If you are trying to be more plant-based, but you’re a cheese addict like me, then I sympathize with you! I find it pretty easy to skip the meat and do more bean- or legume-based dishes, but skipping the dairy is much more difficult. I’ve never been much of a milk drinker or ice cream eater because I was lactose intolerant growing up. Cheese and yogurt, on the other hand, I was always able to handle fairly well. And while it’s super easy to find almond milk to replace cow’s milk…the cheese, yogurt and butter are much more difficult to come by.
This is my biggest struggle, and here is why: I live in a small(ish) town of about 40,000. Aldi, Walmart and Schnuks are the only major grocers in my town — no Trader Joe’s, no Costco, no Whole Foods, etc. I’m also in the Midwest, aka the middle of the farm belt, which means the plant-based/vegan way of life is not prevalent here outside of major cities, and therefore options in our stores are sparse. My hometown, 30 miles north, is only 8,000 people and the options are extremely limited there — the only grocery stores are a Walmart and a couple of small, locally-owned stores. If this sounds like where you live, then hopefully I will be able to give you some realistic options that many of the YouTubers and bloggers in big cities can’t.
Aldi has great organic and vegan options in every other section except the dairy aisle. Walmart has Earth Balance butter and one variety of dairy-free cheese, which is Mexican style, so far from versatile for recipes. Schnuks (and also Target, which is a standard Target with limited grocery items in my town) has Daiya, but the prices are steep (almost $5 for 7.1oz, compared to $2 for an 8oz block of dairy cheese at Aldi that I shred myself). The Earth Balance at Walmart is at least USDA organic, but I’m definitely not crazy about all of the oils. Thankfully I really only use butter in baking, like cookies and biscuits.
When it comes to yogurt — forget it! The only option we have here for yogurt (except for maybe the one very small, locally owned health food store, where prices on everything are marked up about 1/3 higher than everywhere else) is at Schnuks. The only options they have are coconut yogurts that are loaded in sugar; anywhere from 16 – 24 grams per serving. I buy plain organic Greek yogurt, which I sweeten myself with vanilla extract and stevia, and also use plain as a substitute for mayo since I don’t like the taste of mayo, and there is no unsweetened, plain coconut milk yogurt anywhere in town.
Between the prices and the lack of healthy options, dairy alternatives are tough to come by in small towns like mine. Making your own non-dairy cheese usually requires nutritional yeast and that can’t be found in any of our stores, and also cashews, which are super expensive. The only options for nutritional yeast are to either order online at Walmart and have delivered to the store, or order from Amazon. However, I’ve decided the “make my own” route is the best option for me under the circumstances!
If you are not in a major city, then I have no doubt you feel my pain on this. Right now my goal is to really start cutting back more on dairy, and I’m finding it to be tough and expensive for alternatives. On the meal plan for next week I have a baked lentil ziti, which is a vegetarian recipe that uses a full container of ricotta and mozzarella. I’m going to make a béchamel with vegan butter to replace the ricotta, and I will make my own mozzarella using cashews (I’m going to bite the bullet and pay the $10 for a 16oz container) and nutritional yeast, which I’m ordering from Amazon.
I’m also working on making a new shortbread recipe using vegan butter and coconut sugar for my upcoming Christmas Cookie Swap party. I developed a Raspberry Stained Glass cookie recipe last year using the traditional butter and refined sugar, but my goal is to make a dairy-free version that, while still sugary, is lower on the glycemic index (hence the coconut sugar). As for the flour? Well…whole wheat flour really is not a substitute for all purpose when it comes to cakes and cookies. I haven’t had much luck with gluten free alternatives like almond flour, either. The texture just isn’t the same and the baked goods really don’t hold together well. So the all purpose flour is here to stay for my cookie recipes. If I get it where I want it, I will be sure to share the final recipe!
I will also let you know how the vegan cheese turns out, and share the links to the recipes with you, as well as the link to the nutritional yeast on Amazon. So for any of you small-towners like myself who don’t have access to stores that carry this stuff, maybe it will help make your health journey slightly easier.
Next up on my replacement list is eggs. I’ve not dug into this too much since I tend to use more egg whites and less egg yolks to skip the fat, calories and cholesterol. Since I’m not vegan, just plant-centered, I’m pretty okay with this. However, there are some breakfast dishes, such as breakfast burritos, where I would like to try something like a Tofu scramble to see if it’s a plant-based change I can adopt. I will definitely keep you posted!
Next up on the blog – Mediterranean Monday! I will be sharing a new curry recipe with you that I developed this week, so check back soon!