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Back-to School Smart Packing Tips for Better School Lunches

August 11th, 2016

Back to School LunchesWith a few considerations, you can make lunch time fresher, tastier and, above all, safer for kids.

(StatePoint) Despite one’s best intentions to send kids to school with a healthy homemade lunch, a lot can happen between the time you pack it up at home and when your child unpacks it in the cafeteria. But no one wants a soggy sandwich or warm milk for lunch. And not only are some lunch time woes unappetizing, they can pose health risks.

Perishable food transported without a cooling source won’t stay safe for long. Indeed, harmful bacteria multiply rapidly after only two hours in the “danger zone,” the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F, according to the USDA.

Here are some lunch-packing tips to keep foods safer, fresher and tastier:

• Top to Bottom: You may be in a rush in the morning but take the time to take a packing cue from the bagging experts at your local grocery store. Pack strategically, with heavy items like apples and oranges on the bottom and lighter more fragile items like pretzels and peanut butter and jelly on top.

Encourage kids to do likewise in their book bags, cubbies and lockers. Books should never be piled on top of lunch!

• Skip the Brown Bag: Disposable brown bags get soggy, threatening student’s math homework, electronic devices and other book bag contents. More importantly, a thin paper bag does nothing to keep lunch cool and safe to eat.

Do your kids and the Earth a favor by sending them to school with a smart reusable cooler designed to travel and keep foods chilled for hours, such as PackIt, the first foldable, freezable bag to keep food and drinks cool up to 10 hours.

“Standard insulated bags don’t cut it because you have to stuff them with gel packs that don’t work and inevitably get lost, or ice baggies that leak everywhere,” says Melissa Kieling, co-founder and CEO of PackIt. “An all-in-one solution with built-in cooling makes bringing lunch from home easier, safer and more appetizing for kids.”

A mother of three, Kieling invented PackIt, which features freezable gel built into the walls of the bag to simplify weekday lunches for families. The Freezable Lunch Bag and Freezable Classic Lunch Box both fold flat, and the entire cooler goes in the freezer overnight. In the morning, the walls will be completely frozen and ready to chill food and drinks from all sides for hours, like a refrigerator.

• Pack Smart: There are some prep steps to improve the taste and appearance of lunch. For example, using thick slices of toast means a better chance that bread stays intact until the lunch hour. Likewise, condiments and slices of tomato and avocado in the center of a sandwich will keep bread dry until it’s ready to be eaten.

If you are going to pre-slice apples or pears, be sure to store them an airtight baggie to prevent browning.

With a few considerations, you can make lunch time fresher, tastier and, above all, safer for kids.

 

Families are Tapping More Scholarships and Grants to Pay for College

August 11th, 2016

Back to School Grants

Nearly all families took at least one cost-saving measure, while most took five or more.
Photo courtesy of (c) Monkey Business – Fotolia.com

(StatePoint) Families spent less out-of-pocket for college in academic year 2015-16 compared to last year, as they took advantage of more scholarships and grants to foot the bill, according to “How America Pays for College 2016,” the national study from Sallie Mae, the country’s largest private student lender, and Ipsos, a global independent market research company.

Scholarships and grants covered 34 percent of college costs, according to the report, the largest percentage of any resource over the last five years. Approximately, half of families used a scholarship or grant to help pay for college.

“Families wrote smaller checks for college this year as they looked less to their wallets and more toward free money to make college happen,” says Raymond Quinlan, chairman and chief executive officer, Sallie Mae, a company focused on helping families save, plan and pay for college. “Scholarships and grants have become an increasingly important part of the pay-for-college mix, and it’s encouraging to see organizations, schools, and the government stepping up to provide them.”

• Bachelor’s: the new norm: Families are firmly in agreement on the value of college: 98 percent believe it’s an investment in their student’s future and 90 percent expect their student to earn a bachelor’s degree. What’s more, 54 percent of families expect their student to earn a graduate degree.

Families are putting their money where their mouth is — the vast majority are willing to stretch financially to make college happen.

• Making college more affordable: Nearly all families took at least one cost-saving measure, while most took five or more. These measures include cutting personal spending, working while in school, living at home, and taking accelerated coursework to graduate faster.

Additionally, four in five students attended college in their home state, and one in three started at community college. Eighty-five percent of families completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

• Borrowing not a forgone conclusion: Fewer than half of families borrowed last year. In fact, the proportions of funding from family savings and income and scholarships and grants were twice as high as the proportion of funds borrowed. Student borrowing paid 13 percent of all college costs, down from 16 percent last year.

