Wednesday, October 13, 2010

School cafeterias to try psychology in lunch line


Hide the chocolate milk behind the plain milk. Get those apples and oranges out of stainless steel bins and into pretty baskets. Cash only for desserts.

These subtle moves can entice kids to make healthier choices in school lunch lines, studies show. Food and restaurant marketers have long used similar tricks. Now the government wants in on the act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced what it called a major new initiative Tuesday, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids' use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.

A fresh approach is clearly needed, those behind the effort say.

About one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight. Bans on soda and junk food have backfired in some places. Some students have abandoned school meal programs that tried to force-feed healthy choices. When one school district put fruit on every lunch tray, most of it ended up in the garbage.

So instead of pursuing a carrot or a stick approach, schools want to entice kids to choose the carrot sticks, figuring children are more likely to eat something they select themselves.

"It's not nutrition till it's eaten," said Joanne Guthrie, a USDA researcher who announced the new grants. The initiative will include creation of a child nutrition center at Cornell University, which has long led this type of research.

Some tricks already judged a success by Cornell researchers: Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.

"I eat that every day now," instead of the chicken patty sandwiches that used to be a staple, said Shea Beecher, a 17-year-old senior.

"It's like our own little Subway," said Sterling Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore. (Hint to the school: Freshen up the fruit bowl; the choices are pretty narrow by the time Smith gets to his third-shift lunch period.)

Last year, the USDA asked the Institute of Medicine for advice on its school lunch and breakfast programs, which provide free or subsidized meals to more than 31 million schoolchildren each day. The institute recommended more fruit, vegetables and whole grains with limits on fat, salt and calories. But it was clear this wouldn't help unless kids accepted healthier foods, Guthrie said.

"We can't just say we're going to change the menu and all of our problems will be solved," she said.

The agency requested proposals from researchers on how to get kids to actually eat the good stuff. Cornell scientists Brian Wansink and David Just will get $1 million to establish the child nutrition center. Fourteen research sites around the country will share the other $1 million.

"Findings from this emerging field of research — behavioral economics — could lead to significant improvements in the diets of millions of children across America," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Cornell's focus will be developing "smart lunchrooms" that guide kids to make good choices even when more tempting ones are around.

"We're not taking things away from kids," Wansink said. "It's making the better choice the easier, more convenient choice."

Wansink is a prominent food science researcher, known for studies on the depiction of food in paintings of the Last Supper and how the placement of a candy jar can affect how much people eat from it.

Christine Wallace, food service director for Corning City School District near Cornell University, met him a few years ago and invited him to use her 14 schools as a lab.

"We tend to look at what we're offering and to make sure it's well prepared and in the correct portion size, and not the psychology of it. We're just not trained that way," Wallace said.

For example, some Corning schools had express lines for a la carte items — mostly chips, cookies and ice cream. The idea was to reduce bottlenecks caused by full tray lunches that took longer to ring up. But the result was a public health nightmare.

"We were making it very convenient for them to quickly go through the line and get a bunch of less nutritious items," Wallace said.

After studies by Wansink, they renamed some foods in the elementary schools — "X-ray vision carrots" and "lean, mean green beans" — and watched consumption rise. Cafeteria workers also got more involved, asking, "Would you rather have green beans or carrots today?" instead of waiting for a kid to request them.

And just asking, "Do you want a salad with that?" on pizza day at one high school raised salad consumption 30 percent, Wansink said.



Cornell project:


Institute of Medicine:

Childhood obesity:
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Breakfast for dinner: Sausage-egg burritos

We ate these so quickly, I didn't take a photo.
I lifted this one from Taste of Home, where I found the recipe in the October/November issue. The recipe was part of a feature suggesting quick breakfast burritos, fruity granola bars and sweet potato muffins for grab-and-go pre-dawn nourishment on Black Friday. They made a perfect Monday brinner (breakfast for dinner).

Sammie's Breakfast Burritos for Two
4 eggs
1/4 cup salsa
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 breakfast turkey sausage links, casings removed
1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
4 fat-free flour tortillas (6 inches), warmed

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, salsa, chili powder, cumin and pepper; set aside.

Crumble sausage into a large skillet; cook over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain. Push sausage to the sides of pan. Pour egg mixture into center of pan. Cook and stir until set. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand until cheese is melted.

