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The new school year is underway and that means a lot of parents are scrambling to get sack lunches made before the kids head out the door. While most parents worry more about whether the lunch they packed is getting eaten, Kansas State University food scientist, Karen Blakeslee, says they should be more worried about whether the lunch is safe to eat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in six Americans – or about 48 million people – get sick each year from foodborne diseases. Children are the most vulnerable to food poisoning, so it makes sense to take extra precautions when making the lunches they take to school.

Unless a home feels too warm or too cold, most Americans don’t pay much attention to where the thermostat is set. However, our love of technology may change that. Consumer awareness about smart thermostats – those that can actively learn about homeowner temperature preferences and be controlled remotely by smartphones and tablets – Is steadily rising and currently stands at about three percent. While the penetration of smart thermostats is still relatively low, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist Elizabeth Kiss says everyone can take steps to lower their energy costs.

The recently released Kids Count Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation offers exclusive data, recommendations and tools on issues related to children and families. It’s one of many annual reports that provide important data about the health and well-being of children in Kansas. This year’s report includes some indicators that the well-being of children in the state is not improving. However, K-State Research and Extension is taking steps to help reduce the number of children in Kansas living in poverty.

Throwing away food is like throwing away money. On average, Americans throw away 14% of the food they buy. If a family has a weekly food budget of $100, they’ll spend $5,200 a year on food. Assuming a 14% waste rate occurs – that family spends $728 a year for food they don’t eat. K-State Research and Extension human nutrition specialist Mary Meck Higgins discusses how consumers can reduce their food waste, lower food costs and help protect the environment.

Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley and some related grains that provides the elastic, chewy properties in breads and other baked products. It is considered to be part of a sound diet for healthy people. However, for some, good health depends on the elimination of gluten and wheat foods from the diet. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter discusses why some people must avoid gluten and how they can follow a gluten-free diet.

Smartphones and tablets have become part of our culture, but that doesn’t mean we should spend all of our time on these devices. In fact, K-State Research and Development child specialist Bradford Wiles says children and adults can benefit from limiting their screen time, especially during family activities. He discusses how everyone can reduce screen time and spend more time interacting with others.

While students are enjoying their summer vacation, parents are already thinking about the various school supplies, backpacks, clothing, shoes, instruments, sports gear, electronics, and other miscellaneous items that need to be purchased before summer ends. However, before rushing out to make those purchases, some careful planning will save time and money. K-State Research and Extension family resource specialist Elizabeth Kiss says to prepare a list of what is needed, but don’t be in a rush to buy everything on your list before classes start.

Summer learning loss is the loss in academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer vacation. A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than at the beginning of the summer – even when taking the same test. K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles says that keeping children engaged in education – in a variety of ways – can reduce summer learning loss.

Millions of people walk down the aisle every year to exchange wedding vows. June is the most popular month for weddings, followed by August, May, July and September. However, the “honeymoon” may end sooner for some couples than others. Charlotte Shoup Olsen, a family systems specialist with K-State Research and Extension, says finding ways to stay connected, discovering new things about each other and being a good listener will help keep your marriage fresh.

An easy way to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat each day is to add more color to your plate. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables that make up all the colors of a rainbow to get a variety of different nutrients. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter says now is a great time to find colorful fruits and vegetables. She also discusses the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s effort to ban trans fats from all food within three years.

There are a number of reasons consumers shop at farmers markets: the fruits and vegetables are the freshest and tastiest available, they can reconnect with the cycles of nature in their region by eating asparagus in spring, sweet corn in summer and pumpkins in fall, and the markets provide them with a direct connection to the community. In 2014, there were 8,264 farmers markets operating – up 180% since 2006. While the produce is always fresh, food safety concerns remain the same as for produce bought anywhere else. On today’s Sound Living: K-State Research and Extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee discusses how to safely handle fresh fruits and vegetables and how they can be preserved so you can still enjoy them when they’re no longer in season.

A home emergency plan should include safety measures for the entire family – including family pets. In fact, preparing a storm shelter and an emergency kit for pets is very similar to preparing one for the rest of the family: at least three days of fresh water and food, blankets, medications, medical records and identification. You may also want a pet carrier, newspapers, rubber gloves and baggies. Susan Nelson, a doctor of veterinary medicine and an associate professor at the Kansas State University Pet Health Center, says they want to make pet owners more aware that they need to be included in the disaster plan.

Walk Kansas is a team-based health initiative that encourages participants to increase their physical activity over the course of eight weeks. To achieve their goal to walk across Kansas, participants are required to get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on at least five days each week. Walk Kansas also includes a nutrition component, informational tips, and motivational support.  K-State Research and Extension northeast area family and consumer sciences specialist and state coordinator of Walk Kansas, Sharolyn Jackson, highlights some of the success stories from this year’s Walk Kansas.

Trust is a vital part of any relationship. And, as a relationship grows, trust should extend to everything…including finances. However, research shows finances are the most difficult thing for people to talk about. Charlotte Shoup Olsen, K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist, and Kristy Archuleta, assistant professor in Kansas State University’s personal financial planning program, say couples will probably have a better marriage if they discuss their finances before the wedding.

