The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends three servings of dairy a day. If you’re like most Americans, you probably only get one or two.
Low-fat dairy products are an easily accessible source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Some research suggests eating these foods may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, keep blood pressure healthy, and even reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes or heart disease. (Here are more tips to prevent heart disease.)
And it almost goes without saying: We’re not talking about adding more Ben & Jerry’s to your diet. Nutritionists want you to be eating and drinking more low-fat milk and yogurt, not fudge tracks ice cream and strawberry cream cheese. If you’re struggling to meet your three-a-day and are not a fan of drinking a glass of milk with your meal, these easy ideas to sneak in more dairy might help.
Big dipper: Use low-fat yogurt as a dip for fruit. Try one cup of fresh strawberries and 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt. As a general rule, unsweetened and unflavored yogurt is ideal. The ingredients list should really just have two ingredients: milk and “live active cultures.”
Cheesy corn: Sprinkle grated parmesan onto air-popped popcorn. After popping one serving of popcorn (you should end up with about 3 cups of popcorn), add 1.5 ounces of parmesan. For even more unique flavor, sprinkle on some ground black pepper as well.
Sip your cereal: Prepare your cereal (or oatmeal) with 8 ounces of low-fat milk or soymilk—and don’t forget to slurp up the milk at the end. (It’s arguably the best part!). If you opt for soymilk, be careful with the “vanilla” varieties as they can have a surprising amount of sneaky sugar. If you like the vanilla flavor, find an unsweetened version, or grab a regular soymilk and add a drop of vanilla extract yourself.
Waffle topper: Instead of butter and maple syrup, top your whole-grain waffles with 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt and a handful of berries or peaches.
Slurp in soup: Many soup recipes call for heavy cream, which adds 50 calories and 5 grams of fat in just a single tablespoon. Yikes. Instead, use fat-free evaporated milk in soups, which is similarly thick and creamy but much lower in fat.
Get smooth: Add 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt or kefir to your smoothies. (FYI, kefir is a fermented drinkable yogurt that is loaded with gut-healthy probiotics. Find more information about probiotics here.)
Fine diner: Skip the soda or wine with supper and choose low-fat milk (yes, even at fast food spots). Take this a step further: Many fast food and “fast casual” restaurants also offer yogurt cups as a side dish, which you could have instead of fries or chips.
Spread the news: Instead of mayo, smear 2 tablespoons of ricotta cheese on your sandwiches. Ricotta is pretty mild in flavor, but it adds a mellow creaminess to balance out strong or tangy flavors like fresh tomato. You could also amp up your ricotta game by whipping in chopped herbs, like basil or mint.
In your java: Add low-fat milk or soymilk to your daily coffee and tea. If you’re like the average American and sip down three cups a day, that little hint of milk in each cup will add up throughout the day. Just avoid the half-n-half, whole milk, or flavored creamers.
Veggie lover: Instead of ranch, dip your carrot and celery sticks into cottage cheese. Bottled ranch dressings contain a lot of additives—including MSG—that make it a less healthy choice.
No worries if you’re lactose intolerant, vegan, or just don’t like the flavor of cow’s milk: MyPlate considers soymilk as an honorary member of the dairy group. It offers similar nutritional benefits as cow’s milk, and some brands even have double the amount of calcium as cow’s milk. (Here are other top sources of calcium beyond the dairy group.)