What Are the Best Tips for Making Lactose-Free Meals?

J. Beam

Lactose intolerance is not an uncommon digestive condition and refers to an inability to digest lactose, a sugar naturally occurring in milk and milk products. Individuals with lactose intolerance lack certain enzymes in their small intestine to sufficiently break down this sugar for digestion, causing cramping, bloating, and gas. The only solution for lactose intolerant individuals to avoid these and other symptoms of lactose intolerance is to eat lactose-free meals.

Many people are allergic or sensitive to the lactose found in dairy products.
Many people are allergic or sensitive to the lactose found in dairy products.

Lactose-free meals are not difficult to contrive and prepare, but it may take some practice to get acquainted with adequate substitutions for common dairy ingredients. The most obvious lactose culprit is milk. Substituting soy milk, almond milk and rice milk for regular milk is the easiest thing to do. While slightly more expensive than dairy milk, these non-dairy milk products are readily available in supermarkets and can be substituted anywhere milk is called for.

Lactose-free meals should not include any milk or cheese.
Lactose-free meals should not include any milk or cheese.

When preparing lactose-free meals, it is important to identify lactose-containing ingredients so they are omitted. Milk and cheese are the leading dairy products that contain lactose. While substituting milk is simple, cheese is a bit more complicated. Some prepared cheese products are lactose-free, even though they aren’t labeled as such, it is because they aren’t dairy products.

An example of non-dairy cheese is imitation cheese slices. These might suffice for a sandwich, but in recipes calling for cheese, imitation or non-dairy cheeses don’t always melt nicely. Finding a substitute for cheese in certain recipes may be a challenge, but can be done with a bit of research of different cheese sauce recipes. Many yogurts, especially ones with active cultures, do not contain lactose. Lactose-free plain yogurt makes a nice substitute for sour cream and vanilla flavored yogurt can replace cream cheese dips for fruits.

Preparing lactose-free meals from scratch ingredients is sometimes easier than trying to prepare meals with prepared food products. When using prepared food products, such as salad dressings, box mixes and sauces, read the ingredient labels carefully. Most labels will indicate if the product contains milk, but also be conscious of whey as an ingredient. Products that are labeled “creamy” often have milk ingredients that may not be obvious. Also look for products that are labeled kosher.

For hard to find products and dairy-free ingredients to use in the preparation of lactose-free meals, look in the health food section of local supermarkets or shop at local health food stores or specialty grocer retailers. Search for diary- or lactose-free recipes online or in cookbooks to widen the variety of meal choices.

Reading labels of packaged foods is especially important for those on a lactose-free diet.
Reading labels of packaged foods is especially important for those on a lactose-free diet.

Discussion Comments


Has anyone had any good imitation cheeses? I have tried a few but most of them have been gross and all for different reasons. I have had other good substitutes for animal products but for some reason they haven't got cheese down yet


I cannot imagine eating a lactose free diet. I begin my day with cereal and milk, go on to eat something with cheese for lunch and often have ice cream for dessert after dinner. I love dairy and I think I would loose a love of food if I had to go without it.


I had to get really good at making lactose free meals when both of my teenage daughters decided to become vegans at the same time. I made all of our meals and there was a definite learning curve. I had to catch myself more than a few times about to add butter to something or throw on a handful of cheese.

But after a month or so I got used to cooking that way and even grew to like the food. I think it helped that I lost five pounds. I never went full vegan myself but both of the girls still are.

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