Newborn poop can appear in a rainbow of colors, but I was pretty sure it shouldn’t be red. So when I spotted a small clump of blood in my 4-week-old’s diaper, I hightailed it to the pediatrician, with the evidence sealed in a Ziploc. “You know you’re a mom when you’ve got a poopy diaper in your purse,” I joked to the doctor. “You know you’re a pediatrician when you actually like going through the poop, looking for answers,” she replied. Touche.
Within a few seconds, our doctor had a diagnosis: Cow’s milk protein allergy. Although my daughter is exclusively breastfed, she’s sensitive to the proteins in any cow’s milk products I consume. In addition to the blood in her diaper, the milk proteins may have been causing discomfort, such as gassiness. I was instructed to eliminate all dairy from my diet for at least six months, at which point the doctor will check to see if my baby has outgrown the allergy.
Now, I’d do anything in the world for my baby, but how was I supposed to cut out all dairy? It includes the four foods I live on: milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt. I’m already a vegetarian, so dairy has been my primary source of protein. Without it, I’m practically vegan, with the exception of eggs — though I tend to prefer them slathered in cheddar or Hollandaise sauce. What’s more, breastfeeding makes me as hungry as a teenage boy after soccer practice. Take away my regular snacks of greek yogurt, string cheese, baked goods, and (gulp) ice cream, and what the heck was I going to eat?
My first stop was the market, but grocery shopping proved complicated. It wasn’t like all the dairy-free items were clustered in one section, so I really had to read ingredients and allergen warnings carefully. Besides obvious no-nos like butter and cream, I’d need to avoid any foods containing whey or casein (both milk proteins). What I soon learned is that dairy lurks in the strangest places — like English muffins! That is “whey” harsh, dude. I did find a wide selection of almond milk coffee creamers, soy yogurts, and coconut milk-based desserts. I stopped short of faux cheese, since “On top of spaghetti…all covered with nutritional yeast” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
If you want to do something right, you do it yourself, yes? So I set about cooking up some non-dairy recipes, such as milkless pancakes. They were yummy, but since I didn’t exactly have my hands free with a newborn and a 4-year-old, I burned the first batch and set off the smoke alarm. Regular scratch cooking probably isn’t in the cards for me.
Luckily, I live in California, where there is no shortage of vegan restaurants. I decided to try them all in one day, dragging my family around on a dairy-free culinary adventure. The food was surprisingly tasty. However, one unanticipated downside of a diet of fruit, vegetables, and legumes? My husband and I spent most of the evening doubled over: death by beans. Straight up vegan may not be for me. But the best news ever was when I realized that many Asian cuisines, like Thai and Japanese, are generally dairy-free. Love me some pad thai. Another great source of non-dairy delights is a Jewish deli; since those who keep kosher don’t want to mix milk with meat, staples like rye bread and bagels (or any grocery items marked “Pareve“) are usually a safe bet.
So I’m working it out, day by day. You’d think my diet would be super healthy, but I find myself compensating with the one comfort food I’m still allowed to eat — sugar. And I’ve gotten reacquainted with my old friend, processed foods, as they are more likely to include “fake” non-dairy ingredients. For instance, did you know that Oreos are dairy free? Pop-tarts too. Come over, I’ve stashed both in the pantry, hidden behind the quinoa. Shhh, don’t tell my preschooler.
It’s cathartic to complain, but big picture, I know none of this matters. We’d do anything for our kids, amiright? As long as they’re healthy and happy, a little dairy deprivation is nothing. But when my baby finally outgrows her milk protein allergy, she’d better understand that mom plans on sharing her mac ‘n cheese.