Let’s be honest here: as kosher-keeping Jews it’s really fairly easy to feed a milk-allergic child (or other member of your family). With kitchens that are already separating milk/meat/pareve, we have the option of preparing pareve (or even meat!) breakfasts, lunches and suppers without having to worry about cross-contamination. No one has to run out and buy new sets of pots and pans or spend five minutes scouring the pots and pans they already have to make sure that some microscopic piece of cheese isn’t still stuck on their Teflon.
In an interesting turn of events, I’ve actually read accounts from non-Jews in which they share that they’ve been advised by their family allergists to start looking at Kosher Certification on all the food they purchase – because they know that those items aren’t coming into any contact whatsoever with any milk.*
That being said, having to accommodate a dairy allergy can be difficult when it comes to breakfast or lunchtime. In fact, I’ve so gotten into the habit of giving my daughter, Idy, plastic cutlery to eat with (to avoid cross-contamination) that the one time I gave her a real dairy spoon to eat her soy pudding with, I went and put it straight into my (empty) meat sink when she was done! The possibility for halachic complications abound – what if I had given her a meat spoon and then dropped it into a hot pot of farina in my dairy sink?
Furthermore, for the mother of multiple small children, there’s the increased risk of cross-contamination when a food-allergic child is sitting at the table with other non-allergic children. And, while it’s true that an eight-year-old knows not to take his/her six-year-old sibling’s cup of milk, that isn’t going to stop the rowdy six-year-old from accidentally knocking said cup across the table.
For me, on an emotional level, a milk allergy is quite difficult. Idy was born the last day of Pesach and I (admittedly, quite irrationally) feel that the Motzei Pesach Pizza Party that so many of us celebrate should be her birthday party – making it, by virtue of its timing, the most anticipated birthday party of the year. Not only does she miss out on the that, I dread every birthday that passes without her growing out of the allergy; it means I’m one year closer to her being awake when Yom Tov is over and watching everyone return to chometz with pizza and fries while she gets… more chicken and potatoes!
But this is our lot. So. Where to begin?
For me, I’ve found it most helpful to just never serve Idy on ‘real’ dishes or with ‘real’ cutlery or ‘real’ cups/glasses. All her dishes and utensils are single-use, so cross-contamination is rarely an issue (I say rarely because mistakes do happen). When she used sippy cups or toddler-geared plates and bowls, they were always color-coded pink or green so that no one would mistakenly use them for something else. Furthermore, I started sending her to playgroup ‘late’. Once diagnosed, I didn’t want to have the worry that she was going to pick up someone else’s bottle or sandwich and have a reaction. Today, she not only knows she is allergic to milk, but can verbalize it as well.
True story: two weeks ago, I was preparing a soy-butter sandwich for Idy to have for Seudah Shlishit. My husband walked into the kitchen to get something and, seeing us, declared, “Idy, when you outgrow your milk allergy, we’re going to have the most awesome melave malka pizza parties!”. With that announcement, he walked out. Idy, though, wasn’t done with the conversation. “I allergic to pizza!” she screamed after him, all righteous indignation.
The final two things that I’ve made a habit of are probably the most important when raising a small child with a milk allergy. First: I never make negative comments about her milk-alternative foods. Toffuti sliced ‘cheese’, for example, stinks. Simple and (to one’s nose) obvious. The ‘white’ cheese smells worse than the ‘cheddar’. In fact, I have a distant cousin who lives on our block who also has a milk-allergic child and she recently told me that she won’t even touch it – she makes him take it out of the wrapper when preparing a ‘pizza’ for him (he’s a few years older than Idy). But I don’t ever want Idy to approach food with a attitude that anything is disgusting (important, I think, for any child – with or without a milk allergy) and I also don’t want to make her feel bad about her allergy. Right now, it’s a simple way of life for her and she LOVES Toffuti sliced cheese. But as soon as she gets old enough to realize that her stuff isn’t as good as our stuff, she’ll start to question its appeal – and herself. Not something I want.
