Organic yogurt is packed with calcium!

Growing up, my family never drank milk straight up; milk purely was viewed as a vehicle for cereal (or cookie dunking). I’m not sure whether this was a lactose issue, but it certainly became habit, and the trend has persisted. Whether by example or preference, my daughter also is not one to drink a cup of milk.

Subsequently, I’m keen on finding ways to infuse calcium into my family’s diet — particularly now because I’m pregnant and also because it’s way more fulfilling to get calcium from real food instead of a giant, nasty tasting vitamin supplement. I’ll be writing a separate post about calcium-rich non-dairy foods, but today I wanted to share my favorite dairy tips and tricks that have worked for me and my family.

Cheese, glorious cheese. Simply put, cheese consumption is never a problem in our house, whether it’s enjoyed on homemade pizza or tuna melts, in quesadillas, or cold on crackers. We do try to be mindful of intake given the fat content (and low-fat cheese just doesn’t do it for me), but cheese is an assured way to get calcium into our diets.

Milk…the brown kind. While you’ll never catch me drinking plain milk, chocolate milk — or milk based hot cocoa — is another story entirely. I find most store bought chocolate milk too sweet, though, so we typically make chocolate milk at home. And hot cocoa is perfect on cold winter days, of which there are plenty in New England!

Yogurt as breakfast. I find that I feel a bit sluggish if I start the day carb heavy (e.g., with a giant bagel). When I want a light breakfast, I opt for flavored yogurt and if I want more substance, I love having a bowl of plain yogurt topped with homemade granola. Again, I prefer homemade due to the sweetness of store bought varieties; granola is easy to make (I usually make a double batch so we’re set for a few weeks) and I like being able to load in my favorite nuts and dried fruits.

Yogurt as snack. Yogurt also makes a great snack, and in warm weather I love making smoothies. One thing that used to prevent me from making smoothies was lugging our heavy blender out of the cabinet – a problem solved by my Hamilton Beach single serve blender, which is lightweight, easy to use, and easy to clean up.

Yogurt as dessert. I’ve referred a couple of times to avoiding store bought items such as chocolate milk and granola due to sweetness, but it’s not because I don’t like sweets! Dessert is a weakness for me, and I often lean on yogurt as a way to “be good” around dessert. Stonyfield’s OIKOS cups are particularly satisfying as a dessert substitute (my daughter and I love the caramel flavor), and when I was training for a running relay last year and omitted traditional desserts from my diet, this Greek yogurt parfait saved me.

Yogurt as a baking substitution. My daughter and I love baking together — and eating the rewards of our efforts! Subsequently, whenever possible, I try to improve the healthfulness level of our baked goods by subbing in yogurt for butter. However, baking is a science and butter and yogurt are still different animals so I recommend experimenting with adjustment. We’ve done well subbing in yogurt for butter with muffins and loaves; for example, if a recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of butter, I’ll start by subbing in half of the butter with yogurt. If the quality of the baked good still holds after that, I’ll up the yogurt another tablespoon or two on the next go around.

Here are a few suggestions to try: My Favorite Mocha Brownies , Ridiculously Awesome Banana Muffins, and the technique would also work well for this fave: Zucchini Bread or Muffins.

Yogurt in marinades and dressings. Another wonderful way to use yogurt (and also cut fat) is in marinades and dressings. I first discovered yogurt based marinades via Nick Stellino’s wonderful Turkish kebabs in his Mediterranean Flavors cookbook, and later stumbled on the concept of yogurt based chicken salads from Martha Stewart. Though I also love mayonnaise based chicken salad (this one is particularly spectacular!), yogurt based chicken salad is lighter in feel, healthier, and wonderful for summer; it’s one of my husband’s favorite summer sandwich recipes.

Whether or not you’re a regular milk drinker, I hope you enjoy these tips and tricks for getting extra calcium in your diet. Now, I’m off to get myself an OIKOS caramel cup!

~ Christine Koh, Boston Mamas

Do you have favorite dairy tips and tricks that I haven’t covered above? Please feel free to share them in the comments below!