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Can’t see the menu for the cheese

While I was on maternity leave, I read a great story in The New York Times about how a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been helping restaurant chains like Domino’s Pizza to pump ever-increasing amounts of cheese into its products, at the same time the government is telling us all to cut back on saturated fats.

I love cheese. My husband sometimes complains that our fridge is too full of packets of shredded cheese because I purchase them compulsively, always fearing I’ll run out just as I desperately need to top a pizza or fill a quesadilla.

Lately I’ve had my own personal reality check. My five-month-old daughter can’t tolerate milk proteins, so since I’m nursing her, I need to stay off dairy completely.

That news came right before Christmas, so I had the chance to come to terms with just how much of our holiday eating revolves around butter and cheese. Going out to eat can be an obstacle course. At lunch at a downtown Fredericksburg restaurant last week, I had to mentally cross off just about every item on the menu before the second-to-last offering on the list gave me a cheese-free option.

Sometimes fatty (and delicious) ingredients like cheese and butter can be crutches in our cooking, providing the easy way out when in fact there are a lot of other options for adding flavor. Here are some dishes my husband and I have both enjoyed during my dairy sabbatical (or at least, my husband is kind enough to say he has enjoyed them).

If you’re trying to make over your diet this January and a break from cheese and butter will help you with that, may these suggestions inspire you.

Mustard roasted chicken with vegetables. I added a little sherry, Dijon mustard and garlic to the marinade and threw some sweet potatoes in with the vegetables. This is an easy, comforting meal for a winter night.

Kale and chickpea soup. If you eat something as healthy as kale, you deserve something as yummy as chorizo. I didn’t have a potato around, and this soup was fine without it.

Beef stir-fry with snap peas. Stir fries have been a go-to meal during my dairy-free days. I bought a cheap rice cooker about a year ago that makes it even easier to get this on the table over brown rice.

This week’s challenge: Cheese-free pizza, to make use of the lonely ball of dough that’s been sitting in my freezer ever since the doctor called off dairy. I’ll let you know how that one goes.

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  • havingfun

    Is your daughter able to handle goat’s milk? That might open up your options some. :)

  • Becky

    Try Jamaican Red Beans and Rice. It’s so rich and creamy from the coconut milk – it’s non-dairy.
    This recipe is from my daughter. I’ve made it once and I’m trusting my memory.
    Saute a little Garlic in Olive oil. Add a large can of Kidney Beans. I forgot to drain it – it worked out fine. Let cook for a while and add 1 can Coconut milk and a Bay leaf and some Allspice, I think. I also added white pepper – I love white pepper! Lastly mix with cooked rice.
    Next time I cook it, I’m going to add fresh Italian flat leaf parsley.
    You’ll always want kidney beans and coconut milk in your pantry after you try this recipe!

  • Larry the G

    Here’s an answer I would like to know. We are told that hunger is still a big problem in our schools – that 1/3 (give or take) of kids NEED subsidized lunches and even breakfasts but at the same time 1/3 of the kids are Obese!

    so. my question is what percent of the obese are receiving subsidized meals?

    Hopefully, it’s zero but given the revelation about cheese… and the dept of agriculture…. hmmmmm

  • Mike Carmody


    We have some friends with similar issues and have their kids over regularly. As a fun kid activity we do “make your own pizza” and the dairy-free ones use goat cheese on their pizza. Apparently, for them at least, goat cheese does not present the same problems and the kids love it.. Hope this helps.


  • Emily Battle

    Thanks for the comments! I finally got my blog settings changed so the moderation requirements aren’t so strict, and they should be posting more quickly now. Look for a new post introducing a new regular feature on this blog very soon!