• Cost important, but not top factor: Sixty-seven percent of families narrow college choices based on cost, but when it comes to making the final decision, this takes a back seat. Primary reasons in choosing a college are split evenly between academic program and personal choice, which includes campus culture, extracurricular activities and student population. Cost ranked third at 27 percent.

• Planning still pays off: Only 40 percent of families have a plan to pay for college — but in families with plans, students are more likely to pursue bachelor’s degrees, there is more willingness and ability to spend on college, and students borrow 40 percent less than those from families without plans.

For the complete report, visit SallieMae.com/HowAmericaPaysForCollege. Join the conversation using #HowAmericaPays. To learn more about planning for college, visit Salliemae.com/PlanforCollege.

“The results of this important annual study shed light on critical financial decisions families are making for and with their college-bound students,” said Julia Clark, senior vice president at Ipsos Public Affairs. “The changing roles that college cost, borrowing, and savings play in this process are essential to understand as key factors in the broader higher education landscape.”

August 2016

Back-to-School Tips When You’re on a Budget

August 11th, 2016

Back to School Budgets
With a little planning, your family can get the most out of your school shopping budget.
Photo courtesy of (c) somkanokwan – Fotolia.com

(StatePoint) Between new clothes and new school supplies, back-to-school season can put a strain on household budgets.

In 2015, families planned to spend $630 on back-to-school items, according to the National Retail Federation, and this year’s numbers are also expected to be pricey. With a little planning, your family can get the most out of your school shopping budget — by taking advantage of sales, comparison shopping, buying in bulk and simply by making sure you don’t buy things you already own.

Here are some smart ways families can reduce costs as students head back to class this fall.

End-of-Season Sales

Take advantage of end-of-season sales to stock up. This concept may not help you this fall, but it’s a great habit to adopt now for long-term savings. You can stock up on summer clothes now and great fall items once the weather gets chillier. Stores will be offering deep discounts and clearance prices on items that eventually will come in handy for next back-to-school season. Remember to take into account that kids grow quickly!

Add it Up

Bigger ticket school supply items can cost you a pretty penny if you don’t comparison shop.

For example, required tools like a high-quality graphing calculator can come with a price tag of $75 or more! Get more for your money with an affordable model, such as Casio’s fx-9750GII, which retails for under $50. It offers useful features like a high resolution screen and compatibility with a personal computer. It is also permitted to be used in such major tests as the ACT and the SAT. More information about calculators can be found at CasioEducation.com.

Take Stock and Buy in Bulk

Don’t buy things you already own, and take advantage of bulk discounts for the stuff you need! Before making your shopping list take stock of what school supplies you already have in your closets — and your child’s backpack — from the last school year. From scissors to folders to unused or partially used notebooks, you may already have many things your kids need for the year ahead.

For those necessities that kids will need all year long — such as tape, paper, pens, pencils, markers and more — take advantage of bulk sales at discount stores and online retailers. Buying more now can save you cash in the months ahead.

Go Green

Brown bags, plastic baggies and plastic silverware are small expenses that add up quickly. Instead, opt for reusable lunch container alternatives and a one-time expense. It’s not only good for the planet, but kids will get on board if you let them pick items that speak to their sense of style. You’ll also save yourself trips to the store!

Don’t let back-to-school make a hefty dent in your wallet. At the store, take advantage of great deals and also consider different ways of eliminating perennial expenses.

August 2016

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How to Prepare Your Car for Cold Weather

November 19th, 2015

The holiday season can be time-consuming and stressful. Consequently, for most people, essential tasks like car maintenance end up on the back burner. But winter weather seriously increases the risk of weather-related accidents, making it imperative for drivers to prepare for adverse road conditions. Here are a few car care tips from Michelin OnSite that can help drivers prepare.

Make sure vital parts are working properly. Cold weather can damage your car battery and other critical system components. Have your car’s battery and charging system checked before cold weather sets in. While this is happening, make sure your heaters, windshield wipers and defrosters are working to ensure safety and visibility. Take advantage of special winter windshield wipers and fluid, which are less likely to freeze in cold weather.

Replace your tires before winter sets in. To prevent accidents during cold temperatures, it is especially important to make sure your tires are in good shape. The accident rate for worn-out tires is 26 percent, compared to just 2.4 percent when tires are near full tread depth. Pressed for time due to holiday shopping and other busy activities? Michelin OnSite can come to your home or office to replace your tires while you go about your busy day.

