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How Much Dairy Foods are Needed Daily?

Dairy group foods are important throughout our lifespan. Children, teens and adults need their daily calcium; children are building strong bones, teens are growing rapidly and adults need to keep their bones strong. Foods in the dairy group provide many nutrients that are beneficial to the body – especially improved bone health. Calcium is a key nutrient found in dairy group foods. Calcium builds bones and teeth. The vitamin D in some milk foods helps your body use calcium better, so your bones stay strong. Dairy foods also have potassium, which may help lower your blood pressure.

The MyPlate Daily Checklist provides a personalized food plan; this includes the amounts you need from each food group. To assure adequate intake of calcium, MyPlate recommends a daily intake of 2 cups of dairy products for children ages 2 to 3 years old, and 2-1/2 cups for 4-8 year olds. Individuals 9 years and older are recommended to consume 3 cups per day. What counts as a cup in the dairy group? In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk (soy beverage), 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. Drinking one cup of milk with a meal provides nearly 1/3 of your daily calcium.

Getting Your Calcium

The dairy group includes all liquid milk and products made with milk that contain their calcium after processing, including yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage). The foods made from milk that have little or no calcium, such as butter, cream cheese and cream, are not part of the dairy group. Most dairy group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. If you’re lactose intolerant, try yogurt, lactose-free milk, or soymilk (soy beverage) to get your calcium.

Calcium choices for those who do not consume dairy products include:

  • Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.
  • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products, some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale and bok choy). The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies.

Easy Ways to Add More Dairy Foods

  • If you usually drink whole milk, switch gradually to fat-free milk. This change cuts saturated fat and calories, but doesn’t reduce calcium or other essential nutrients.
  • Have fat-free or low-fat yogurt as a snack.
  • Make fruit-yogurt smoothies in the blender.
  • Include milk or calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) as a beverage at meals.
  • Build a breakfast parfait with your favorite yogurt, fruit and whole grain cereal.
  • Sneak in healthier eating by pairing cheese with fresh fruit or vegetables. Research shows that when cheese is coupled with these foods, it helps kids eat more of all of them.
  • Add fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereals.
  • Top cut-up fruit with flavored yogurt for a quick dessert.
  • Top casseroles, soups, stews, or vegetables with shredded reduced-fat or low-fat cheese.
  • When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try low-fat or fat-free ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.
  • If you drink cappuccinos or lattes, ask for them with fat-free (skim) milk.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat milk when making condensed cream soups (such as cream of tomato).

Try the following dairy recipes. They are easy to serve anytime.

Fruit Salsa Yogurt Parfaits
Courtesy of Midwest Dairy Council


  • 1 (15-ounce) can peach slices packed in juice
  • 1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks packed in juice
  • 2 kiwi, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton nonfat vanilla yogurt


  1. Drain peach slices. Discard juice (or use for something else).
  2. Drain pineapple chunks, reserving juice.
  3. Chop peaches and pineapple.
  4. Toss peaches, pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, brown sugar, spices and reserved pineapple juice in a medium bowl. Layer 1/2 cup yogurt with 6 tablespoons of fruit salsa in each of eight parfait glasses or dessert dishes. Serve immediately.
  5. Makes 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: Per serving: Calories: 160, Fat: 0g, Carbohydrates: 28g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Protein: 11g, Sodium: 60mg.

Frosty Orange Banana Sipper
Courtesy of Midwest Dairy Council


  • 1 medium banana, peeled, chunked and frozen
  • 3-ounces frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 cup low-fat milk (set in freezer 30 minutes before using)
  • 1 (6-ounce) container low-fat vanilla yogurt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Nutrition Facts: Calories: 140, Fat: 7g, Carbohydrates: 13g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Protein: 7g, Sodium: 330mg. Serves 1.

More Ideas

For additional information about dairy, check out University of Arkansas Research & Extension’s Dairy Does a Body Good. Are you looking for quick, easy, and delicious dairy recipes? See North Dakota State University Extension’s Now Serving: More Calcium-rich Foods!


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