When I first got rid of dairy in my diet, I was awful about the transition. I wandered grocery store aisles, exclaiming at the amount of food I couldn't eat anymore...you can imagine I was a lot of fun to be around in those first few months!
Luckily, the last three years has taught me a lot about how to enjoy eating without dairy. Whether you are doing it for lactose intolerance, diet, or allergy, I hope this could help someone else out there!
1. The first thing I would say is to create unbreakable rules for your diet. If you have a full allergy to diary, this most likely means cutting out all dairy. (Yes, even those small pats of butter on bagels that seem so completely harmless. Spoiler: they're not...evil little pats of butter!).
If you are okay with a little more dairy, you want to specify which foods (french toast and pizza) or which times of the week (one day of the weekend). Rather than deciding each item whether or not you can eat an item every time you go out, you can easily and quickly use the rules.
2. If you're out at an unfamiliar restaurant, don't get the vegetarian option. I know it seems really tempting, as vegetarian is so close to vegan, and you COULD get a beautiful tofu scramble. Unfortunately, I have been way burned with this. My experience is that restaurants often put their cheesiest and carb-intensive (ex. mac and cheese) in this section. Nope! If you're not vegan, the meat entrees can often be more easily modified by asking for sauce on the side (or no sauce).
I also would caution that many restaurants have no idea what vegan means, so be conscious of that. Obviously, that hipster joint that opened in 2012 with craft beer will most likely know...but the average pizza place looking to cash in on a trend may have a fuzzy idea of what "vegan" means.
3. Look for alternatives for your absolute favorites. I'm not going to lie; these specialty items can be much more expensive than the regular versions. Still, it may really help you in this transition period. For me, I love to pick up soy ice cream and shredded "feese" (fake cheese).
4. Bring snacks! I know some of you may feel that bringing snacks is kind of dorky, but I have news for you. Hangriness is not cute! If you know you have a long day outside of your own kitchen, save yourself the starvation and/or aggravation.
5. Last but not least, be positive about the amount of food options you do have! As I mentioned, I was so bad at this in the beginning. Restaurant menus would be filled with cheese-laden (and delicious-sounding) dishes...and I would be able to get...possibly one item? (Although, really, most people I know order their favorite dish at a restaurant, so it's not that crazy).
Think of the cuisines you can freely explore: Korean, Vietnamese, Mexican, Japanese to name a few. There's so much out there, so no need to get down about what you can't eat!
Just do a quick scan of the menu and think about any dishes that don't have cheese as a main component. Then, just ask the server. Really, don't be embarrassed about wondering if there is any dairy, or if you can get a replacement side for your entree. It will get easier as you get along and get a better sense of that intersection between "what you like to eat" & "what you can eat".