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Should parents opt to get nutrition report cards? Improving school lunch choices

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For healthier nutrition, should parents opt to receive a nutrition report card, too similar to what their children get for academic performance? Kids can't opt for report cards. They just get them. But for parents, nutrition report cards receive high marks in a new pilot program, according to a recent study at Cornell University.

Parents receiving academic report cards throughout the school year is commonplace, but a new Cornell University study shows that for healthier nutrition, parents should opt to receive a nutrition report card, too. You can check out the entire study, "Nutrition Report Cards: An Opportunity to Improve School Lunch Selection," published online October 2, 2013 in the journal PLOS ONE.

"This pilot study underscores that a nutrition report card is feasible and efficient… Although the results are preliminary, they suggest that [nutrition report cards] may be helpful in nudging children toward more healthy, less expensive options … at little cost to the school district," according to Cornell behavioral economists Brian Wansink and David Just, as explained in the December 13, 2013 news release, "Nutrition report cards receive high marks in pilot program."

Many school districts utilize a payment system where students use a specialized debit-card to pay for the meal after specific food items are keyed into a smart cash register, allowing for items purchased and name of the student to be easily tracked. For example, if a student buys hot lunch and an ice cream sandwich, the cash register records the purchases. In the pilot study, parents who previously signed up to receive an electronic nutrition report card would then receive a report detailing what their child eats periodically.

Nutrition report cards for parents?

The researchers found that after receiving nutrition report cards, some parents adjusted family dinner meals to include more nutritious food, and some parents used the opportunity to discuss the importance of health and nutrition with their kids. Other parents learned why the child's cafeteria money account was depleted so rapidly.

Students whose parents received the nutrition report cards selected fruits and vegetables more frequently, and they selected flavored milk less frequently than the control group. After the research, in open-ended responses, parents expressed appreciation for knowing what their children ate. One parent responded: "I like seeing the snacks they purchased. It made me understand why my one son was always out of money on his account."

Nutrition report cards have the feature of engaging parents in their child's decision-making process

This could be especially beneficial to younger children, who are learning to make independent food decisions, say the researchers. The study, "Nutrition Report Cards: An Opportunity to Improve School Lunch Selection," was published in PLOS ONE. Richard W. Patterson, Cornell doctoral candidate in policy analysis and management, and Laura E. Smith, Cornell doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences, were co-authors with Wansink and Just. The research was funded through an USDA/Economic Research Service grant.

Nondairy vegan creamed soups and sauces

Tofu pureed can be substituted for dairy products when you make cream of any vegetable soup, warm or cold. You don't need to add heavy cream or beaten eggs to vegetable soups to make cream or creme of vegetable soups. And you don't need to add corn starch to thicken either. Cashews also make a creamy soup when pureed in broth. But if you don't want all that fat from nuts, pureed lentils, cooked split peas, or cooked navy or other white or pink beans also turn soup creamy. Also nondairy kefir or yogurt can be added to make soups look and taste creamy, including raw vegan soups.

For raw vegans, you also can make a carrot-ginger soup by pureeing your carrots and adding enough fresh ginger to taste that feels comfortable in your mouth. Too much ginger can sting the tongue of some people. Your liquid also can be mushroom broth or any type of vegetable soup or mixed vegetable juice that's cold, for example a mixture of pureed celery, carrots, and a small amount of onion and garlic to taste with your favorite liquid vegetable broth or juice.

If you like the tang of tomatoes, you can add those to the blender and liquefy everything into a cold soup. If you want it all alkaline-tasting, use alkaline-tasting vegetables, even potato juice or beet juice with your carrots and ginger. If you're on a raw diet, tofu makes a light-colored creamy soup that you can season with vegetable broth and your favorite herbs and spices or condiments such as thyme, dill, chopped parsley, oregano, or ground turmeric and minced garlic.

Even gravy can be made from pureed cooked or soaked and slightly sprouted lentils and broth to form a gravy, sauce, or cream of vegetable or legume soup. For example, to make a creamy mushroom soup, all you have to do is puree either cashew nuts or add unsweetened almond milk in small amounts, or puree some cooked white beans, navy beans, cooked yellow split peas, cooked lentils, or most any vegetables and add the creamy texture to your broth.

