Variations on Classic Meals

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

Dietary restrictions can arise for a number of reasons. You, your family, and your guests may want or need menu changes due to allergies, intolerance, health concerns, moral convictions, or religious beliefs. Or you might just want to try something different tonight. Following are three classic American dishes served-up in a variety of ways.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Lactose-Free – This seems counter-intuitive. If you’re eliminating dairy, why even make macaroni and cheese? Because of the nostalgia. Most people who avoid lactose grew up on this tried-and-true favorite and they miss it. The simplest way to turn mac ‘n cheese into a lactose-free meal is to substitute the traditional cheese (such as Colby or cream cheese) for non-dairy versions. Lactose comes from cows and only from cows, so goat cheese or sheep’s cheese such as Manchego are great options here. Mix and match for a depth of flavor. For example, a soft, mild sheep’s cheese such as Brebisrousse d’Argental might pair well with Pecorino Romano.

Whole grain – This is an obvious one. Just switch out your pasta for a whole-grain option. If you’re making this dish from scratch, use whole wheat or spelt as your pasta flour.

Extra Protein – Cheese is high in protein but if you want to add a few more grams sprinkle some cooked, chopped bacon on top before serving.

Vegetarian – Cheese is made from milk and most people therefore consider it a vegetarian ingredient. However, some cheeses, especially hard grating cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, are made with an enzyme from the digestive lining of the cow. If you want assurance that your dish is truly vegetarian, verify whether your cheese was aged with this traditional method. Many, but not all Boar’s Head brand cheeses are certified vegetarian. Check their website for a list.

Vegan – Mac ‘n Cheese is not a vegan dish by nature. If you’re truly craving it but animal products are not for you there is a work-around. Some supermarkets and most health food shops stock vegan cheeses and cream cheeses that you can substitute. They’re pricey, so if you want to add creaminess for less coin consider cutting-in some pureed avocado after baking.

Gluten Free – The biggest source of gluten in this dish is the pasta. Many great alternatives exist, such as rice pasta or noodles made from chickpeas and/or buckwheat. Also, check your cheeses for hidden gluten - especially flavored or herbed cheeses. Dairy-free or vegan cheese alternatives may contain gluten-based thickeners such as wheat starch.

Nut-Free – Traditional macaroni and cheese recipes don’t call for nuts or nut-based ingredients. If you or one of your guests has a nut allergy just be sure that your pasta doesn’t contain nut puree. (This applies mostly to gluten free pastas.)


Lactose Free – The dairy-free cheeses mentioned above also work well on a cheeseburger. If you pile on enough condiments and veggies you won’t even notice the difference.

Whole Grain – Whole grain buns are easy to find in supermarkets and bakeries. If you’re looking to go 100% whole grain check the product’s label to see if any refined grains have been added to the mix. Breads and buns can advertise as “whole wheat” or “whole grain” even if up to 49% of their grain content is refined.

Extra Protein – Fry an egg and add it to the top of the patty under the vegetables.

Vegetarian – Vegetarian burgers are big talk these days. Ever since Burger King introduced the Impossible Burger it seems that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Grocery stores offer many options, such as Boca and Gardein. These preformed patties can be high in processed ingredients, so if you’re looking to go all-natural consider mixing your own vegetarian patties at home. has a recipe that is great for beginners.

Vegan – Most vegetarian burgers are not vegan and not even lactose-free. If you want to ensure a vegan patty, then burgers from scratch are the way to go. They’re relatively simple to make. Start your mix with cooked black beans (whole or paste), a cooked grain of your choice, and any petite-diced vegetables you have available. You’ll need something sticky in the mix to compensate for the lack of eggs. Super soft, mashed sweet potatoes are one good option. Mix well, form into patties, and cook on a skillet or grill prepped with a plant-based oil. Vegan patties tend to stick while cooking so apply your cooking oil liberally. Also, look into dairy-free melting cheeses like daiya.

Gluten Free – The obvious offender here is the bun. Buy or make a gluten-free dough, or go bunless and wrap your burger in leaf lettuce instead. If you’re purchasing ground beef patties instead of forming them yourself, check the ingredient list for breadcrumbs, food starch, or other glutinous add-ins.

Nut-Free – Cheeseburgers and nuts don’t usually cohabitate. If you’re making a classic cheeseburger recipe you should be able to avoid nuts without much fuss.

Taco Night

Lactose-Free – Traditional street tacos don’t contain cheese. They’re made with meat or tofu, chopped white onion, and fresh cilantro atop a grilled corn tortilla. A lime wedge completes the presentation. If you need cheese to feel complete on taco night refer to the lactose-free options mentioned earlier.

Whole Grain – Most corn tortillas are whole grain (unless they’ve been cut with refined wheat/white flour). The crunchy shells sold in grocery stores are corn tortillas that have been deep-fried. Also, whole wheat flour tortillas do exist but they cost more. You could make them at home by mixing whole grain flour, oil, salt, and water, then frying in a pan.

Extra Protein – Tacos are protein-rich by nature. If you need a boost, double the meat.

Vegetarian – Tofu tacos are delicious and can be found on the menu at most restaurants, including quick-service chains. And just about any cooked or shredded vegetable works well on a taco.

Vegan – Most tofu tacos can be made vegan by eliminating the cheese. If you want to add-back some creaminess top your tofu with avocado slices or prepared guacamole.

Gluten Free – The primary taco ingredient that is likely to contain gluten is the tortilla. Check your ingredient list or make gluten free corn tortillas at home. If your “meat” is tofu, check the ingredient list to make sure gluten was not used as a filler.

Nut-Free – Nuts are not likely to be an issue on taco night, but it never hurts to be vigilant. Check any sauces or marinades for nut-based ingredients prior to using.

Food alterations and substitutions can be fun. Enjoy experimenting in the kitchen. You just might find that a gluten free tortilla or a sheep’s cheese becomes your new favorite!



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