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Say Cheese, Please

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Baked Zucchini Ziti

(Family Features) In any size, shape or flavor, cheese gives families many reasons to smile. Not only is it nutritious, wholesome and delicious, it is widely available in a variety of styles and fits easily into any meal or snack.

The Health Benefits of Cheese

Although cheese contributes only about 5 percent of the calories to the U.S. diet, the nutritional benefits it offers are significant. It is the number two source of bone-building calcium in the diet, as well as an excellent source of high-quality protein, a nutrient necessary for maintaining healthy muscles and linked to helping with weight management. 

In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products every day for people ages nine and older, yet it is estimated that 85 percent of Americans don't meet these recommendations. Read more about the dietary guidelines at www.cnpp.usda.gov.

"Cheese can be counted on as a go-to source of nutrition for families," says Midwest Dairy Council registered dietitian and mom Stephanie Cundith. "In our house we eat it in many ways to boost flavor and nutrients of meals and snacks. Favorites include sliced American on a sandwich, shredded Colby Jack on a green salad and chunks of cheddar with apples."

If fat and sodium content of cheese come into question, there is good news to share. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, cheese accounts for only 9 percent of total fat, 16 percent of saturated fat and 8 percent of total sodium in the U.S. diet.

Kid-Friendly Snack Ideas

Adding nutrients to your child's diet is easy with cheese. Try these kid-friendly snack ideas to ensure your child is getting the calcium and protein they need:

  • Dice cheddar cheese, apple slices and crackers, then throw into a zip-top bag for easy snacking on-the-go.

  • Roll a stick of string cheese into a whole-wheat tortilla and dip in salsa.

  • Spread Dijon mustard inside a lettuce leaf. Layer with a slice of turkey and Swiss cheese then roll.

  • Top a tostada with fat-free refried beans. Sprinkle on shredded pepper Jack cheese and melt in microwave.

  • Top whole-wheat crackers with Mozzarella cheese then sliced cherry tomatoes.

Visit www.DairyMakesSense.com to find nutritious dairy recipes to prepare for your family, such as this Dairy Farm Mom favorite from Rebecca Murphy, Scwinn Farms, Inc. in Kansas, Baked Zucchini Ziti made with a variety of cheeses and summer garden vegetables.

Baked Zucchini Ziti

  • 8 ounces ziti, uncooked
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, low sodium
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 medium)
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella, divided
  • 1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooking spray

    1. Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain and set aside.
    2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
    3. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes and Italian seasoning. In a separate bowl, mix zucchini, ricotta, 1/2 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan and egg. Season with salt and pepper.
    4. Coat a 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread half of tomato sauce on bottom. Top with ziti, ricotta mixture and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Bake until top is brown and sauce is bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

Preparation Time
20 minutes

Cook Time
35 to 40 minutes

Calories: 334g     Total Fat: 10g
Cholesterol: 67mg     Protein: 21g
Carbohydrates: 42g     Sodium: 371mg

Makes 6 servings

SOURCE: Midwest Dairy Council