Check your tire pressure. Tires lose pressure as the temperature drops. For example, if a tire has a pressure of 29 pounds per square inch at 62 degrees, the pressure may be only 26 psi at 32 degrees.  Michelin recommends drivers check their tire pressure once a month to prevent accidents. Vehicles driving on tires underinflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in a tire-related crash than vehicles with proper inflation.

Know how to check your pressure properly. Only adjust pressure when tires are cold – i.e., either stationary for at least three hours or most recently driven less than 1 mile. You can purchase a tire pressure gauge to check your pressure from home, or stop by a local tire center or gas station that provides the service.

Repair any windshield damage. A small crack on the windshield may, in the extreme cold, become a large crack. Be sure to repair it before winter sets in.

Keep your gas tank filled. If your gas tank is less than half full, condensation can form and freeze in your fuel lines, making it difficult to start your car. Keeping your tank over half full also helps to keep your fuel pump working properly.

Drive Safely. Cautious driving is crucial for your safety in winter weather conditions. While turning, maintain a slow and regular speed. If you accelerate suddenly, your tires could lose traction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that drivers increase their following distance significantly when driving on wet or icy roads. To be safe, keep an emergency kit with a blanket, bottled water, etc., in your car at all times.

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About Michelin OnSite

Available exclusively in the Triangle, Michelin OnSite is a mobile tire service that comes to you. From helping you choose the right tires to installing them wherever and whenever you choose, Michelin OnSite works to make sure your tires are ready for the toughest winter conditions. Tires can be purchased online through www.michelinonsite.com, and representatives are standing by to help guide the selection process either via live chat or by calling 1-866-420-8846.

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Cold weather can damage your car battery and other critical system components.[i]

The accident rate for worn-out tires is 26 percent, compared to just 2.4 percent when tires are near full tread depth.[ii]

Tires lose pressure as the temperature drops. For example, if a tire has a pressure of 29 pounds per square inch at 62 degrees, the pressure may be only 26 psi at 32 degrees.[iii]

Vehicles driving on tires underinflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in a tire-related crash than vehicles with proper inflation.[iv]

Only adjust pressure when tires are cold – i.e., either stationary for at least three hours or most recently driven less than 1 mile.[v]

A small crack on the windshield may, in the extreme cold, become a large crack.[vi] Be sure to repair it before winter sets in.

Keeping your tank over half full also helps to keep your fuel pump working properly.[vii]

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that drivers increase their following distance significantly when driving on wet or icy roads.[viii]


[i] Car Care Council. (n.d.). 9 Ways to Prepare Your Car for Winter Weather. Retrieved from http://www.carcare.org/2013/09/9-ways-to-prepare-your-car-for-winter-weather/

[ii] Choi, E-H. (2012, April). Tire-Related Factors in the Pre-Crash Phase. (Report No. DOT HS 811617). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

[iv] Choi, E-H. (2012, April). Tire-Related Factors in the Pre-Crash Phase. (Report No. DOT HS 811617). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

[v] Michelin. (n.d.). Winter Weather Guide. Retrieved from http://www.michelinman.com/US/en/safe-driving/winter-guide.html

[vi] Michelin. (n.d.). Winter Weather Guide. Retrieved from http://www.michelinman.com/US/en/safe-driving/winter-guide.html

[vii] Osceola Garage. (2015). Why Keep Your Fuel Tank Full. Retrieved from http://www.osceolagarage.com/why-keep-your-fuel-tank-full/

[viii] Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Safe Winter Driving. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/Publications/SafeDriving.pdf

Get Your Lawn & Garden Equipment Ready for Winter

October 16th, 2015

Autumn is a busy time for lawn and garden equipment users – with leaves to mulch, garden beds to clean out, and yards to prepare for winter. The bustle of fall outdoor activities and chores can take a toll on outdoor power equipment, and it’s important for homeowners to check their equipment, maintain it well, and store it properly for the winter.

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) offers the following tips to help homeowners keep their lawn and garden equipment in top shape, readying for winter storage:

Set up a safe work zone. Identify a safe location with plenty of work space that is out of the way of children and pets. Work only in a well-ventilated area that is away from heat sources, sparks or flames.

Collect your outdoor power equipment. This might include a lawn mower, generator, string trimmer, chain saw, edger, power washer, blower, chipper, splitter, or other tool that uses a small engine to do outdoor work.

