Penn State Extension: Family and Consumer Sciences Programs

These programs are committed to lifelong learning by providing high-quality educational information to help citizens of the Commonwealth enrich the quality of their lives.
Penn State Extension: Family and Consumer Sciences Programs - Articles

Improving the lives of children, families and individuals of all ages has been a focus of Penn State Extension for more than ninety years. We are committed to lifelong learning by providing high-quality educational information and programs to help citizens of the Commonwealth enrich the quality of their lives.

Penn State Family and Consumer Sciences Programs

Penn State Extension Family and Consumer Sciences programs touch many Pennsylvanians—from children, to parents, to older adults, to community leaders.

Each year, more than eight million Pennsylvanians participate in Penn State Extension educational programs. These families and individuals count on extension to help address some of the most pressing issues of our day—obesity, food safety, economic well-being, and community resilience. Through a combination of prevention-oriented programs and research-based educational activities, Penn State Extension reduces the risk of unhealthy behaviors and empowers families and community leaders to create safe places to live.

Healthy families mean that fewer public and private dollars are spent on medical care. Children raised in safe, nurturing environments reduce the economic burden of recovery programs. Self-sufficient adults do not need public and private assistance. And communities with engaged, active citizens provide a place for economic and personal growth.

Penn State Children, Youth, and Family program faculty and staff “take the University to the people” by providing a link between the University and the citizens of the state, translating science into useful information that can be applied to everyday life. We are working to make life better, one individual, one family, and one community at a time.

Balancing work and family life. Making ends meet. Stretching food dollars and food stamps. Reducing the risk of unhealthy behaviors. Helping families and elderly eat nutritious meals. Preventing health risks. Strengthening personal and family relationships. Creating safe places to live. Building collaborative partnerships.

Penn State Extension Family and Consumer Sciences programs help people realize these goals through proven programs and innovative delivery methods. Our programs strive to maximize the quality of life through education.

1. Food Safety Education

Each year, the United States population consumes billions of out-of-home meals, and as a result of unsafe food handling practices, an estimated 76 million individuals fall ill. Food service operations look to extension educators to provide the expertise to train their employees and earn state certification/recertification to comply with the Pennsylvania Food Employee Certification Act. Extension works to protect public health by providing food processors and handlers with training techniques, procedures, and licensing programs to ensure food safety.

2. Nutrition, Diet, and Health

Pennsylvania has critical rates of chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The economic impact is evident in medical care, lost wages, interrupted or lost revenues, and associated costs. Extension provides the prevention education, nutrition, diet, and health programs that are key to promoting a healthy lifestyle.

3. Child Care Business Essentials

Researchers report that affordable, accessible, high-quality child care is critical for the success of parents and children. Yet, studies indicate that child care is often below minimum quality levels. As a result, training child care providers remains one of Pennsylvania’s most critical needs and a focus area where extension makes a difference. We play a valued role in providing quality-training programs, professional development, resources, and educational materials for the child care community.

4. Strengthening Families

How children grow and who they become in life depends on the level of support, guidance, and nurturing they receive in their families. Strengthening families through research-based education is the goal of extension’s Children, Youth, and Family programs. We serve families of all sizes and compositions, and in all circumstances, including those struggling with substance abuse, financial stress, intergenerational relationships, and parents in prison. We provide educational information and programs to promote sound parenting skills, communication and life skills, quality child care, youth development and resiliency, coping with stress and change, and many more important topics.

5. Financial Well-Being for Life

Access to resources and the ability to manage resources effectively are key factors to individual and family stability and strength. Families must be able to save, to spend based on goals, and manage debt responsibly to be financially secure. Extension programs cover a wide variety of topics to help individuals and families achieve financial well-being. Examples of these topics include basic budgeting, saving, organization and records management, spending plans, borrowing money, transfer of nontitled property, identity theft, bankruptcy education, and understanding basic tax preparation.

6. Building Community Engagement

As communities grapple with the changes in economic structures, demographic shifts, suburban sprawl, infrastructure decay, traffic congestion, and taxation issues, a crucial need for diverse, skilled leaders emerges. Extension provides the programs to empower citizens and build stronger communities. Our research-based programs help individuals develop the skills and capacity to work in collaborative groups to address complex problems and improve the quality of their lives.

1. Food Safety Education

Food Safety for Food Handlers

ServSafe™ is an eight- or sixteen-hour food safety certification course that teaches food service personnel how to make food safety an essential ingredient in every meal. Along with state certification eligibility for those who pass the exam, there are other positive outcomes. As a result of learning safe food handling practices to protect the public, businesses can also see increased profitability and reduced liability; enhance their competitive position; build patronage; and promote good will. ServSafe™ instruction is offered in Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.

Cooking for Crowds

Many well-intentioned and excellent cooks volunteer to help nonprofit groups prepare and serve food at fund-raisers or special events. Even those who have been volunteering for years might not be aware of the additional safety risks that come with cooking large quantities of food. Cooking for Crowds provides volunteer cooks with information on proper food handling and safety practices to reduce their chances of causing a foodborne outbreak of illness.

Front Line Food Safety for Food Processors

Home to more than 1,400 food manufacturers and processors, Pennsylvania is the largest food processing state in the Northeast. The safety of food products depends on frontline employees who frequently receive little or no formal training in food safety and hygiene practices. Front Line Food Safety provides training to meet the specialized needs of personnel involved in the processing of dairy and meat products, poultry, fruits and vegetables, cereals, food ingredients, and confectionary products. On-site training options save producers travel and lost-time costs associated with sending employees to a workshop.

Keeping Kitchens Safe

Whatever the activity—canning, roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, preparing food for a tailgate, or storing leftovers—consumers often lack the resources and experience to keep a food-safe kitchen. Extension reaches out to the community and offers demonstrations and information on how to keep food fresh, safe, and satisfying.

