A Dairy Free Guide to College Eating

Like most people, I grew up drinking milk with meals, eating ice cream on hot summer days, and enjoying pizza at birthday parties throughout my life. In fact, according to the US government’s dietary guidelines, over 80% of Americans consume more dairy on average than is recommended in a healthy diet, and according to an article from the Cornell Chronicle “…some 30 million to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.”

There are many reasons why people go without dairy; lactose intolerance, veganism, and other health reasons. With vegan diets on the rise and healthy eating becoming more accessible and feasible for all, the spread of dairy alternatives is becoming vast.

However, it is often still difficult for college students to go dairy free. So much of a college student’s diet is made up of cheese, milk or cream, from the dining hall meals to the comfort foods college students go back to after long days.

I learned I was lactose intolerant in high school, and after mostly ignoring my symptoms for those years, I went into my freshman year determined to stick to a milk-free diet. Based on that experience, I have gathered my best tips for going dairy-less as a college student.

1.Dairy alternatives are your friend

Or as my dad calls it, “better living through science”. We live in a day and age where soy, almond, and lactose-free products are numerous (and delicious).  Some of my favorite alternatives are:

  • Milk: My preferred alternative is goats milk. It’s the most milk-like and doesn’t affect me the way that soy and almond products do. However, it is clearly not a vegan alternative. Almond milk is overall the best alternative; it’s sweeter than dairy milk and not great for cooking, but is an amazing standalone drink.
  • Ice cream: Halo Top just released their lactose-free line and I have been obsessed. I can highly recommend the peanut butter cup; it tastes like regular ice cream with the Halo Top texture. Ben and Jerry’s and Talenti also sport dairy alternative ice creams and sorbets that rival the sweet treat you grew up with.
  • Coffee creamer: Califa. Almond. Creamer. It’s at Jeff Market right now and has an original option and a variety of flavored options.

2. Avoid the temptation of free food

This aspect is absolutely the hardest part of going without dairy. All student orgs, campus programming and even church and community events draw students in with free food and drinks, most often pizza or coffee. It’s hard to avoid the draw of free food and it’s hard to sit out when you haven’t eaten before. My only advice is to make sure to eat before or make plans for after. Just think: you’re staying clear of the main cause of the Freshman 15!

3. Find what works for you

If you’re lactose intolerant, finding what types of dairy upset your stomach can be a huge help. I’m not affected by most hard cheeses, but it took trying different kinds to see what works to discover that. If veganism or dietary concerns are your reasoning, but you still crave dairy, finding alternatives like vegan mac n’ cheese with avocado  or vegan mozzarella cheese for pizza can help ease the transition and help you step up your cooking game in the meantime.