Turn equipment off. Before servicing or repairing any outdoor power equipment, disconnect the spark plug and battery cables.

Protect yourself. Wear safety glasses and gloves to protect against harmful chemicals and debris.

Inspect your outdoor power equipment. Make sure safety guards are not disabled or missing. Check for loose belts or missing or damaged guards. Check and tighten all screws and nuts.

Clean your equipment. Grass, leaves and dirt that have accumulated on equipment should be removed. Use a soft rag or cloth to clean away grime and dirt.

Drain the fuel. Stored equipment should not have fuel in its tank. Many fuels today contain ethanol, which absorbs water and may phase separate, causing operating problems. If there is fuel in the tank, remove what remains. Run the engine until the engine stops so the fuel is used up. Get more information on safe fueling at www.LookBeforeYouPump.com

Store leftover fuel properly. Gasoline should be stored no more than 30 days without being treated with a fuel stabilizer. Use a sealed container that is approved for fuel storage. Always keep fuel out of the reach of children and away from heat sources or flames.

Lubricate, sharpen, and charge as needed. Check the oil levels and blade conditions. Change the oil now if needed. Get lawn mower blades sharpened so it will be ready for spring. Inspect the spark plug, replace it, and add clean engine oil. Check the air filter and clean or replace as needed. If equipment has a removable battery, take it out and store it in a warm spot. If you have a battery charger, charge the battery before storing it.

Service equipment. If you are not comfortable performing some of these tasks or think that your equipment needs additional servicing, now is a good time to take it to a dealer or repair shop.

Identify and clear a safe storage space. An indoor storage area will protect equipment from the elements. Your storage area should be cool and dry, and equipment should be out of the reach of children and pets. Store equipment away from pool chemicals, cleaners, or fertilizers—anything that could cause corrosion from spills.

Properly store supplies. Using approved storage containers for lawn care or yard supplies will help avoid spills in storage spaces. Leftover materials should be stored in sealed containers, so pests like rodents are not drawn to them. Keep containers out of the reach of children and pets.

Locate your winter outdoor power equipment. Locate snow shovels, snow blowers or throwers, ice scrapers, ice melt or rock salt. If you are low on winter supplies, now is a good time to stock up. Place winter equipment and supplies in an accessible location so they can be found easily when the first snowflakes and ice arrive.

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) is an international trade association representing power equipment, small engine, and utility vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. 

Take Charge America Helps Consumers Navigate Student Loan Forgiveness

May 18th, 2015

Nonprofit credit counseling and student loan counseling agency breaks down five forgiveness programs for former students struggling to repay debt

student-loans1As the cost of college continues to rise, student loan debt is rising too. In fact, total student debt now exceeds $1.26 trillion nationwide, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“Repaying debt can be an overwhelming burden for new grads,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling and student loan counseling agency. “Many students struggle with huge monthly payments that impact all of their daily living expenses, but there are numerous options for former students in a variety of life situations.”

Sullivan notes student loan forgiveness is a repayment option many consumers qualify for, but often don’t realize it. Forgiveness results in the cancelation of some or all of a borrower’s federal student loan balance. The most common types include:

  • Pay As You Earn: This program was created for students facing a partial financial hardship. Monthly payments are based on income, family size and state of residency, and are capped at 10 percent of discretionary income. For borrowers with an on-time payment record, balances are forgiven after 20 years.

 

  • Income-Based and Income-Contingent Repayment: These options are available for students with a high debt-to-income ratio. Both plans calculate monthly payments based on income and family size, and forgive remaining loan balances after 25 years.

 

  • Public Service: People who work full-time public service jobs – for the government, military, public schools or not-for-profit organizations – may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which requires them to make 120 qualifying payments on their loans before the remaining balance is forgiven. There is also a separate program specifically for teachers, in which borrowers can qualify for up to $17,500 in forgiveness.

 

  • Loan Forgiveness for Military: Programs have been created to help military personnel get out of debt. While qualifications and benefits vary, these programs offer service members up to $65,000 in debt forgiveness.

 

  • Loan Discharge: Discharge is rare and is only granted to borrowers who are unable to repay debt due to permanent disability, death or other events, such as identity theft or school closure.

Consumers struggling with student loans can visit Take Charge America at studentloans.takechargeamerica.org or call (877) 784-2008 to find out if they qualify for student loan forgiveness or other repayment options.
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About Take Charge America, Inc.