Place 1/2 cup mixture on each tortilla; roll up. Yield: 2 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 burrito equals 422 calories, 21 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 467 mg cholesterol, 1,019 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 27 g protein.

Taste of Home magazine, Oct/Nov 2010, p63

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's for dinner: Easy Greek Pizza

We had this for lunch Saturday, actually. Everyone -- even the 7-year-old and her 11-year-old cousin -- liked it. I picked up the ingredients for it partly in celebration that Walmart in Oakland, Md., has Boboli now and that my daughter discovered she liked feta and black olives. I didn't have lemon-pepper seasoning and I saw no need to buy it for one recipe so I used Cavender's Greek Seasoning. We still had some chicken, onion, spinach, sauce and cheese left over so on Sunday I made mini versions using tortillas. They needed to bake for only 5 minutes.

Easy Greek Pizza
1 prebaked 12-inch pizza crust
1/2 cup pizza sauce
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning, divided
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Place crust on an ungreased baking sheet; spread with pizza sauce and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning. Top with chicken, spinach, onion, olives, cheeses and remaining lemon-pepper seasoning.
Bake at 450° for 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cheese is melted. Yield: 6 servings.

From Healthy Cooking magazine October/November 2010, p60

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pancakes in a can good for camping, rushed mornings

Meet Good Press's first guest blogger, Mali Gank.

Mali Gank lives in West Virginia with her husband, two bonus children, and 9 pets that may or may not be trying to stage a coup at any given moment. She is currently finishing her degree in education, and in her spare time she reads, writes, and tries to create something from nothing whenever she can.

She shares with us her review of Organic Batter Blaster: Original Pancake & Waffle Batter. The store locator on the product Web site says it is sold at Walmarts around north-central West Virginia and western Maryland and Kroger in Morgantown.

While vacationing with family in Michigan this summer, I was skeptical when my sister in law pulled the pancake mix out of the grocery bag. I’m not a pancake purist by any means…I have been known to turn to Aunt Jemima or Hungry Jack for a quick dinner fix. However, even my time-saving mentality had ever imagined what I was looking at.

It looked like a can of squeeze cheese, the sort my youth group loves to put on Ritz crackers and then lick off. The script along the can read “Organic Batter Blaster: Original Pancake & Waffle Batter”. A picture of a stack of flapjacks with a pat of butter and smear of syrup graced the can, and I’m sure that Katrina got a laugh from my wrinkled brow and skeptical eyebrows. We decided to save the pancakes for another night, and I pushed them to the back of my mind.

The next day, the peculiar yellow can stared back at me every time I opened the fridge. I finally picked it up and checked out the ingredients. Filtered water. Organic wheat flour. Organic cane sugar. I read along to find that I could pronounce and already knew of all of the ingredients, which I always consider a bonus. Again, I tucked it back into the fridge and tried not to think about it. I was still a little skeptical as I went about my day, but at least the knowledge that nothing in it would kill me made me a little more willing to try the product.

When Katrina came home and decided to make our “breakfast for dinner”, I had decided to grin and bear it. I watched as she used the nozzle to aim batter into the pan, and was mildly impressed with the simplicity of the process. She managed to make all of the pancakes in the time it took for the sausage to brown in the next pan, so it was a very fast meal all around.

I carefully spread a bit of butter spread on the first pancake…or is that a cancake?... and drizzled some syrup across it. With a bit of trepidation I cut off a bite of soft flapjack and brought it to my mouth.

Color me astonished when the mouthful revealed a slightly sweet, fluffy pancake that tasted like any number of pancakes I’ve had while out and about at breakfast time. I cut off a piece of the edge to sample it sans fixings, and was surprised again to taste the same sweet, moist pancake.

I watched as Katrina sampled hers, expressing my astonishment that it was not only palatable, but actually rather tasty! I began considering the possibilities- pancakes on school mornings without having to wake up at 4:30 a.m., simple Saturday breakfast for the children to learn to cook without leaving my kitchen looking like a shelled bunker, excellent food to cook at the camper when we’re “roughing it”, and a last-minute meal when my husband is making something he knows I’m not going to eat and I have to fend for myself. All good things!

When I finished my stack and returned my plate to the kitchen I looked at the can sitting alone and empty on the counter, and smiled. Sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for trying something new.

