Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dairy-Free Eating

Low-fat, vegan chocolate-zucchini muffins and blueberry oatmeal muffins I made last Monday. Taste tested by six children over two days...
Everyone liked them!

So our family’s dairy-free challenge is officially over and I wanted to share the results. In seven weeks, I ate dairy on only two occasions including the local Indian lunch buffet (butter and milk) and some cheese on a dish baked at a work-related dinner (and that was a while ago now). Steve shared the same dinner and also ate a cheese dish or two at a conference. I have no other confessions to make regarding the adults. I have to say it wasn’t all that difficult. We made minor modifications to some of the things we like to cook and became very excited about a new cookbook. The kids, on the other hand, ate dairy at four school lunches and also four times when eating at friends’ houses for dinner. It was definitely more than I thought they would eat.

We spent the month cooking from my new favorite cookbook, the Happy Herbivore. The author also has a blog. Not only are all the recipes vegan, but low-fat as well. Even the kids liked most of the dishes we made. Have I missed dairy at all? Nope, not one bit. The irony about going dairy-free is that it has led to other positive changes. For example, I am eating way less sugar because so many of the cookies and baked goods I would have snacked on had dairy in them. While I did make vegan cupcakes on two occasions, there are far less treats to eat on a day-to-day basis. Also, I purposefully am not substituting many vegan options to replace the dairy I used to eat (e.g. no soy yogurt, no margarine or other butter spread, very little cheese substitutes). As a result, I am eating less fat as a portion of my total calories. All in all, I am feeling very good about our food choices lately and happy with the results. We have no plans to start eating dairy any time soon.

With regard to the kids, things are a little more complicated. First off, I came to realize that bread, meat, and cheese are the cornerstones of the picky child diet. My kids are not picky eaters. In fact, they are very good eaters. One of the biggest complements we have received from another parent is, "I am amazed at what your kids eat!" They eat a lot of foods other kids simply refuse and I am grateful for that. So maintaining a dairy-free household is easy. In fact the kids are fine with vegan eating. Meals outside of home are far more challenging. In order to satisfy both the needs of picky eaters and vegetarians, cheese becomes the default main ingredient for the meal (i.e. mac and cheese, pizza, quesadillas, etc.). So the times the kids ate dairy, it was at a social function. For the moment, we have decided to be flexitarian outside our home (mostly for the kids). Come to the Prager house for dinner though, and your kids will be eating a vegan dinner too.

Finally, by paying this much attention to not eating dairy, I have become much more aware of how much dairy people really are eating. I too once said that I could never give up cheese because I liked it so much. Well, I did and I am now ok with it! It takes time for your taste preferences to change, but they will. Semira is a perfect example of this. When she came home with us in 2008, she would not eat any dairy at all. Cheese was absolutely disgusting to her. After introducing it to her over and over again, she began to eat it and like it a lot. Now, we introduced Daiya as a cheese replacement. Two months ago, she didn’t like it at all. The other day she asked for it on tortilla chips.

Instead of viewing our family choices as deprivation, we embarked on a culinary adventure looking for new, exciting dishes to make. If one of us doesn't like something, we try something else. If the kids don’t like something the first time, we try again. You know what? It works!

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