Founded in 1987, Take Charge America, Inc. is a nonprofit agency offering financial education and counseling services including credit counseling, debt management, student loan counseling, housing counseling and bankruptcy counseling. It has helped more than 1.6 million consumers nationwide manage their personal finances and debts. To learn more, visit www.takechargeamerica.org or call (888) 822-9193.

Hail Damage: What To Do and How To Avoid

May 14th, 2015

By Anna Bryant
State Farm Insurance

The hail and wind that can accompany summer thunderstorms account for an average yearly loss of over $5 million in North Carolina, according to the state Climate Office. In any given location, 40 or 50 thunderstorms may be expected in a year.

Damage from hailstorms is covered by standard homeowners’ insurance policies.

State Farm insurance advises homeowners to contact their agent to start the claim process immediately after storm damage occurs. The company has a few tips for area residents:

  • After a hail storm, visually inspect your home for structural damage, take pictures and if possible, move your personal belongings to prevent further damage.
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  • After an insurance adjuster has surveyed the hail damage to your property, select a reputable roofing company or auto body shop to make repairs.
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  • Be wary of out-of-town roofers who move into an area and set up shop following a storm. While most of these firms are reputable, some collect money from homeowners and move on to the next storm site without paying suppliers or leaving work unfinished. It’s a good idea to select a company with established credibility and local references.
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  • Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be completed, time schedule, guarantees, payment schedule and other expectations should be detailed.
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Tips to prevent damage during future storms include:

  • Personal safety is the No. 1 priority. Go or stay indoors when a hailstorm hits.
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  • Hail can shatter windows, so close blinds or window shades to help reduce the amount of glass that might blow inside. Stay away from skylights and doors.
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  • Good tree pruning can prevent the problems of downed limbs associated with a hail storm. Prompt removal of diseased, damaged, or dead parts helps reduce the possibility of future storm damage.
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  • If a storm is forecast, park your car in a garage or carport. If you don’t have a covered parking spot, consider a specially designed car cover to minimize vehicle damage.
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  • If you have to leave your car outside, avoid parking under trees. Cover the car with a thick blanket to minimize hail’s impact.
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Skin Cancer Awareness Month Tips from The Skin Cancer Foundation

May 13th, 2015

Skin Cancer FoundationSkin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, and each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color, gender or age. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. These facts may be alarming, but because skin cancer is mainly a behavioral disease, it is highly preventable.

“About 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays,” said Perry Robins, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “That’s why embracing proper sun protection is critical year-round. You’ll reduce your skin cancer risk and help prevent wrinkles, leathery skin and brown spots.”

Follow The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Guidelines to stay sun-safe:

*Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.

*Do not burn.

*Avoid tanning and never use UV tanning beds.

*Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

*Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

*Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

*Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.

*Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.

*See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

For more information, visit the Foundation’s website, SkinCancer.org, which features more than 600 pages of medically-reviewed content on skin cancer prevention, early detection and treatment.
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About The Skin Cancer Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. Since its inception in 1979, the Foundation has recommended following a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.

NC ABC Commission Announces NC Driver & Traffic Safety Association as New “Talk It Out” Statewide Partner

May 13th, 2015

Association Joins Effort to Share Anti-Underage Drinking Message

The NC ABC Commission is pleased to announce that the NC Driver & Traffic Safety Association is now a statewide partner for its “Talk It Out” campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness of the issue of underage drinking in North Carolina and to give parents the tools they need to talk with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking.

Statewide partners with the campaign include representatives from the education and medical communities, as well as first responders and law enforcement.

“Our statewide partners are critical in helping to spread our message and in getting the resources we offer into the hands of those who can best use them,” said Hope Walker, Director, Program Development and Strategic Partnerships, NC Initiative to Reduce Underage Drinking. “We are proud to partner with the NC Driver & Traffic Safety Association in working to achieve our shared goal of saving teenage lives by reducing underage drinking.”

The Association recently announced its partnership with the NC ABC Commission during its annual NC Drivers Teacher Safety Education Conference in Clemmons. As part of the conference, the Commission shared its new resource toolkit, which provides community leaders with everything they need to lead a successful and effective meeting about underage drinking in North Carolina. Driver Education teachers throughout the state plan to use the commercials and video included in the toolkit in their classrooms.

“Driver Education is a life-long learning process for the novice teen driver,” said Connie Sessoms, Executive Secretary of the North Carolina Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. “North Carolina has a core of committed and engaged Driver Education teachers who receive students where they are and elevate them to the next level of their driving experience.  Our teachers are proud to partner with the “Talk It Out” initiative. We will utilize this initiative as another way to engage our students in the life-long learning process.”

