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MILK-SPEAK REDEFINED

Watch the dairy case for new labels on milk cartons in the next few months.

New Food and Drug Administration regulations will halt the use of "low-fat" to describe 2-percent milk. With almost 5 grams of fat per one-cup serving, it was never a dieter's best friend, but until this year milk was exempt from labeling laws that said low-fat products could contain no more than 3 fat grams per serving.

Here is the new wording: Two percent milk will be called "reduced fat." One percent milk, containing 2.5 grams of fat per cup, can be designated "low-fat" or "light." Ditto for half-percent, with 1.75 grams of fat per cup. Skim milk, at less than one-half-gram of fat per serving, can be called "fat-free."

All contain about 300 mg. of calcium per serving, or nearly one-third of what most of us need every day.

STIR CRAZY: About 40-billion packs of instant noodles are sold each year, says the Instant Ramen Manufacturers' Association. That comes to about seven packs for every man, woman and child on the planet.

BULK SHOPPING AND EATING: Do you buy jumbo sizes of staples such as pasta and rice, or bring home giant bags of M&M's and potato chips? Next time you use those packages, see whether you fit the findings from a study at the University of Pennsylvania.

A test of how people use food in different sizes of bottles, boxes and bags found that, the bigger the bag, the more we use at a time. The Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter, which reported the study, says our buy-more-use-more habit may be because the food seems less expensive by weight in the bigger package or because we may worry less about running out.

Then there's the desire to finish that enormous box of cornflakes so we'll finally have room in the cabinet for something else.

THE MAIN PURPOSE: "We have to make an effort to get together at least once a week because that is the main purpose _ that everybody in the family participates. . . We need to find a moment when the children are not eating in front of the television and we can sit and have a conversation." _ Laura Esquivel, author of Like Water for Chocolate, in the Bloomsbury Review.

FIT OR FAT? Americans are definitely of two minds when it comes to ice cream. On the one hand, they want to feel that they are watching their diets, so 47 of 100 frozen-dessert manufacturers surveyed said they thought that the greatest growth would be in low- or no-fat and low-calorie brands.

At the same time, high-fat, high-calorie "premium products" continue to gain popularity, and 72 of those surveyed by Thomas Food Industry Register and its research partner FIND/SVP introduced premium or super-premium ice creams last year.

DINNER MEMORIES: "Can you picture anybody saying, "Do you remember that Lean Cuisine that we had?'

" _ Chef and cookbook author Marion "Fannie Farmer" Cunningham, commenting on food and family memories.

WILL'S BEEF: "I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit." _ William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night.

LET'S PARTY: It's National Nutrition Month!

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