Monica Nyman,  St. Louis District Dairy Council nutrition educator

Monica Nyman,  St. Louis District Dairy Council nutrition educator, travels though Illinois and Missouri promoting milk products for June Dairy Month. Here she prepares Lemon Berry Tarts.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Monica Nyman is on the road this month talking to educators, doing live demonstrations on TV and attending a myriad of Midwest festivals to celebrate June as Dairy Month.

“Every day I’m in a different place,” said Nyman, a nutrition educator who has an office is in Bloomington and headquarters in St. Louis. Nyman covers 27 of the 131 counties served by the St. Louis District Dairy Council.

“Our mission is nutrition education on how dairy fits into a healthy diet,” she said.

She grew up in a small Illinois community and worked in a restaurant. That experience and home economics classes in high school led her to become a registered dietician.

She said her mom also played a role by making good food from scratch when she was a child. Nyman laughs when she recalls the first time her now husband visited the family and her mom made homemade noodles. He didn’t know people did that.

Today, Nyman said, she still makes a lot of food from scratch for her family, which now includes 10 and 12-year-old sons. It does take some planning. Whenever she tries something new, “one likes it and the other one doesn’t,” she said. So she’ll make each their favorites on different nights.

St. Louis District Dairy Council has been an education resource and advocate for dairy foods since 1932 in central and southern Illinois and eastern Missouri. The group focuses on bridging the gap between dairy farmers and those could benefit from dairy products, especially children, Nyman said.

She said she enjoys being a spokesperson for dairy farmers and letting people know how hard they work. She often meets multi-generational farmers who tell her, “I do this job because I love it,” she said.

During her television spots, she always brings her trademark Holstein-print tablecloth as part of the decor. Her demonstration usually “shies away from desserts,” but sometimes she chooses to show that sweets can be part of a healthy diet.

Her education events have themes like post-exercise training foods — for which chocolate milk is a good choice — heart-healthy tips in February, and clarifying misconceptions about dairy foods and farmers in “cow-versations.”

She gets a lot of questions about what she calls alternative beverages, including almond and cashew drinks that call themselves milk.

“We are the real deal,” she said, and none of the alternative beverages are a direct replacement for dairy, which has more protein.

She also lets consumers know that milk is a good buy — costing about 25 cents a cup compared to almond and other drinks that often cost twice as much.

Consumers often have other questions about raw and organic milk and other terms they see on labels.

“Labels can be confusing,” she said, noting that the marketers are doing their job to attract buyers to their product, but it can make it difficult to make the right nutritional decisions.

One of the recipes she shares, Lemon Berry Tarts, includes Greek yogurt and cream cheese.

“Bursting with lemony flavor, these mini tarts are sure to be a crowd pleaser at your next backyard barbecue or special family gathering,” she said.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.