarkets and health-food shops. The best known is soya milk but there are also almond, oat, hemp, coconut and sunflower based ‘milks’ available. Both soya and almond milks are available as fortified infant and follow-on formulas. The flavours of these ‘milks’ vary hugely, even different brands of the same ‘milk’ can taste incredibly different, so it’s worth experimenting. Milk substitutes are less versatile than their dairy equivalent, so you may find that using combination of milks works better for you. While rice milks are available there are concerns about the levels of arsenic occurring in rice milk and current government advice is that it should not be given to under-5s.
Desserts: Yoghurts, custards and ice-creams make up a big proportion of a typical child’s dessert menu. There are a number of soya alternatives available – our favourites are the Swedish Glace Desserts (a fake ice-cream, the chocolate one is really good) and fruit ‘yoghurts’.
Margarines and spreads: milk products, especially whey, find their way into most soft margarines and spreads but there are milk-free brands. The most commonly available brand to look out for is Pure. For baking, you can’t beat an old-fashioned hard margarine block like Stock, just remember to get it out of the fridge to soften if you are going to be mixing by hand.
Cheese alternatives: While there are a number of potato and soya based cheese alternatives available from health-food shops, they can be an acquired taste and don’t behave much like real cheese in cooking, so are probably best avoided to start with.
Fussy eaters beware: Substitutes often don’t taste much like their milk based equivalents – they aren’t unpleasant, just not quite what you are expecting. Desserts often have quite a custardy or blancmange-like flavour. Little ones will take their cue from you, so if you are introducing your child to dairy-free alternative, do try it yourself first so you know what taste they are experiencing and make sure that they aren’t looking, just in case you make a face. If they are already familiar with yoghurts, calling the dairy-free version a new pudding rather than ‘yoghurt’ will avoid confusion as they won’t have an expectation of taste.
Most supermarkets have standard allergy warnings on all their products making buying decisions quick and easy. If there aren’t any allergy warnings, watch out for hidden milk products: whey and caseinates should definitely be avoided as they are proteins; lactose is a sugar so far less likely to cause eczema. Milk products can also be used in all sorts of items including sausages (especially the cheaper ones), the coatings of fish fingers, smoothie type drinks and breads as well as the more obvious biscuits and pastries
‘Free-from’ ranges are appearing in many shops and are really helpful when you are starting out. They are a great source of both ingredients and pre-prepared items, although some products are better than others so it’s wise stick to the smaller sizes to start with. It’s worth knowing that while supermarkets tend to group the packeted and frozen ‘free-from’ items together – in the refrigerated displays they are usually displayed alongside their milky equivalents.
Dairy-free Meal guide
A number of regular baby cereals are dairy-free, but instant oat cereals like Ready Brek made with hot water make for a cheaper option – watch out for the salt content in some brands. Weetabix with a non-dairy ‘milk’ is also good. Watch out for the luxury muesli like Alpen as they often have dried milk in them. Don’t forget the traditional toast and jam.
For main meals, we’ve found it best to stick to things that just don’t have milk products in: shepherd’s pie (we use dairy-free margarine and some of the cooking water in mashed potato), roasts (see our dairy-free Yorkshire pudding recipe), pasta with tomato based or white sauces, homemade soups, baked fish, risottos (leave out the cream and cheese), scrambled eggs (just leave out or substitute the milk) and baked beans … Slightly surprisingly, our kids love mild thai curries which use coconut milk to get the creamy texture. Just pop the curry and noodles in the whizzer for toddler meals.
There are a number of 100% fruit puddings in the standard baby and toddler food ranges. For older children (and more variety) soya yoghurts, jellies, fruit crumbles (we use a hard margarine like Stork in the topping) and old-fashioned steam sponge puddings. Soya custard and ice-creams make great accompaniments. You can make a great chocolate fondue/sauce made with dark chocolate, golden syrup and soya cream which is hugely popular in our house.
There a plenty of dairy free snacks about: fresh and dried fruit, potato and corn crisps and snacks, bread sticks, rice cakes. There are also dairy-free biscuits and cereal bars in most free-from aisles, but it’s worthwhile checking the ingredients of any family favourites as there are dairy-free biscuits in the biscuits aisle. At the time of writing, Jammy Dodgers and Bourbons are dairy free but do check the ingredients as recipes do change. Our yummy applesauce muffins are great fun to make with little ones.
See our Yummy Recipes section for tried and tested child friendly and dairy-free recipes.
Here at ScratchSleeves we don’t just share our experiences of bringing up an eczema child and favourite allergy friendly recipes, we also manufacturer and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-10 years in a range of colours. Visit our main website for more information.