Allergies, Family, Food, Health

Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie? Plus Adjusting It to Make It Gluten & Dairy-Free

Since we have discovered my youngest has a dairy and egg allergy we have been experimenting with some dinner recipes. Since gluten is also problematic for another family member we either stick to a meal with mostly meat and veggies, or we make different freezer entres and make side dishes everyone can eat.

I was thinking about “shepherd’s pie” because as a whole it is mostly meat and vegetables. It’s naturally gluten free already if you watch your ingredients but it does have dairy in the mashed potatoes, and we have always put cheese on ours.

I was looking for inspiration to try and make shepherd’s pie exciting without cheese when google told me I don’t make Shepherd’s Pie, I make Cottage Pie! The difference being that I use burger instead of lamb.

We couldn’t decide if corn or peas were better for cottage pie, so we experimented putting half peas and half corn, and the corn side won!

I wanted to try gravy in one of the non-cheese “shepherd’s” pies for my dairy-free daughter but alas the gluten-free gravy mix I purchased had milk. Can I get a break?

We ended up putting dairy-free cheese on one of the shepard’s, I mean cottage pies, and left the other without cheese or gravy. Funny enough the plain version ended up being her favorite. She doesn’t seem to love any of the dairy-free cheeses we have found yet. I do think she would have enjoyed the gravy on it because I know she likes gravy. I guess I can make some from scratch next time but I’ll be looking for a good gluten and milk free gravy mix for days where speed is important.

We ended up eating the gravy I couldn’t use for the cottage pie with the leftover mashed potatoes. I have heard that some people enjoy a cheese and gravy combo, I’m just not sure about a beef gravy and cheddar cheese combo. Let me know if you think it’s good, I might try it!


  • Beef
  • Potatoes
  • Milk (Dairy-free If Needed)
  • Butter (Dairy-free If Needed)
  • Vegetable Options: Corn, Peas, Carrots (or just clean out what’s in your freezer)
  • Onions
  • Salt


  • Shredded Cheese (we get sharp cheddar, colby jack, & vegan)
  • Gravy Mix


Dice onions to put in your beef. Brown your beef while you make mashed potatoes. If you struggle with homemade mashed potatoes you can use instant but I don’t think it tastes as good. I put my beef on the bottom, the veggies next (still frozen), the mashed potatoes, then the cheese on top. I cook it at 375 for around 35 – 45 minutes, or until it looks hot and the cheese is starting to get that crispy brown done-ness that tastes so yummy.

If you don’t use cheese you may want to try brushing some margarine over the top of the mashed potatoes to see if they will brown more. I planned to try this but hadn’t as of yet. Oh and if I did add gravy to my shepherd’s pie I would have added it directly above the beef layer but I’m open to suggestions if there is a better way.

Final Thoughts

We like using freezer corn in this recipe because it has a good texture and gives it a pop of sweetness. I know that is a weird description so if you can do better please leave a comment!

The reason we use the colby-jack, and sharp cheddar combo is because we like the taste of the sharp cheddar but it doesn’t melt particularly well. The colby-jack melts nicely, give it the smooth top, and hold everything together really well.

My last thoughts are on mashed potatoes. I’m not a chef, I am a budget cook, so I will make mashed potatoes from reds, russets, gold, or whatever I can get on sale. You can’t give an exact recipe for mashed potatoes because all potatoes are different sizes and textures. If someone didn’t teach you how to make them from scratch you should definitely watch a few YouTube videos or maybe a potato episode on a cooking show.

I will say that the secret to good mashed potatoes is to boil evenly-sized (as much as is possible) potatoes in salty-water. If you forget the salt it’s hard to get the mashed potatoes to taste right. Also I do the pierce the potato with the fork method to see when the potatoes have cooked enough. If you can easily stab your potatoes and your fork goes almost or the whole way through it’s time to drain off your boiling water.

You want to catch this as soon as possible though because if you let the potatoes cook too long you get soggy mashed potatoes that will stay dense and won’t get fluffy. If you play it too safe and don’t cook your potatoes enough, you will end up with lumps of potato in your mashed potatoes.

I also kind of feel like adding “butter” makes mashed potatoes smoother and the “milk” helps to make them fluffier, if that helps at all in guiding you in what to add when you are following a recipe and the potatoes aren’t turning out as they should. It really is an art. I certainly don’t do it perfect all the time but I’ve gotten pretty good at it with practice. Since I stink at baking I definitely leaned into cooking.

I’d prefer real butter for mashed potatoes but using margarine doesn’t make a huge difference, maybe it’s slightly less sweet but that might also be from replacing regular milk with soy milk. Using the soy milk did make for slightly less fluffy potatoes. Although these are small things when you consider at some point in history people with dairy allergies probably just had to go butter-less, milk-less, and cheese-less! This thought makes it easy to appreciate affordable food replacements that work closely to the inspiration food items.

I’m not sure if I can commit to saying cottage pie after all these years of calling it shepherd’s pie. The worst part is if I say cottage pie I don’t know if local people will know what I’m talking about. They will probably think I made a dessert pie, or some cottage cheese disaster, and run for the hills.

Most people I’ve talked to usually recognized the term shepherd’s pie as some version of this dish but still using hamburger. I’m probably going to use both names and be explaining this regional mistake every time I make this dish in the future. Fun fact: dinners with me are so fun because of all the fun facts! (Commence eye-rolling).

Do you have a favorite comfort food? If you do I’d love to hear what it is. If you have any tips, tricks, suggestions, or thoughts about Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie feel free to leave them in the comments. I don’t write about food often but this is one of my favorite comfort foods, it has a lot of variations, and it was pretty easy to customize it to make it work for everyone’s dietary needs. Do you know of another food that has so many variations, confusion, and history?

Thanks for reading with me today. I hope this post gave you some food for thought, and hopefully some inspiration. Take care and eat well my friends.

6 thoughts on “Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie? Plus Adjusting It to Make It Gluten & Dairy-Free”

    1. It does make it a challenge for sure. I just figured out that instant pudding won’t set with dairy-free milk. When I researched though I heard you can use dairy-free milk in the version of pudding that has you cook it! I’m learning slowly but surely. Tell her I wish her lots of luck in figuring it all out. Have you found a dairy-free cheese that tastes good? We are still struggling with that. We have a parmesean cheese she likes but the rest is really hit and miss.

      Liked by 1 person

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