Having to discard food, and even certain cooking utensils, after a flood cannot only be costly, but emotionally difficult. However, if you’re not sure if the food was directly exposed to flood water and is safe for consumption, it’s safer to throw it out. K-State Research and Extension food safety specialist Londa Nwadike says after a flood has devastated your home or business, food safety is one of the many things to be considered.

Natural disasters, family changes such as divorce, death, serious injury, or community violence can be traumatic for both children and adults. Children often experience disasters differently than adults and they need to have developmentally appropriate explanations of them. A publication, co-authored by Bradford Wiles and Elizabeth Kiss, assistant professors and Extension specialists in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, details how disasters impact children and the role adults play in helping them recover. On today’s Sound Living: experiencing the effects of disaster.

A national leader in school nutrition and dietetics says there have been a lot of changes in school lunch programs over the past 50 years and that many challenges – primarily financial – will be faced in the coming years. Penny McConnell, a recent guest speaker for Kansas State University’s College of Human Ecology, is director of Food and Nutrition Services for Fairfax County Public Schools – the 12th largest district in the nation. She talks about the many challenges she’s faced and the challenges that school lunch programs will face in the future.

Research shows that a healthy diet promotes success in life – better concentration and alertness, better physical health that translates into good mental and emotional health. Good eating habits are also a front line defense against obesity, which happens when a child eats more calories than they burn. In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 children between the ages of 2 and 5 Is overweight or obese – making them at risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and sleep apnea. According to two Kansas State University nutrition specialists, teaching a child to make healthy food choices early in life is a key component to better health.

Getting children to be more physically active could be as simple as sending them outdoors to play. According to 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, more than a third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. Professor of physical activity and public health in the Kansas State University College of Human Ecology, David Dzewaltowski, says the more time children spend outdoors the more active they are. On today’s Sound Living: strategies to keep children on the move.

As a parent, you want your child to understand and respect that other people have thoughts and feelings. It makes for healthier children who develop into happier adults. Bradford Wiles, an assistant professor and Extension specialist at Kansas State University, says it’s a much easier existence for children if they see value in everyone. He says when children learn to take another person’s perspective and then empathize they are much better equipped to successfully manage peer and adult interactions.

A majority of a child’s communication begins with their parents. Unfortunately, that communication is not always positive. We too often encounter parents ridiculing, shaming or name-calling their child in a public place. While this is upsetting to witness, the damage caused by this type of behavior – which is also most likely occurring at home – can be devastating to a child. As a result, K-State child development specialist Bradford Wiles parents should be mindful of how they communicate with their children.

A certain amount of stress in our lives is unavoidable. However, when stress begins to negatively impact our lives and those around us, we have to deal with what’s causing the stress. K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen says remaining flexible when change occurs, creating a sense of family togetherness and trust, and working to repair what’s wrong are all things we can do to help manage stress.

For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which updates its recommendations in a report every five years, has considered the environmental impact of food choices. The committee also encouraged Americans to eat less red meat and lower the consumption of added sugars – those not naturally found in foods such as fruit. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter says the recommendations mirror MyPlate – which encourages people to fill their plate with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less protein.

During childhood, parents usually oversee a child’s medical needs – calling for appointments, filling out forms and keeping track of medications. However, as children become teenagers, parents are encouraged to relinquish some of that responsibility and help them transition to adult health care. K-State Research and Extension youth development specialist Elaine Johannes says parents can make this transition easier by starting the process early, discussing health care issues with them – especially when it’s in the news – and sitting in the waiting room while they meet privately with the doctor.

With the holidays behind us, and spring still weeks away, it’s a good time to take inventory of all the things crammed into the kitchen cupboards, refrigerator and freezer. What you’ll probably discover is that the things creating the clutter don’t get used anymore, you have far too many of the same thing, and that some food is well past its expiration date. Karen Blakeslee, a K-State Research and Extension food scientist and coordinator of the Rapid Response Center, says organizing your kitchen will save time and money.

Americans, in general, display low levels of financial knowledge and capability, but a new study out of Kansas State University indicates women are even less financially capable. The gender gap of capability extends across all ages, but is most prevalent among women younger than 35 and older than 55 – and the gap increases with age. This is especially troubling because many women will be the head of a household at some point in their life. Cliff Robb, an associate professor in the Kansas State College of Human Ecology and the author of a study titled, Financial Knowledge and the Gender Gap, says there are many reasons why this gap exists and explains why it’s critical that it is addressed.

The theme for America Saves Week – the last week in February – is Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically. The theme is also the essence of a sound approach to savings. Knowing what you want to save for, how to achieve it, and making the savings process automatic will help you reach your savings goal. K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist Elizabeth Kiss (kish) says Kansas Saves, which mirrors the America Saves initiative, encourages people to commit to saving, reduce debt, invest and build wealth.

Emergent literacy is a term used to explain a young child’s knowledge of reading and writing skills before they learn how to read and write words. When parents, caregivers and educators play an active role in exposing pre-school age children to books, they open up a world of possibilities. K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles says emergent literacy is critically important for lifetime learning.