This product has no CFCs, is USDA Certified Organic, and while the taste isn’t “homemade” by any stretch (I ate my last one without syrup and it was both moist and sweet- possibly too sweet for some), it is a great alternative if you’re not cooking for an army, or need something in a hurry. I wouldn’t mind having some in the fridge just for a quick alternative when I get the “There’s no milk left!” or “Who ate the last of the Cheerios?”.

Somewhere, an empty yellow can is mocking me with a hissy, aerosol voice whispering “Toldja so”.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dinner "disaster"

I'm not flawless in the kitchen, but we rarely waste food or have to eat my mistakes. I can usually save whatever I've flubbed. One recent weeknight dinner is a good example. I was making Chicken Balsamico with hot orzo, a recipe I learned at this fall's Taste of Home Cooking School.

I'm sure I heard the culinary expert say to cook 1 cup of orzo in 1 can of chicken broth. Maybe she said a half cup of the rice-shaped pasta? Maybe I was supposed to put a lid on it? Reduce the heat? Remove it from the heat? Stir frequently? Maybe I was supposed to add a can of water to the chicken broth before boiling?

Whatever I did wrong left me with undercooked orzo that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Hating to waste food, I stirred in water -- about a cup -- hoping to deglaze the pan and get the orzo al dente. It worked and the water either cooked off or was completely absorbed. Disaster averted. Dinner was served.

Dinner was all right. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't left craving it either. The husband liked it and the 7-year-old not only cleaned her plate but tried olives and feta cheese for the first time and declared she likes both. Can't beat that, right?

Maybe I should've checked the cooking instructions on the orzo bag. After all, I heard 1 cup-1 can from the same woman who said it's perfectly fine to use jarred minced garlic. (No. No, it's not.)

Here's the recipe with better instructions for cooking the orzo:

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 can Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1 cup diced plum tomatoes or 1/2 cup thinkly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Hot cooked orzo pasta

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 10 minutes or until well browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet.
Stir the garlic and vinegar into the water in a measuring cup and slowly add it to the skillet. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in the soup, tomatoes, olives and oregano and heat to a boil.
Return the chicken to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Sprinkle with the cheese. Serve the chicken and sauce with hot cooked orzo.

Hot cooked orzo
I would start with 1 can of chicken broth and add half a can of water. Bring it to a boil and stir in 1 cup of orzo. Maybe reduce the heat. I would watch it closely and stir occasionally. If you have better ideas, leave them in the comments.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Amy's Kitchen has come to Oakland, Md., Walmart

I live 30 miles from good Indian food. (OK, I live 30 miles from ANY Indian food.)

So I am excited to see Amy's frozen meals for sale at the Walmart in Oakland, Md.

I picked the Palak Paneer with a side of Rajmah dal for $3.77. I ate the kidney beans in ginger-garlic sauce first so I could savor my favorite part: the creamed spinach with cheese (the paneer) and basmati rice uninterrupted.

Was it as good as Ram's at Mother India in Morgantown, WV? No. But it was a reasonably priced and accessible substitute.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Easy Fall Breakfast: Baked Apple Oatmeal

Monday started off better this week thanks to pre-planning and this recipe for a nourishing baked apple oatmeal. I didn't have wheat germ so I reduced the milk to 3 cups. I also mixed it on Sunday night and refrigerated the dish. When I woke up, I put it in a cold oven and turned it to 350. It baked in the 45 minutes it took us to get ready for work. There was no school and our daughter had a friend stay over. We all had a good, hot breakfast -- on a MONDAY! We will be making this recipe often this winter.


4 cups milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups chopped peeled apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup toasted wheat germ

In a large saucepan, heat milk, brown sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon. Add remaining ingredients; mix gently.
Spoon into a greased 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 cup) equals 422 calories, 17 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 19 mg cholesterol, 226 mg sodium, 59 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 16 g protein.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How do you eat your buckwheat cakes?

If you need to know what buckwheat cakes are, go here.

My family eats buckwheat cakes with butter and maple syrup and a side of sausage.

But I've seen people heap on sausage gravy or applesauce or apple butter to complement -- or maybe cover up -- the taste. I have heard of people smearing them with peanut butter or elderberry jam.

I gotta ask:

How do YOU eat your buckwheat cakes?

Tell me in the comments.
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