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Recipe: Healthy Mac nā€™ Cheese

May 29, 2014

Article and Photographs by Libby VanWhy

Healthy macaroni and cheese with roasted vegetables.

What’s more American than mac n’ cheese? It can be dressed up or down, eaten as a main or side dish, and reheats well as leftovers.

Growing up, my mom made the most amazing baked mac n’ cheese-- it was all about the extra sharp cheddar. She served it as the main dish, usually with a mushy boiled vegetable on the side and stewed tomatoes for the top. My family loves this recipe so much that my sister shared it with The American Recipe Project.

I love all kinds of mac n’ cheese, from the boxed orange stuff to decadent meat and cheese combinations. Unfortunately most recipes-- my family recipe included-- are not very healthy. They’re usually high in fat, loaded with salt and butter, and far from filling. I’ve had a hard time finding anything that falls into the “healthy” category that tastes great and satisfies my need for cheese, until recently.

My mom recommended this recipe and each time I make it, I improve upon the original recipe. I have now perfected a healthy mac n’ cheese by adding a bunch of roasted vegetables and lower-fat dairy products. Below is my adaptation based on the original recipe:

Ingredients include red pepper, red and yellow onions, zucchini, eggplant, whole wheat macaroni, carrots, oil, and more.

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 zucchini, trimmed and chopped

2 yellow squash, trimmed and chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 eggplant, cubed

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

½ sweet onion, cut into wedges

½ red onion, cut into wedges

¼ cup chicken broth (fat-free, low sodium)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Cheese Sauce Ingredients
3 tablespoons canola oil

ā…“ cup whole-wheat flour

3 cups fat-free milk

2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard

2 cups shredded, reduced fat, sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated, reduced fat, Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ cups uncooked whole-wheat macaroni

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss together vegetables, broth, thyme, salt, and black pepper.

Roasted vegetables

Spread the mixture in a single layer on a large baking sheet, lined with foil. Roast for 35 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Make the cheese sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.

Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute.

Slowly whisk in the milk and continue whisking gently until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Add the mustard, cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat.

The macaroni boils while the cheese sauce and roasted vegetables sit to the side.

Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in the boiling water until al dente (read al dente instructions from package for time).

Combine the macaroni, cheese sauce, and vegetables.

Drain well and add to the cheese sauce. Add the roasted vegetables and stir to combine.

Pour mixture into a large casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until bubbly and the top is crusty, about 20 minutes.

The finished product: delicious healthy mac n' cheese!

Tags :  recipehealthy eatingphysicalhealth

4 Early College Savings Plans

May 28, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

A pink piggy bank with a graduation cap sits on a pile of $20 bills.

It is never too early to start a college fund for your child’s future. Many parents do not start saving money until their children have started school, but you can start saving as soon as they are born.

Think about your child’s first birthday: he or she won’t remember any gifts, but savings bonds or checks deposited into a college fund can grow into a gift that your child will be grateful for 17 years later.

Here are four options to help set your child up for schooling, living expenses, and other miscellaneous events that may come their way as they enter adulthood.

Gerber Life College Plan
This plan provides life insurance as well as a school fund. You can set up affordable fixed payments and your money will continue to grow, even in the event of an economic downturn. Your child will receive a guaranteed payout of $10,000 to $150,000, depending on what you put in, and can use the money for anything, from college expenses to electric bills.

529 Plan
There are two types of 529 plans, which are also known as qualified tuition plans: prepaid plans and college savings plans. Prepaid plans allow you to purchase tuition credits at today's rates to be used in the future. They may be administered by states or higher education institutions. Currently, all states offer a college savings plan or a prepaid tuition plan or both. College savings plans are different because they are based on market performance of investments, which typically consist of mutual funds.

TrustEgg is another fund that allows the child to use the money toward other things besides school. An account with TrustEgg is a UTMA (Universal Transfer To Minors Act) custodial account. You can make contributions and share the account with friends and families who might want to contribute. There are no minimums, no upfront fees, or maximum contribution limits, but there is an annual maintenance charge of less than one percent of the amount in the account. When the child turns 18, he or she will receive the funds whether or not it’s for school.

Savings Account
A simple savings account with your bank also works just fine. Contact your bank to see what plans they can provide. Most banks also pay you interest based on how much you save a month. It may not be much, but every little bit added counts!

You can always keep money stashed away in your home, but it is safer and smarter to invest it in a bank or school fund. Tuition is always rising, the economy is unpredictable, and no parent wants his or her child to struggle because of a financial situation.

Tags :  academicfinancialcollegeeducation

Top 5: Affordable Family Vacations

May 27, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Top 5 Affordable Family Vacations

Growing up, my dad regularly took our family on summer vacations and instilled in us the joy of exploring new places. There were five kids, so he had to be pretty good at finding affordable places to go. Based on the places he brought us, combined with what I’ve learned in traveling myself and with my students, here are my top five suggestions for affordable family vacations.

