Dairy is a year-round Minnesota local food and one of the MyPlate food groups
To show the importance of calcium, University of Minnesota Extension SNAP-Ed educators sometimes play a game called Calcium Rescue with students. They show a food and ask if it is a “calcium rescuer” or a “calcium danger.”
If it’s a rescuer, like milk, the students do five jumping jacks. If it’s a danger, a calcium-depleting food like soda pop, the students puddle to the floor.
If you don’t have calcium, you don’t have bones to hold you up.
Everyone needs healthy foods
“It’s not only for young students—those lessons remind us that we need calcium across the life span and definitely as we age,” says Mary Caskey, Extension staff based in St. Cloud who helped create several games called classroom energizers as part of her Extension role supporting the work of SNAP-Ed educators.
Besides calcium, dairy is an excellent source of nine essential nutrients, including protein, potassium, and vitamins A and D.
Whether your budget allows for fancy cheeses or you are on a tight budget, dairy is an affordable, flexible and nutrient-rich choice to include in your diet. SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education) educators are Extension employees who help low-income people eat healthy food on a budget in every part of the state. They follow the MyPlate dietary guidelines. Dairy is a food group and also contributes to the protein group.
"A favorite dairy product like yogurt can also be a 'base' for exploring new foods," says Christopher Strand, an Extension SNAP-Ed educator in St. Louis County. "Sometimes kids will say 'I like yogurt, but spinach? What?' and yet they will eat spinach or kale blended into yogurt."
Lactose-free milk, yogurt and hard cheese are options for those with lactose intolerance. If you don’t consume dairy, make sure you get enough calcium through cereals, fortified juices, canned salmon with bones, legumes and dark leafy greens.
Dairy is a local Minnesota food
“Sometimes when people talk about eating local, they forget dairy is very local, traveling less than 100 miles from cow to store,” says Lisa McCann, a registered dietician and wellness manager with Midwest Dairy, which represents 5,800 dairy farm families in 10 states, including Minnesota. “Dairy farm families milk the cows in all seasons, no matter the weather, to ensure a safe and wholesome product for all to enjoy.”
Extension supports Minnesota’s dairy industry through research and education for dairy farmers, as well as through 4-H animal science projects for youth.
Typical National Dairy Month activities have been stepped back for 2020 due to the social distancing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, but education continues virtually. Midwest Dairy has rerouted funds to address the food insecurity that is increasing as unemployment rises. Extension educators have helped food shelf managers apply for Midwest Dairy dairy cooler cases at some food shelf locations.
How can you celebrate National Dairy Month?
Caskey says certain recipes are woven into the fabric of her family, like her Grandmother’s tapioca pudding. Strand has great nostalgia for a simple family treat of bananas chopped up in a bowl of milk with a sprinkle of brown sugar. Maybe for you it’s your uncle’s famous chili con queso with sour cream and fixings.
“I treasure the hand-written recipes,” says Caskey. While the new generation may have all their recipes on a computer, a handwritten card or recipe box of family favorites can make a useful and meaningful gift this month.
Another way is to celebrate is to try new recipes. Midwest Dairy offers 28 recipes on their website. You can also add milk to soup and hot cereal. Cheese makes many a meal taste better.
And while smoothies aren’t a new idea anymore, there’s a reason they are a favorite teaching tool for Extension SNAP-Ed educators and their participants. “Yogurt and fruit is a great combination,” says Caskey. “You can add milk, juices, frozen fruit, vegetables, nut butters and flavorings. We teach a lot of smoothies.”
Strand adds that a yogurt parfait is another option if you don't have a blender and they are fun to make as a family. Frozen yogurt pops made by putting yogurt and fruit in a mold with a stick is another fun summer treat.