is vegan dairy free?

I could feel the anxiety in my mom’s voice, “What does he eat for breakfast?” “Will he eat dairy?” “Should I buy him special milk?” It was the first time my new boyfriend was coming to visit my parents, and I just told my mom he was vegan. In high school, my mom was used to feeding all our friends in buffet lines of homemade lasagna topped with spicy Italian sausage and gooey mozzarella cheese (grandma Ercolini’s special recipe). Cooking for this new vegan boyfriend was uncharted territory and she wanted to make sure she got it right. 

Technically speaking vegan IS dairy free. A dairy product is milk and any foods that are made from milk. This includes cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt, and condensed and dried milk. Milk in the United States most commonly comes from cows, goats, sheep and buffalo. In other parts of the world less common milk animals are yaks, horses, reindeer, and donkeys. Since vegan refers to not using or containing animal products anything with milk (aka dairy) is not vegan. So just as a reminder, that reindeer cheese in the grocery store doesn’t pass the vegan test. 

Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Vegan Guests

Are Happy (and Well Fed)

1. Just Ask!

Like my mother and many panicked hosts before her, the best way to find out if your vegan guests will eat dairy is to just ask. No one knows better what they will and will not eat than the person you are trying to accommodate. While the classic definition of vegan is dairy free, even my strictest vegan friends usually have some exceptions. When you have a menu in mind you can run it by your potential guests to double check. Simply asking what foods your guest will not eat is always your safest bet (and trust me they appreciate it!)

2. Leave the Toppings on the Side

This is an easy fix when you’re unsure what your guests can and cannot eat. Try leaving the cheese topping on the side or adding it in after you’ve had the chance to ask your guests. Building a toppings buffet is a great stress-free way to let guests customize.

3. Swap with Dairy Free Alternatives

Now more than ever it is easy to accommodate guests who follow a vegan and dairy free diet. Below are a few of our favorite simple swaps for dairy free alternatives.


Substitute with a high quality oil like olive, avocado or  grapeseed. For sweet dishes or savory dishes that could use extra flavor try coconut oil. You also have the option of trying a vegan butter alternative from the store. Our favorite brand is Miyokos because it is made from simple plant based ingredients that you can actually read (like coconut oil, water, cashews, and sunflower oil) and tastes absolutely delicious. It even browns like real butter!

Butter Milk:

Add one to two tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar (apple cider or white vinegar) to a plant-based milk per one cup. Stir the mixture, let it stand for five to ten minutes or until thickened and you’re good to go.

Heavy Cream:

Mix equal parts silken tofu and soy milk and thoroughly blend. This mixture works well to thicken soups and sauces. You can also whip it up like heavy cream. .

Whip Cream:

Refrigerate a can of full fat coconut cream for at least 6 hours. The cream will have separated from the top. Scrape the cream into a bowl. Use a hand mixer to beat the coconut cream until it is fluffy. Add a little vanilla for flavor and a little sugar for sweetness.

Shopping for vegan milk at the grocery store used to be a challenge. Now the only trouble you will have is deciding which brand and type of vegan milk you prefer. Some popular options include:

Almond Milk
Almond milk is delicious, versatile, and it comes with lots of calcium. The only downside is it isn’t a great source of protein or fiber.

Soy Milk
Packed with 7-grams of protein, soy milk is widely available and has a creamy flavor. The downside is some people are allergic to soy or try to avoid it in general.

Rice Milk
Rice milk is a great alternative for people avoiding soy or nuts. It has a light flavor and can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk in most recipes.

Coconut Milk
Super flavorful, rich, and creamy, coconut milk is perfect for baking and in curries (or try it in your coffee). You might not want to use coconut milk as an alternative in some recipes since it has a strong flavor.

Oat Milk
Oat milk is one of my personal go-tos. It naturally has a sweater flavor and is loaded with protein. Oatly happens to be my favorite brand because it tastes delicious and foams up nicely for my morning latte.

Pea Milk
Possibly the most nutritious of all, pea milk is actually quite tasty. Loaded with protein, calcium, and heart healthy omega-3s, pea milk is a great dairy free choice.

*Don’t forget to check if the milk is sweetened or unsweetened. If you’re making a savory dish you will want to use a milk alternative without added sugar.

So to answer the question is vegan dairy free the classic answer is “yes”. Dairy products come from milk and milk comes from animals. Therefore, if a product or person is vegan they are dairy free. However, like my mom came  to learn, most people have their own interpretation of what it means to be vegan. Did this new vegan boyfriend starve when he came to visit? Definitely not, but he did like his cheese-free pizza with a side of ranch dressing.