The dairy ingredients you’ve traditionally used — over and over again — to cook and bake with perform certain functions in recipes. Cheese adds bulk and binds ingredients together. Milk can make foods brown and also adds moisture. So it may come as a surprise to you to realize how many of these functions can be duplicated with other nondairy ingredients.

Chances are good that when you swap nondairy ingredients for dairy-based ingredients in traditional recipes, you won’t always notice a difference in the flavor, texture, or appearance of the food. That’s especially true when you use nondairy milk in place of cow’s milk.

However, sometimes you may still notice some subtle differences in foods when you alter recipes. Those differences depend on the ingredients used in the original recipe and how closely the qualities of substitute ingredients match the original.

For example, using almond milk or soymilk instead of cow’s milk may give a smoothie or pudding a slightly different flavor than the same foods made with cow’s milk. And using melted, rice-based, cheddar-style cheese substitute instead of full-fat dairy cheddar cheese on a plate of nachos may lend a different texture and appearance to the finished product. The rice cheese may not melt as completely as the dairy cheese, or it may have a slightly different consistency. Different isn’t necessarily better or worse. It’s just different. Different can be good.

As you begin living dairy-free, expect to experiment with recipes until you figure out which substitutions work for you and which ones don’t. You’ll encounter a few duds along the way, but you’ll also discover some new favorites.

As you experiment with changes to your favorite traditional recipes and try new ones, take notes about what works and what doesn’t. At the time, you may think you’ll remember the changes, but chances are good that you may forget when you’re making the recipe again later. Your notes also may be helpful to someone else who may try their hand at your recipe.

Jot notes to yourself in pencil in the margins of cookbook pages or on recipe cards. Note on the original recipe the substitutions you made and how much of each ingredient you used. Include observations about the look, smell, and consistency as you cook it.

When you finish a dish, jot down how it tastes and make notes about ideas for possible improvements or minor adjustments you may want to try next time. When you fix the recipe again and make an adjustment, erase and update your previous notes; think of your recipes as works in progress.