To access the new Talk It Out Presentation Toolkit and other campaign resources, visit

www.TalkItOutNC.org.

ABOUT THE NC ABC COMMISSION

North Carolina is one of 17 states to regulate alcohol through a control system. Since 1937, the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has provided regulation and control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages in the state of North Carolina. The Commission oversees permits allowing alcohol sales by more than 18,000 retail outlets across the state. http://abc.nc.gov.

Feed your family better food for less money

May 12th, 2015

By Arnetta Wilson, EFNEP Nutrition Program Assistant
Franklin County Cooperative Extension

The federal Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program helps adult participants learn skills and strategies to feed their family nutritious meals on a limited budget and improve their overall health. The skills learned also help families change behaviors that place them at risk for being overweight and contracting the diseases associated with being overweight like heart disease and diabetes.

Families can save money with some easy planning for shopping and cooking. Here are 11 secrets to spending less at the grocery store:

Tip 1: Make a game plan. Start by being realistic about how many meals you’ll cook at home in a week. The first step to saving money is to avoid waste. Americans throw out more than 25 percent of the food we prepare, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tip 2: Try to plan ahead. Some of us don’t love to plan meals in advance. If that’s the case, then just pick some of the main ingredients. For instance you may want to roast a chicken one night and then make soup with the leftovers another night.

Tip 3: Keep a well-stocked pantry. A well-stocked pantry is the best way to resist the urge to go out on those nights when you’re not sure what’s for dinner.

Tip 4: Plan for what’s in season. Avoid choosing something like fresh asparagus in January, because that’s when you’ll pay big bucks for it.

Tip 5: Write a shopping list. Once you’ve got a plan, it’s time to make a list. That’s the best insurance that you won’t spend extra dollars on ingredients you don’t really need. Don’t forget to check what you have in the pantry.

Tip 6: Get out the scissors. If you’re a coupon clipper, great; go for it. But it’s best to do it after you write that shopping list. That way you don’t fall into the trap of buying things you don’t really need just because you have great coupons for them. Check supermarket websites for coupons too.

Tip 7: Shop the club stores. Club stores, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, have some great deals.

Tip 8: Shop the ethnic markets and grocery store aisles. Ethnic stores and grocery store sections are great places to find interesting ingredients.

Tip 9: Eat vegetarian a few nights a week. Try to include a couple of vegetarian meals in your menu for the week. Skipping meat, even once or twice a week, can help save money, since meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. Meatless Monday is trending.

Tip 10: Try going almost meatless. Plan meals where meat is used as a flavoring as opposed to being the central part of a meal. Just think about how most cultures around the world use meat — from Chinese chow mein to Italian pasta — and you get the picture. For instance, have a little sausage on a pizza or a bit of turkey along with plenty of vegetables in a panini.

Tip 11: Is organic worth it? Yes, organic usually means more expensive. Our take: if you can afford it, great. Farmers’ markets and grocery stores that carry local produce often have beautiful foods for top dollar. But there are some ways to eat locally and save money. Choose local fruits, vegetables and meats when they’re at their peak and likely at the best price.

 

Oven Baked Mashed Potato cakes

1 3/4 lbs. potatoes, peeled and rinsed

2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped

2 eggs

1 cup pancetta (or ham, bacon …), diced

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons chives, chopped

Salt and fresh cracked pepper

1 tablespoon milk

4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Grated Parmesan cheese

 

Directions

1. Cook potatoes in salted water until cooked through. Meanwhile, gently fry onion until translucent and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, eggs, pancetta, onions, butter and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the texture with a bit of milk if necessary.

3. Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. On the baking sheet, using a ring mold, sprinkle a layer of breadcrumbs, then scoop potato mixture to shape the cakes—about 1 1/2 inch thick. Press down slightly with the back of a spatula and finish with another thin layer of breadcrumbs. Remove the ring mold and repeat the process.

5. Bake in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes, or until golden and serve warm. Notes: You can add grated parmesan cheese on top of the potato cakes.

Makes 4

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Participation in EFNEP is free and is offered at a variety of sites convenient to you. EFNEP is taught in collaboration with many local WIC clinics, Head Start Centers, Family Resource Centers, Job Clubs, etc. If you wish, EFNEP may also be offered to you individually in your home.

For more information, contact Arnetta Wilson 919-496-3344.