  1. Camping. Staying at hotels or motels was out of reach financially for many of the trips we took as a family, so we invested in tents and later on a pop-up camper that allowed us to travel all over the country and stay at campgrounds overnight or for a couple of days. It was great fun setting up camp, cooking, and learning about the outdoors.
  2. State and National Parks. Parks maintained by the federal and state governments are a great, affordable, and local option. Near Chicago, where I live, there are many different places to visit, from Lincoln’s boyhood home to the Indiana Dunes. For more information, check out your state’s tourism board or the National Park Service. 
  3. Washington D.C. I have taken students to Washington D.C. many times over the years and have found it to be a great place to visit for the following reasons:
    • The D.C. Metro system is clean, inexpensive, and easy to navigate. Therefore you do not have to stay overnight near the main attractions, but can stay somewhere less expensive and hop on the Metro.
    • Admission to all of the national museums and popular sights like the Washington Monument, White House, and Capitol Hill, are free.
    • The main attractions are also centrally located on the National Mall, making it easy to plan a day of events without spending much time or money traveling.
  4. Visit Out-of-State Relatives. To save money on family vacations, my parents would have our family visit relatives and close friends who lived far away. It was a great idea because they often would coordinate activities and meals for the planned visit and we did not have the expense of staying at a hotel or campground. Plus, we were all glad to see each other.
  5. Caribbean. If you’re wishing to step out of the USA, I would suggest giving the Caribbean islands a look. Many of the hotels offer family and budget-friendly options with lots of activities, beaches, and relatively short flying times.
Tags :  Top 5socialfamily funbudget

3 Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day

May 26, 2014

By Jessica Vician

American flags decorate the graves at Arlington National Cemetery.

On the last Monday of May, Americans celebrate Memorial Day.

Memorial Day isn’t just a day off from work and school. It honors the more than 1.3 million soldiers who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Your family can honor those who died serving our country in three important ways:

  1. Teach. Teach your child about the reason for the holiday. Here are some helpful facts:
    • Memorial Day has been celebrated in some form since 1862 during the Civil War, when General John A. Logan named May 30th Decoration Day.
    • For over a hundred years, on Decoration Day, citizens would decorate the graves of those who died defending the U.S.
    • In 1971, the U.S. government deemed the last Monday of May a federal holiday and renamed it Memorial Day.
  2. Honor. Many cemeteries have war memorials to honor those who died during military service. After you have explained the meaning of Memorial Day, take your child to a nearby war memorial to pay your respects.
  3. Celebrate. Once your child knows why we honor and celebrate Memorial Day and has paid his or her respects to the soldiers who died for our country, celebrate their legacy by attending a Memorial Day parade.

    For a parade near you, visit Vet Friends.

How do you honor our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day? Tell us in the comments below or in the forum.


7 DIY Rainy Day Adventures

May 22, 2014

Article and Photograph by Nikki Cecala

The author's one-year-old son and her 11-year-old step son play in a DIY fort.

Most people look at rainy days as sad, gloomy days, but for families, they can be an enjoyable bonding experience. Rainy days are a great opportunity to shut off phones, cancel plans, and just stay inside and catch up on family engagements. There are wonderful low-cost adventures that are great for children of any age. Here are some examples and the benefits these simple games have that you may not have recognized.

Build a fort or an indoor obstacle course
If you don’t have boxes lying around, grab a bed sheet and throw it over the kitchen table. You can also put blankets and pillows under the table and tell stories or read a book together. If you have furniture you can easily move around, create obstacles using pillows, blankets, and sheets.

Play hide and seek
You are never too old for this game and it gets better as you get older! Be creative with your hiding spots but also accessible if you are playing with younger children. Hide and seek is a great game to get children wildly excited and physically active while indoors.

Imaginary playtime
Children love playtime and it assistances with brain development. You are giving the child an opportunity to be imaginative and artistic all by themselves. By letting them play “grown up,” they are unconsciously making life decisions and choices based on pure observation. Warning: this can be extremely adorable to witness.

Make some noise
Have a dance party! Kids are full of energy, so what better way for them to release it than through music and dance? If you aren’t the dancing kind, make instruments out of household objects like macaroni in a plastic soda bottle or use wooden spoons as a drum set. Either way, turn up the music and get silly!

Indoor scavenger hunt
Make a list of 30 or 40 harmless, nontoxic objects and hide them throughout the house for your child to find. You can time the scavenger hunt or attach points to it to make it more challenging and exciting, depending on the child’s age and skill level.

Play board games or cards
Board games play a crucial role in recognizing numbers, shapes, grouping, letter recognition, and reading. It also enhances visual perception, color recognition, and hand-eye coordination. Depending on the game, you could also be teaching your child life skills such as decision-making and showing the cause and effect of one’s choices.

Puzzles teach your child critical thinking and concentration skills. A younger child will learn shape recognition, from more basic shapes such as triangles and circles to more complex shapes used in jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles also enhance a child’s memory as he or she tries to remember the shape of pieces that don’t fit or will fit somewhere else later on.

Invent a family rainy day adventure yourself!
Take this opportunity to invent a tradition with your family that you all can do when it’s gloomy outside. The list is never-ending! It also gives you and your child something to look forward to on rainy days instead of moping around the house trying to find something to do.

Tags :  physicalfamily funactivitiesDIYbudget
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