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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.
 

A reverse mortgage is a home loan that provides cash payments based on home equity. And, while the idea of using your home for cash may be appealing, it’s an important decision that cannot be made hastily or before understanding the benefits and pitfalls. Although a lot of people have seen the commercials for reverse mortgages on television, they don’t understand what it is. K-State Research and Extension family financial planning specialist Elizabeth Kiss (kish) says the absolute number of people in Kansas who have reverse mortgages or who reverse mortgages would be appropriate for are probably pretty low compared to other states, but because they are so heavily advertised, it’s important to understand how they work.
 

When it comes to personal financial management, there are a number of things that can affect your overall health. This includes your credit score, whether you have a contingency fund for emergencies, making sure you have adequate insurance coverage and choosing a bank that’s right for you. On today’s Sound Living, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist Elizabeth Kiss (kish) offers some tips for making financial decisions that will improve your overall financial health.
 

If the onset of colder weather has you thinking about ways to reduce energy costs – without sacrificing personal comfort – there are a number of cost-effective measures that can be taken to winterize your home. Bruce Snead, director of Extension engineering at Kansas State University and an Extension specialist in residential energy, says this includes blocking air leaks by preventing cold air from entering the home and keeping warm air from escaping the home, making sure the furnace is in optimum working condition and using a programmable thermostat to help regulate the home’s temperature according to your family’s lifestyle.
 

Current food choices in the United States create a carbon footprint that is one-fourth larger than that created by Americans’ driving habits. But, how can we reduce the energy and waste created by the food we eat? A K-State Research and Extension publication offers dozens of ways to eat healthy while helping preserve the planet for future generations. Last week, we explored the meaning of a sustainable diet and some of the foods that promote sustainability. On this week’s Sound Living: small changes we can all make to address the world’s sustainability problems.
 

Sustainability is often associated with saving the planet by using less energy and reducing our overall carbon footprint. But, just how difficult is it to live more sustainably? A publication from K-State Research and Extension offers dozens of ways to have a tasty, healthful and sustainable diet – and at the same time have a positive impact on the environment. On today’s Sound Living: the first in a two-part series with K-State Research and Extension human nutrition specialist, registered dietitian and author of the publication: Making Everyday Choices for a Healthy, Sustainable Diet, Mary Meck Higgins.
 

September is National Food Safety Education Month, a perfect time to remind families about the importance of food safety and the steps they can take to reduce the risk of food borne illness. On today’s Sound Living: K-State Research and Extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee offers some easy-to-follow food safety tips to protect your family’s health every time you prepare food.
 

K-State Research and Extension is conducting a survey to identify adolescent health needs and what can be done to address those needs. If you live in Kansas and are over the age of 13, you’re eligible to participate in the online survey. However, the deadline for completing the survey is September 19th. K-State Research and Extension youth development specialist Elaine Johannes and Kansas Adolescent Health Community Input Survey project manager, Bryant Miller, a graduate student in the K-State School of Family Studies and Human Services, discuss how the information being gathered can be used to improve adolescent health in Kansas.

Parents should be relieved when they pick up their child from preschool and they say that “playing” was the best part of their day. Play is not a break from learning – it’s the way young children learn. Several studies have shown that children learn more from educational activities that support their own interests and ideas and play is the main way children learn and develop the skills necessary for critical thinking and leadership. K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles says to forget about sitting preschool-aged kids down at the table and using work sheets, drills and flash cards to learn about letters and numbers, what they really need is the freedom to play.
 

Disaster is commonly defined as a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe that causes great damage or loss of life. While we can’t always control what happens, we can be better prepared to deal with a disaster. For the nearly three million people who live in Kansas, a disaster could include a tornado, flood, ice storm or fire. K-State Research and Extension family resource specialist Elizabeth Kiss says Prepare Kansas, an online financial challenge to organize and help ease recovery after disasters, is being offered throughout September to help families build a household inventory, review insurance coverages, make a grab-and-go box and provide tips for what to do following a disaster.
 

Whether it’s convenience, to save money or eat healthier, millions of Americans carry their lunch to school and work. However, if proper food safety precautions aren’t followed, that sack lunch could make them sick. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, food brought from home can be kept safe if it’s first handled and cooked properly and then kept out of what’s referred to as the “danger zone” – the temperature between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit where harmful bacteria multiply rapidly. K-State Research and Extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee says making sack lunches safe and healthy isn’t difficult, it just requires planning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed dietary data from the 2003-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to estimate trends in fruit and vegetable intake by children ages 2-18. According to the report, total fruit intake in cup-equivalents per 1,000 calories increased 13%. Whole fruit intake increased 67%, while fruit juice intake decreased 29%. The total vegetable intake did not change. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter says the report is good news because it shows progress is being made through the various policies and programs that have been implemented over the last several years.
 

More than one-third of the food purchased in the United States is discarded. And, on average, households in the U.S. throw away 14 percent of the food purchased.  However, K-State Research and Extension human nutrition specialist Mary Meck Higgins says there are several ways to reduce – even eliminate – food waste in the home.

