Zen of Dairy-Free Food

When you first discover that a child requires a dairy-free diet, or as in my case, you marry someone with this condition, it can seem that food is going to be a real problem. However, life need not be as bleak as it appears. The only thing which you have to accept straight away is that you are going to be cooking meals from scratch from now on since almost all ready-meals have dairy produce lurking somewhere in the ingredients. If you have not cooked much prior to this, you are in for a rapid learning curve! The important thing is not to see it as a life sentence but as the opportunity to acquire a new life-skill: cooking really can be fun and the sense of achievement when you watch people enjoying something which you have created is tremendous.

It has always been my belief that food should be something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured. Too many people seem to view food as an opportunity for martyrdom, choosing to focus on all the things which they cannot eat or do not like, as opposed to the things which they can eat and do enjoy. Our approach to food is to dwell on the positive side and central to this is the fact that we eat the same food at the same time. By this I mean that just because one of the family does not need to follow a dairy-free diet does not mean that she sits down to macaroni cheese covered in melted cheddar or mozzarella and smelling delicious, while the rest of us have to make do with something else. It seems important to me to produce meals which the whole family can eat. This is particularly the case when a child is involved, since separate food for the one with dietary restrictions will only make the child more aware of what he/she cannot eat. If we want children to grow up with a positive attitude towards food, it is important that, if at all possible, it does not become a source of tension when they are very young. Few things can cause tears and tantrums faster than a small child watching another one being given something which he/she is not allowed to have, be it a toy, a garment or some food. This is such a negative way to approach food, and food should be an enjoyable and sociable experience. I always make a point of producing meals which everyone can eat: that way no-one feels excluded and one is much less aware of the restricted nature of the diet.

The challenge of making meals which all the family can eat, is to create dishes which all the family will enjoy eating. To some extent, this is less of a problem for those who have never known anything other than a dairy-free diet: it is much more of a problem when part of the family is used to eating dairy produce – and likes it. The recipes in this collection are specifically designed to cater for such a situation. They are not intended to scream, “You are eating something dairy-free,” quite the reverse: the aim is that unless you know what went into a dish you would assume that it had been produced ‘normally’. Therefore, while some are naturally dairy-free, many are adapted versions of favourite meals which normally rely on using cheese, milk, cream etc.. I have tweaked and adjusted these until they taste as close as possible to the original dish, whilst being completely dairy-free. Many of them have been passed as being indistinguishable from ‘the real thing’ by non-milk-free eaters, some are inevitably different, but none the less tasty in our opinion. We hope that you enjoy them too.