10 Tips to Get Enough Dairy Throughout the Day

The Dairy Group includes milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soymilk. They provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein and other nutrients needed for good health throughout life. Choices should be low-fat or fat-free—to cut calories and saturated fat.

How much dairy is needed in a day?

Older children, teens, and adults -3 cups

Children 4 to 8 years old- 2½ cups

Children 2 to 3 years old- 2 cups

  1. “Skim” the Fat- Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. If you currently drink whole milk, gradually switch to lower fat versions. This change cuts calories but doesn’t reduce calcium or other essential nutrients.
  2. Boost Potassium and Vitamin D and Cut Sodium- Choose fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt more often than cheese. Milk and yogurt have more potassium and less sodium than most cheeses. Also, almost all milk and many yogurts are fortified with vitamin D.
  3. Top Off Your Meals- Use fat-free or low-fat milk on cereal and oatmeal. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat yogurt instead of higher fat toppings such as sour cream.
  4. Choose Cheeses with Less Fat- Many cheeses are high in saturated fat. Look for “reduced-fat” or “low-fat” on the label. Try different brands or types to find the one that you like.
  5. What About Cream Cheese? Regular cream cheese, cream and butter are not part of the dairy food group. They are high in saturated fat and have little or no calcium.
  6. Ingredient Switches- When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.
  7. Choose Sweet Dairy Foods with Care- Flavored milks, fruit yogurts, frozen yogurt and puddings can contain a lot of added sugars. These added sugars are empty calories. You need the nutrients in dairy foods—not these empty calories.
  8. Caffeinating? – If so, get your calcium along with your morning caffeine boost. Make or order coffee, a latte or cappuccino with fat-free or low-fat milk.
  9. Can’t Drink Milk? – If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk, drink smaller amounts of milk at a time, or try soymilk (soy beverage). Check the Nutrition Facts label to be sure your soymilk has about 300 mg of calcium. Calcium in some leafy greens is well absorbed, but eating several cups each day to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic.
  10. Take Care of Yourself and Your Family– Parents who drink milk and eat dairy foods show their kids that it is important. Dairy foods are especially important to build the growing bones of kids and teens. Routinely include low-fat or fat-free dairy foods with meals and snacks—for everyone’s benefit.

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The tips featured in this blog post were developed by the USDA. For more information, visit myplate.gov.