No-dairy queen: how finding dairy-free alternatives for a toddler led to new discoveries

By Thando Moleketi-Williams, 10 September 2023

You try finding dairy-free alternatives for a toddler with severe allergies … Forced to eschew takeaway pizza and prep hard for every kids’ party, Thando Moleketi-Williams also discovered some unexpected treats that she keeps up her sleeve

Reading the digital newsletter, 40 Days Postpartum + by Dee Marco, I was reminded of a quote on mothering that resonated with me. In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s movie The Lost Daughter, the character Leda Caruso describes motherhood as “a crushing responsibility” and I have to agree that it often feels this way when you have a child with an allergy.

Our almost three-year-old daughter has a severe dairy and peanut allergy, though not anaphylactic, at least. Since finding this out a few weeks post birth, the constant levels of alertness have at times felt crushing. As a result, I’ve had to give up dairy and have migrated to being an oat milk coffee and tea drinker. Reading labels just wasn’t my thing for 37 years of my existence, now it’s second nature. I’m also constantly planning food for play dates, other kids’ parties and every meal outside home.

easy melon and strawberry yoghurt lollies

I’ve been surprised at a playschool bring-and-share by luminous ice lollies that looked like frozen juice concentrate and water but actually had skim milk powder listed as an ingredient. Mind-blowing! Two big lessons for us as a family: don’t take anything at face value and it’s better to be over-prepared than under. We always have a snack bag or emergency apples and bananas on hand, because you can’t drop your guard even once.

ALSO READ: 3 delicious dairy-free desserts

A quick pizza takeaway or frozen pizza for all of us is a thing of the past. This is now a one-on-one treat for our four-year-old when he has alone time with me or my hubby. In fact, quite a few of our go-to meal shortcuts and takeaways have come to a halt. As our family expanded, our world of food options contracted. I am amazed by the number of prepared ready-meal items and menus that contain dairy either in the form of butter, mostly cheese, and surprisingly even buttermilk. Thus the task of finding nut- and dairy-free foods that Sampa would love began.


I went back to some of my huiskos. Cabbage bredie and rice, cabbage stew with lamb and potatoes, pasta and tomato sauce – either a vegetarian Neapolitan sauce or a classic Bolognese (without the milk, of course). She also has a love for noodles, either rice or egg, especially the two-minute variety served with julienned vegetables and soya sauce. Dare to serve a noodle without a splash of soya sauce and you will feel the cool, very vocal displeasure of this toddler. We’ve also become fish finger people, the frozen kind, served with fries and peas and mint-infused olive oil.

A pleasant discovery was that Woolies’ traditional and extra spicy hot cross buns are vegan, which means they are not reserved for Easter in our household but have become a grocery cupboard staple. It’s not all bad! This “challenge” has also brought unexpected deliciousness to our home. Never would I have imagined that milk’s favourite cookie, the original Oreo, was dairy free.

ALSO READ: 3 delicious dairy-free dishes to get you through the day

By that I mean that dairy isn’t listed in the ingredients, although they may contain milk as a “cross contaminant”. I’m no doctor or food scientist but, touch wood, we’ve not had a single reaction yet. I didn’t need to know this until we were forced to find a sweet treat that wasn’t fruit. For the first 18 months of Sampa’s life, most of her sweet treats were either fruit, home-made baked goods or came at eye-watering prices from delis.

Dairy-free chocolate birthday cake

Find the recipe for dairy-free chocolate birthday cake here. 

Then came the Instagram reel proclaiming that the original Oreo is vegan. Now I have a child who sometimes demands an Oreo at breakfast, as comfort when there’s an ouchie, and as a replacement for a Marie biscuit after every swimming lesson. I have also stumbled across the best blueberry muffin recipe courtesy of chef Dominique Ansel’s Masterclass. We simply substitute whole milk yoghurt with a coconut-based cultured yoghurt. And I’ve freed myself from the self-imposed pressure of baking chocolate cakes from scratch. I now use Woolworths’ chocolate cake box mix. Just add free-range eggs, oil and substitute dairy-free milk. I add a splash of espresso and vanilla extract to make it feel like my own.

The kids love it and I feel a sense of accomplishment without the internalised pressure of making it from scratch – I call it self care! It may be exhausting at times but we have to keep at it. And compared to three years ago, there are many more tasty, relatively accessible alternatives for people with dairy allergies. Yes, it’s hard to navigate in the playschool and pre-school environments, but here I am, a bit smug with original Oreo in hand, dunking it into an oat milk babyccino and planning her birthday chocolate cake and Oreo bonanza.

ALSO READ: 6 of our favourite dairy-free desserts

Thando Moleketi-Williams

Article by Thando Moleketi-Williams

Thando Moleketi-Williams is the founder of Jozi Foodie Fix and AndBathandwa, both on Instagram. She shares a weekly mailer, AndBathandwa Eats, offering quick meal inspo for parents.
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