If you’re going to buy health insurance coverage for 2015 in a health insurance marketplace – which would be different than purchasing it through an employer plan or Medicare or Medicaid – you need to make a decision by February 15th.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 9.5 million people had enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces through mid-January. The HHS reports that nearly 76,000 Kansans had selected plans – up from 57,000 in 2014.  K-State Research and Extension resource management specialist, Elizabeth Kiss, and Roberta Riportella, the Kansas Health Foundation professor of Community Health at Kansas State University, co-authored a publication to assist Kansans signing up for health care coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-harvest Loss at Kansas State University is a strategic and applied research and education program aimed at providing global leadership in food security by reducing post-harvest loss and food waste---food already in the production system that could have been used to reduce food insecurity and hunger and to increase food quality and safety, nutrition and market opportunities for small landholders. The lab is funded by a 5-year, 8-point-5 million dollar grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Professor of agricultural education in Kansas State University’s College of Agriculture, Dr. Shannon Washburn, is working directly with smallholder farmers in Ghana and Ethiopia to reduce post-harvest loss.

Walk Kansas, based on the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, is a team based program that encourages participants to accomplish one of three goals: walk across Kansas, walk across Kansas and back or walk the perimeter of the state. The eight week challenge begins March 15th and runs through May 9th. This year’s theme is Walk Tall, Walk Strong, Walk Kansas. Sharolyn Jackson, state coordinator of Walk Kansas, discusses the benefits of the program and some of the new components that have been added for this year’s challenge.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced its final rules for nationwide nutritional labeling on menus and vending machines. Before the end of the year, establishments with at least 20 locations will be required to post calorie counts on all menu items, calorie boards and drive thru displays. The new rules apply to restaurants, movie theaters, pizza parlors, amusement parks, grocery stores and anywhere else ready-to-eat meals are sold. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter says that making calorie information available to consumers is an important first step in helping them make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

Holiday gatherings can bring people of all ages together for several hours or several days. As children go through different developmental and life stages, holiday gatherings can become a challenge for the entire family. Children typically want to spend time with friends and social media, while parents and other relatives often want their undivided attention. K-State Research and Extension youth development specialist Elaine Johannes says the job of children is to grow up, and they do that somewhat by pushing against the tradition of what the family has laid out.

The holiday break provides students an opportunity to catch their breath and spend time with family and friends. However, boredom is bound to set in. Typically that leads to watching television and playing a lot of video games. K-State Research and Extension youth development specialist Elaine Johannes project director of the recently-completed Kansas Adolescent Health Community Input Survey, says the interviews they conducted with nearly 400 Kansas teenagers revealed that boys and girls are not only playing video games at home, they’re also playing them away from home on their cell phones and tablets. Johannes says too much video gaming every day can have negative consequences.

According to the Step and Blended Family Institute, the holidays can be stressful and challenging under the best of circumstances, but when you add in the complexity of blended families or an extended blended family network, you’re introducing more people, differing ideas and conflicting schedules into an already hectic holiday season. However, there are steps that can be taken to minimize potential problems. K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles says that while blended families do face some unique challenges, especially during the holidays, they also have an opportunity to create new memories and traditions. 

Eating healthier foods, saving money and building relationships are just a few of the benefits of “dining in” with your family. While today’s active lifestyles don’t always make that possible, there’s an effort to get as many families as possible to “dine in” on December 3rd. It’s all part of the inaugural Family and Consumer Sciences Day. In conjunction with this global event, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences specialist are encouraging families across the state to prepare and eat a healthy meal at home.

The euphoria of holiday shopping we experience in November and December can quickly turn into a financial hangover when the credit card statements arrive in January. While shopping is part of the holiday celebration, it doesn’t have to leave a huge debt to deal with after the holiday. K-State Research and Extension family financial specialist Elizabeth Kiss discusses how to have a happy holiday and not wake up with a January hangover.

We’re in the early stages of what many call an eating marathon – which started with Halloween and runs through Valentine’s. Also along the marathon route are Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the Super Bowl. So, how can we enjoy all of these occasions without packing on the pounds? K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences specialist for northeast Kansas, Sharolyn Jackson, says eating in moderation and being physically active are two of the best ways to avoid gaining weight over the next several months.

According to the National Turkey Federation, 91% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. And, they’re eating a lot of it! 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving and 22 million are eaten each Christmas. A common fear associated with fixing a turkey is overcooking it and having it turn into turkey jerky. K-State Research and Extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee says choosing and preparing a turkey isn’t complicated – if you plan ahead and follow a few simple steps.

There is often a wide gap between when winter weather arrives and when winter officially begins. Winter officially starts on December 21st, but you better be prepared for it much sooner – especially if you’re traveling. Kansas State University climatologist Mary Knapp says a large part of being prepared for winter travel is paying attention to the current weather conditions and the forecast for the days you’ll be traveling. She also encourages you to assemble a winter weather kit and keep it in your vehicle.