Southern Style Dairy-Free Living Made Easy


When my son was still in the newborn stage, we experienced a number of problems with low and slow weight gain and even weight loss. It took time before we figured out that he had problems with dairy, specifically dairy protein, and that we would need to change our diet to a dairy-free one that would accommodate his problems. Now two years later, we’ve gone back and forth on eating dairy only to wind up right back in the place where we are living a dairy-free lifestyle.

As a Southern mama who grew up with a healthy heaping helping of all things Southern food, I struggled with the idea of moving to dairy-free cooking. The horror! No biscuits and gravy? No cornbread? No exquisite Christmas treats? No thank you, ma’am!

As I delved into dairy-free cooking and adapting my methods to manage our new lifestyle, I quickly discovered loads of resources for those who are dairy-free. I also recognized that one of the biggest problems I would face is my Southern style of cooking. All things drenched in butter and enhanced by the addition of milk required a bit of tweaking on my part to make them work. So today I’d like to share a few substitutions you can make in your dairy-free cooking that will work well for Southern cooking as well as a couple of my favorite Southern style recipes.

Let’s talk about butter first, shall we?

I imagine most Southern cooks are familiar with Paula Deen and the rather obvious addition of butter to practically everything she cooks. (Perhaps an exaggeration, but I don’t think so!) Well, butter is one of the first things you axe from your cooking on a dairy-free diet. If you’re simply cooking something like eggs, an oil will substitute well to grease your pan. I prefer olive or coconut oil if I want to grease my pans, but vegetable oil will work in a pinch, too. If you are baking and butter is a part of the recipe, that’s where it can get tricky. You can substitute shortening or vegan shortening for some things and in others you can use coconut oil as a great substitute. However, one of my favorite substitutes for things like biscuits and other pastries is lard.

I know, I know, lard gets a lot of heat for its relatively dismal health properties. However it’s a staple of Southern cooking from years gone by. Lard makes amazing biscuits, delicious scones, and works well when you’re cooking things like Brussels sprouts or greens to add that lovely mouth feel of fat. So if you need a substitute for butter, I’d suggest at least experimenting with lard.

Butter aside, your other challenge on a dairy-free diet will likely be milk.

Some people don’t drink a lot of milk, but my family does, so we started with substituting some sort of dairy-free milk. You can choose any number of substitutes like soy, almond, cashew, and even pea protein milks. We prefer almond milk in our household because the flavor agrees with us better than most other options we’ve tried. For cooking and baking, again it can be a challenge to find something that will give you creaminess and the fat content of dairy milk. I find that almond milk works well for some things and canned coconut milk works well for others. If you need the fat content, I would always go with full-fat canned coconut milk unless you are very sensitive to the flavor of coconut milk.

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of dairy-free living is the loss of cheese.

Yes, there is vegan cheese, but sometimes giving up dairy means giving up cheese. One thing I’ve noticed is I don’t miss cheese nearly as much as I thought I would. (Blasphemy, I know!) But eating a dairy-free diet has meant that I experiment with my spices and flavors more, and I miss cheese less.

I hope these tips have helped anyone else who is going through a change to dairy-free living. I’d add that if you are sensitive to the taste of coconut and want to avoid some of the way it can flavor dishes, a great alternative is to buy refined coconut oil because it removes much of the flavor from the oil and works well in most anything you want to make. I use refined coconut oil in the original Chex mix recipe and find it substitutes great for butter.

And now I present to you three recipes that will hopefully keep your Southern tears at bay as you face losing all those delicious, delicious Southern foods we love. First is this amazing dairy-free biscuits recipe I discovered. The author of the recipe also has a number of other dairy-free recipes you can check out! I use lard in these biscuits and have found they turn out deliciously! Pair the biscuits with this sausage gravy recipe, and you have a finger-licking good breakfast. Last but not least, what Southern cook would go without a cornbread recipe to go with her beans and cornbread? Certainly not this one. I use this dairy-free cornbread recipe, and it is so good. I’ve used it in my Thanksgiving cornbread dressing and on its own. Either way it works great!

Do you have any good Southern style dairy-free recipes? Please share them in the comments so I can enjoy some more cooking!


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