As a new school year starts, there is typically a mix of anxiety, excitement and stress for students and parents as they consider all the opportunities available for outside activities. It’s natural for parents to want to provide opportunities for their children, while at the same time, protecting time for family activities. However, maintaining that balance is often difficult. On today’s Sound Living: balancing the time children spend on outside activities and the time they spend with family.
 

According to a government report, the number of babies born last year rose by about 4,700 – the first annual increase since 2007. Experts have been blaming the downward trend mainly on the nation’s economy, which was in recession from 2007 to 2009 and shaky for several years after that. Now the economy has started to pick up and so has child bearing – at least in women ages 30 and older. On today’s Sound Living: K-State Research and Extension child development specialist Bradford Wiles discusses how parenting begins long before the baby is conceived.
 

More than a quarter of Americans have no emergency savings, according to an annual survey conducted by Bankrate.com. Of those who do have savings, 67% have less than six months’ worth of expenses. While it’s nice to have a large sum set aside for emergencies, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist Elizabeth Kiss (kish) says having access to $500 to $1,000 of savings will help most people meet unexpected expenses. On today’s Sound Living: ways to start building an emergency fund.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft last month with updated advice on fish consumption. The two agencies have concluded that pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant, and young children should eat more fish that is lower in mercury to gain important developmental and health benefits. Previously, the FDA and EPA recommended maximum amounts of fish that these groups should consume, but did not promote a minimum amount. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Proctor discusses the health benefits fish provide.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average cost for back-to-school spending for families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade is around $650. In total, families spend $26.7 billion dollars for K-12 children. When you add in college-aged kids, the number soars to $72.5 billion. The biggest cost for back-to-school shoppers is clothing and accessories, followed by electronics – and those costs often hit all at once. However, K-State Research and Extension family resource specialist Elizabeth Kiss says prioritizing needs versus wants will allow shoppers to spread those costs over a longer period.

Over the last 30 years, Americans have increased the amount of daily calories they consume. Many of those extra calories come from snacks. In fact, snacks now account for as much as 25 percent of all calories consumed…equivalent to a fourth meal. According to K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Mary Meck Higgins, we could reduce calories and increase nutritional value by simply choosing a snack that comes from one of the basic food groups.

The world community faces a formidable challenge of sustainably feeding a growing population that will double the global food demand by the year 2050. Dean of the Kansas State University College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension, John Floros, says “It’s a very large amount of food that we will have to produce in a very short time in order to feed everybody.” Even today, with our highly productive agriculture system, one billion people do not have adequate food or nutrition. On today’s Sound Living: building on the university’s land-grant heritage to address the world’s growing needs with the Global Food Systems initiative.

More than three-quarters of Americans planned to take a summer vacation last year, with nearly half planning a beach trip. The survey, conducted by Orbitz, showed Orlando was the top vacation destination. Bradford Wiles, a child development specialist at Kansas State University, says a summer trip, no matter how near or how far from home, can create a lifetime of memories. However, traveling as a family – whether it’s by car, train or airplane – presents some unique challenges. On today’s Sound Living: tips to make summer travel fun for the entire family.

During a nine-month period, approximately 294,000 reviews of New York City restaurants posted on Yelp.com were screened by software programs for possible cases of foodborne illness. The software flagged 893 reviews for evaluation by an epidemiologist, resulting in the identification of 468 reviews that were consistent with recent or potentially recent foodborne illness. However, only 15 – or 3% -- of the reviews described events that had been reported to the health department. The results of this pilot project, a joint venture between the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Columbia University and Yelp, suggest online restaurant reviews might help identify unreported outbreaks of foodborne illness and restaurants with poor food handling practices. K-State Research and Extension food scientist Karen Blakeslee discusses the pilot project and offers some tips to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

A plan to allow some schools to opt out of increased nutrition standards for school meals in the 2014-15 school year is making the rounds in the nation’s capital. The waiver would direct the USDA to create a process that would allow schools to opt out of the heightened meal standards contained in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 if they can demonstrate a net loss from operating a food service program for a period of at least six months, beginning on or after July 1, 2013. K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist Sandy Procter says a recent Harvard study, cited in a USDA Fact Sheet, shows the new school lunch program is meeting or exceeding many of its goals.

Each year in the United States, approximately 2-point-1 million couples get married – that’s about 62-hundred weddings each day. June, August, May, July, September and October are the most popular months. In addition to the usual pre-wedding preparations, K-State Research and Extension family systems specialist Charlotte Shoup Olsen says it’s important for couples get to know each other. This includes discussing their finances, hopes, dreams and expectations, and how to effectively communicate – especially when disagreements occur. On today’s Sound Living: getting to know each other before the “save the date” cards are sent out.
 

Research shows local grocery stores are vital to America’s rural communities. These stores help drive the local economy – providing essential jobs and tax revenue. Yet, we continue to hear that another rural grocery store is closing. Kansas State University is working to reverse that trend. As part of that effort, the fourth National Rural Grocery Summit is being held next month in Manhattan. K-State Center for Engagement and Community Development director, David Procter, discusses why they strongly believe grocery stores in rural communities – those of 3,000 people or less – are essential to that community’s survival.
 

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