Second: as soon as Idy was diagnosed, I immediately began labeling things as ‘Kosher L’Idy’. This made it simple for people who came into our house to know whether something was safe or not. And, as soon as she became verbal enough, I immediately made it part of my vocabulary to distinguish between cow’s milk (the only milk in the U.S.A that, by law, is allowed to label itself as just ‘milk’ – all others must specify, be it ‘goat’ or ‘soy’ or ‘rice’ or so on) products and the other milk-alternative products that are ‘Kosher L’Idy’. As a result, Idy can easily identify and verbalize to others what she can or cannot have. I also feel that it eases confusion for children as they learn language – if the soy milk in their sippy is ‘milk’ and the ‘cow milk’ in Mommy’s coffee is ‘milk’ how do they easily identify what is safe?
With that small primer out of the way, let’s talk substitutes. Thank goodnewss, for the Kosher Consumer, dairy-alternatives abound. Here are a couple of favorites:
Milk: soy, rice, coconut, hemp and oat all produce drinkable cow milk-alternatives. And a variety of companies (Soy Dream/Rice Dream, Leibers, Soy Go, Soy Slender, EdenSoy, etc) produce them. They are readily available in most Kosher groceries, as well as major supermarkets. Many companies also provide a ‘vanilla’ or ‘chocolate’ flavored variety.
Cheese: Toffuti is truly a brand-leader when it comes to alternatives for cow milk cheese. They produce a soy-based Sour Cream (excellent when smeared on top of bone-in chicken, covered in bread crumbs and then baked), soy-based cream cheese in a variety of flavors and, of course, the sliced ‘cheese’. Beware that they REALLY don’t smell good. I’ve also just found out that they have a mock Ricotta cheese and while I haven’t tried it (not being a big cheese person myself) I would certainly recommend it, based on the performance of their other products. Daiya makes a variety of cheeses that are free of most common allergens. It is certified Kosher Pareve by the OU and can be used as a cup for cup substitution.
A note regarding non-milk based cheeses: watch as it bakes. The different bases (rice, peas, etc) have different melting points and also melt to different stringiness-es (yes, I just made that up). So, when using cheese substitutes in something that will bake for a long time (like on top of a lasagna) it is recommended that you add the top of layer of cheese only in the last 5-10 minutes of baking to avoid over-browning.
Pudding and Yogurt: ZenSoy and HaTeva both market soy-based puddings in a variety of flavors (plain/chocolate/vanilla/caramel). Be careful to read the labels as HaTeva also produces an almond-based pudding that will obviously be an issue if a nut allergy is a concern. Silk Live! makes a soy-based yogurt in 9 different flavors (this has an OU-D hechsher due to an equipment issue, but shouldn’t cause a reaction except for those severely allergic). WildWood also has soy-based yogurts, with a pareve hechsher given by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of San Francisco, though the flavors are more limited.
Buttermilk: Since most kosher homes tend to keep home-baked good pareve and aren’t using buttermilk to prepare meat, most are unaware of how wonderful a pareve version can be. Letting chicken soak in a ‘buttermilk’ bath before dredging and frying for Southern Fried Chicken really helps to tenderize it. Simply add 1 TBSP of acid (lemon juice or vinegar, for example) to every cup of milk alternative. Allow to curdle for 10 minutes before adding chicken to soak. (Alternatively, you may substitute 1 cup of plain yogurt OR 2/3 cup soy-based sour cream with 1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk.)
Ice Cream Substitutes: Fairly easy to find for those of us who live in larger Jewish communities, your local grocery most likely stocks a variety of pareve ice cream options. Besides the more recognizable brands, Toffuti and Soy Delicious Purely Decadent are great non-dairy options.
Butter: Another easy find. Grocery stores are stocked up with dairy-free margarines year-round, as well as Crisco vegetable shortening or Smart Balance.
In general, most grocery stores that cater to a Jewish community (whether it’s your corner grocery, local Shop-Rite, Target or Wal-Mart) will have a wide range of products to suit a dairy-free diet. While receiving an allergy diagnoses is always hard, it’s always been my personal opinion that a milk allergy in the Kosher community is the easiest one to adjust to.
Have any other great dairy-free recommendations to make? Please share them in the comments!