You don't need milk or nondairy soy milk to give your soup a creamy texture

Pureed cashew nuts (1/4 cup) added to any vegetable broth gives a creamy texture if you don't want to use milk, light cream, flour, or cornstarch to make a clear broth creamy. If you don't want the fat content of cashews in your soup, work with pureed legumes, almond milk, or tofu. Or if you can tolerate some oils, try pureed brown sesame seeds in vegetable broth or the juice in which you cooked maitake and shiitake mushrooms. Or you can add a small spoon of coconut flour to your cold soup to thicken your broth, soup, or gravy. If you heat your soup, be sure the lumps from the coconut flour are first dissolved in a cold soup before you heat the liquid.

If you want to add coconut flour to your vegetable broth, you can thicken the soup with coconut flour, about a teaspoon at first to prevent lumping, before you heat up the soup. Some recipes even call for non-dairy powdered coffee creamer, but there's no need for that because of the ingredients in coffee creamer that aren't as healthy as just using a little coconut flour to thicken your soup.

Pick a recipe you like from the long list of cream of mushroom recipes online, including the nondairy version. Or use your own healthy ingredients such as coconut flour, pureed roasted cashews in vegetable broth, or sautéed mushrooms with garlic and onion fried in a little olive oil instead of in butter or margarine.

There are alternatives that can be healthier substitutes for familiar or traditional recipes that used cream and butter or margarine in the past and have been passed down through the generations. Even a teaspoon of coconut oil is healthier than those solid sticks of margarine if you're going to eat solid fats. But you don't need a lot of fat in your mushroom soup to make it creamy. Pureed legumes also make a soup creamy such as pureed white beans, pureed legumes, or pureed cooked yellow split peas.

Cream of mushroom soup recipes

Winter is creamy soups time. But how do you prepare a creamy soup without using cream from dairy products? Standard cream of mushroom soup recipes with pretty good reviews are at the websites, Cream of Mushroom Soup I Recipe - Allrecipes.com and Cream of Mushroom Soup Recipe. Also see, Mushroom Soup Recipes.

The idea is to make the warm soup from scratch without having to buy canned soup. If you're looking for a nondairy cream of mushroom soup that doesn't use a lot of butter, margarine, or light cream, you could use the recipe at the site with lots of good reviews, Non-Dairy Cream Of Mushroom Soup Substitute Recipe - Food.com.

In that recipe, soymilk and margarine is used. But why use margarine at all? And why use soy milk instead of unsweetened almond milk? See, Top 10 Foods With Trans Fats and Butter vs. margarine: Which is better for my heart? - MayoClinic.com. Generally, the more solid the margarine is, the more trans fats it's likely to have.

Some of the recipes call for flour, margarine and soy milk. Other recipes call for cornstarch or flour. See, Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup - Creamy Mushroom Soup - Easy.

This recipe calls for "Non-dairy cream of mushroom soup," calls for mushrooms, margarine, flour, and soy milk. The fact is you don't need to use margarine or similar solid fats in your cream of mushroom soup. You can puree some cashew nuts in almond milk instead.

Just fry the mushrooms, onion, and garlic in a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, or grape seed oil, about a teaspoon full of oil. If you don't use oil to sauté, use a little apple cider vinegar diluted with water. Or you could use diluted wine. Dilute to taste with equal amounts of vinegar or wine and water. Or use vegetable broth instead of vinegar or wine to sauté or steam mushrooms, garlic or onions finely chopped in a pan.

Just add vegetable broth with cashew nuts, about a handful instead of the usual recipes calling for flour or cornstarch in the vegetable broth. Instead of soy milk you can use unsweetened almond milk. Season to taste with thyme or salt and pepper. You can make mushroom soup in your crock pot or in a traditional soup pot.

Simply clean and slice your favorite mushrooms, such as the healthier type of shiitake and maitake mushrooms, sauté, or steam mushrooms or any other chopped vegetables with onions and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired, or thyme, and add the friend mushrooms with the minced garlic and onion to your vegetable broth.

The trick is to sauté the chopped mushrooms with onions and garlic before you add it to the vegetable broth that will become your soup. All you need is a little bit of olive oil or coconut oil, not a huge slice of solid sticks of margarine or butter called for in traditional recipes online.

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