Try different ways of adding dairy products to your diet

June 10, 1997

- by Lynn F. Little

To help us improve our eating habits, the USDA developed the Food Guide Pyramid in which foods are clustered into five groups based on the nutrients they provide. For optimum health, you need the nutrients supplied by all the food groups. No one food group is more important than another, although more servings per day are required from some groups than others in order to meet daily nutrient needs.

June is Dairy Month, so this is a good time to take a look at the milk, yogurt and cheese group and how we include those foods in our diets. Nutrient-dense dairy foods are our most readily available food source of bone-building calcium and they're loaded with other essential nutrients, such as protein, riboflavin, potassium and in milk, vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are both important for strong bones; riboflavin and protein help your body fight infections.


According to the Food Guide Pyramid, two servings of dairy foods per day are adequate for most people. However, young children, teens, young adults ages 11 to 24, and pregnant or breast-feeding women should eat three servings per day. One cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese or 2 ounces of process cheese each constitutes a serving.

If you are watching your weight or if you are trying to control your blood cholesterol level, choose low-fat or nonfat dairy foods. Today there is a wide variety of reduced-fat dairy foods so you can get these essential nutrients but with less fat.

Check off the ways you plan to eat more dairy foods. Keep this checklist in a handy place to remind you of your plan.

  • If you like milk, drink two or more cups a day.
  • Try milk in homemade soups, puddings and custards. Dilute canned soups with milk instead of water.
  • Have dry cereal with milk at any time of day.
  • Sprinkle dry milk in casseroles, scrambled eggs and other mixed dishes.
  • For a change from plain milk, try buttermilk, chocolate milk, cocoa or an instant breakfast drink.
  • Try different kinds of cheese. There are many flavors and textures from which to choose.
  • Add cheese to any dish. Sprinkle cheese on casseroles or cooked vegetables.
  • Mix cheese with pasta or add cheese to soups.
  • Fold sliced cheese into omelets or sandwiches.
  • Mix cottage cheese with tuna or herbs as a spread or dip.
  • Toss your favorite cheese into salads.
  • Try low-fat yogurt as a snack or dessert. It is tasty, nutritious and versatile.
  • Add fruit to plain, low-fat yogurt.
  • Sprinkle granola on low-fat fruit-flavored yogurt.
  • Use yogurt in dips and spreads instead of mayonnaise.
  • Put yogurt on pancakes. Top it with jam or fruit spread.
  • Try recipes that use plain, low-fat yogurt in place of butter, margarine, oil or shortening in cakes and other baked goods.

If you have trouble digesting milk, talk to your doctor about dairy alternatives. Yogurt, cheese, cooked foods made with milk such as soup, pudding and custard or dairy products specially formulated for people who are lactose intolerant may be better choices.

Good taste and good health - it is possible to have both when nutritious dairy foods are part of your healthy diet.

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained

1 cup small curd cottage cheese, drained

1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt

1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts

1 1.4-ounce package dry vegetable soup mix

3 whole chicken breasts, split

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all ingredients, except chicken and butter in work bowl of food processor; cover. Process until all ingredients are finely chopped. Carefully loosen skin at top of chicken breasts with fingers. Fill each with spinach mixture. Place chicken, skin side up, in 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Brush with melted butter. Bake, uncovered, 45-50 minutes or until chicken is tender and juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Nutrition information: calories per serving: 274; protein, 35 grams; fat, 10 grams; carbohydrate, 11 grams; calcium 133 milligrams; riboflavin, .32 milligrams.

Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator for Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

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