Superfood Power Couple

Plant-based diets can be healthy, but without careful planning, key nutrients can be missing. But, by simply adding dairy to a plant-focused meal, you've got a superfood power couple. Here, personal chef and dietitian Jenn Fillenworth of Grand Rapids offers insight.

As a personal chef, dietitian and culinary school instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, Jenn Fillenworth knows a thing or two about food trends.

She’s tailored menus to meet various dietary restrictions and is no stranger to the different diets people adopt – including the plant-based diet, which has gained momentum in recent years.

However, without the addition of dairy, people are falling behind in the nutrition department. With plant-based diets alone, it’s very hard to get high quality protein, calcium and vitamin D – which are found in cow’s milk.

“When you’re pairing dairy with your plants, you’re going to have increased protein quality, because a lot of the protein that’s found in those vegetables isn’t a complete protein,” Fillenworth says. “It’s missing an amino acid that really helps us form building blocks and helps build all the things that we need in our bodies.”

Nutrient shortfalls

Dairy is particularly important for children and teens.

Growing children need the nutrients found in milk, especially because it’s hard to get them to sit still and eat a balanced meal, Fillenworth says. Real milk is a nutrient-dense, easy option that provides 9 essential nutrients to build strong muscle and bone.

In addition to improved bone health, healthy eating patterns – which include low-fat or fat-free dairy foods – are linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases in adults, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Adding dairy to your diet

Convinced of the importance of adding dairy into your plant-based diet? Aim for three servings of dairy each day, which could be 8 ounces of milk (regular or lactose-free), 8 ounces of yogurt and 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese (such as Cheddar, Swiss, Colby, etc.), Fillenworth notes.

“The easiest way to consume your dairy servings is to have a glass of milk at each meal,” she says.

Tips in the kitchen

After five years of working as a dietitian, Fillenworth decided it was time for a career switch.

“I had always worked in the food service industry, so I was always cooking, always in the kitchen. I kind of missed that while working in a clinical setting – and I didn’t have that hands-on creativity anymore,” Fillenworth says. “So I left my job and went to culinary school, and from there I created my own business, Jenny with the Good Eats.”

In Fillenworth’s kitchen, dairy is a staple and is a base for one of her go-to sauces: bechamel sauce, which is a basic white sauce with a combination of butter, flour and milk.

“It has milk’s essential nutrients while creating a delicious sauce,” she says. It’s an easy and flavorful sauce that can complement vegetables and can even be used for macaroni and cheese.

“It makes it more palatable because it’s familiar,” she says. “Kids are used to creamy mac and cheese.”

For even more nutrition, consider adding pureed vegetables to your child’s macaroni and cheese. They won’t even notice the addition, she says.

Use yogurt for marinades, too, in place of mayonnaise and to make tzatziki sauce. And add cheese as an accent your plant-based dish, she says.

Basic White Sauce

Makes 8 servings


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups milk (skim, 2% or whole)


  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper. Cook and stir about 2 minutes. Do not brown.
  2. Gradually whisk in milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and boiling. Gently simmer, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes more.


Cheddar Cheese Sauce: Prepare sauce as directed above, except stir in 1/2 teaspoon paprika along with the flour. Then, stir 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese, a little at a time, into the finished hot sauce until melted.

Content brought to you by Michigan Dairy Farm Families. Approved by the Michigan Dairy Market Program Committee. For more information, visit


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