Hunter Food Safety

Research conducted by extension faculty demonstrates that pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella exist in the deer population and other wildlife species. With more than one million hunting licenses issued annually in Pennsylvania, extension educators play a vital role in bringing food safety information to hunters through game meat safety programs, publications, and wild game meat displays.

School Food Safety

Serving safe foods is especially critical for school service personnel since they are entrusted with the health and nutrition of children, some with vulnerable immune systems. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania designated extension the official trainer for food safety training of public and private school food service establishments. Extension educators assist food service managers in developing and maintaining a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point plan in compliance with United States Department of Agriculture regulations.

Nutrition, Diet, and Health

Nutrition Throughout the Life Cycle

Extension is at the forefront of nutrition education programs for school-age children, parents and teachers, child care providers, personal care home staff, low-income older adults, and food stamp recipients. In many cases, extension educators deliver their messages by establishing relationships and partnerships with organizations, and serving on or building coalitions with other community organizations already affiliated with these at-risk audiences.

Keeping Kids Healthy and Addressing Childhood Obesity

The dramatic increase in childhood obesity—54 percent in children ages six to eleven in the past twenty years—has profound health implications, including the increase of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breathing and heart problems. Extension programs teach youth to recognize the importance of healthy food and beverage choices, proper portion control, and increased physical activity. Many program offerings are available, such as Cooking with Kids, Family Fitness, and Keystone Color Me Healthy. By creating positive change in the whole family, thousands of Pennsylvanians benefit each year.

Adolescent Health

Middle school and high school is a crucial time in the growth and development of young men and women. Programs such as Improving Diet and Body Image and Preventing Eating Disorders provide relevant, research-based information to help youth develop a healthy body image as they transition into adulthood.

Adult Weight Management

Sixty-five percent of adults are now classified as overweight, and according to the American Obesity Association, obesity is associated with more than thirty medical conditions. This threat to public health indicates a critical need for the extension programs that help adults to learn more about combining healthy food choices and physical activity.

Diabetes Prevention

By increasing physical activity, making healthy food choices, and limiting the amount of food they consume, people can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And for those who have it, these practices can help manage and slow progression of the disease. Extension programs such as Preventing Diabetes: You Have the Power, Dining with Diabetes, Your Wellness Roadmap, and Diabetes Prevention Coalition address this pressing health problem with education about major nutrient recommendations, methods for meal planning, and using nutrition labels.

Cancer Prevention

Through community coalition work, extension educators are providing leadership for programs focused on cancer prevention for men and women residing in the rural areas of the Commonwealth. Especially for Women and Be Wise, Be Well are just two examples of the outreach that annually touches almost 10,000 Pennsylvanians, both directly and indirectly.

StrongWomen and Osteoporosis Prevention

With half of all residents over age fifty at risk for life-threatening fractures from osteoporosis, older Pennsylvanians need to make dramatic changes in their diets and lifestyles. StrongWomen, one of extension’s most celebrated and successful programs, teaches women (and men) safe strength-building techniques, appreciation for regular exercise, and proper nutrition. Participants can gradually improve their physical and emotional health and reduce their susceptibility to osteoporosis and other age-related ailments. Health professionals across the nation have used the Creating Health: Osteoporosis program to increase consumer risk perception and the intake of more calcium-rich foods.

Holistic Health and Smart Food

Using herbs for medicinal purposes is a popular alternative to prescription drugs, but consumers and health professionals need to know about the regulations, preparations, side effects, and interactions of herbs with other substances. The Power of Functional Foods, Facts and Myths about Popular Supplements, and Nutriceuticals help separate the facts from fiction.

Nutrition and Cooking for Seniors

Pennsylvania’s aging population needs special attention in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, disease prevention, budgeting, and food safety. Extension educators make a special effort to help older adults maintain their health and well-being by delivering programs at senior centers and other accessible locations. Our Seniors Eating Well program helps meet the needs of this growing population.

Nutrition Education for Limited-Resource Families

Limited-income households often find it challenging to stretch food resources to cover the entire month, even when they receive food stamps. Through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Pennsylvania Nutrition Education Tracks (Pa Tracks) program, low-income families can acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that lead to nutritionally sound diets and personal development. EFNEP education covers food buying, preparation and safety, meal planning, and nutrition and reaches more than 10,000 people each year.

Child Care Business Essentials

Better Kid Care—Caregiver Training

Since 1986, Better Kid Care has been one of the primary sources of new training and continuing education for care-givers, parents, and child care facility administrators. Better Kid Care provides statewide educational materials and resources, direct training workshops, satellite broadcasts, Internet-based workshops, a telephone mentoring line, videos, and educational activities. Satellite training workshops, produced at Penn State, are routinely downloaded to fifty-five extension sites across Pennsylvania and to forty-two states nationwide. Innovative new offerings are being added to address changes in the industry.

Better Kid Care—The Business of Child Care

Child care directors require training relevant to their administrative roles, and they must stay informed about legal issues in the industry. Through Better Kid Care, extension offers the training that directors need to understand legal regulations, reduce staff turnover, and maintain the best levels of care. All training is approved for compliance with regulations for the Keystone STARS quality enhancement program and meets the Pennsylvania Core Body of Knowledge for early childhood and school-age caregivers.

Strengthening Families

Building Strong Families

Offerings focus on families with dependent children, as well as caregivers. Groups can customize sessions by choosing from a variety of topics, including Building Family Strengths, Ages and Stages, Positive Parenting, Communicating, Managing Stress, Child Self-Care, Positive Discipline, Interacting with Children, Balancing Responsibilities, Family Decision Making, and Intergenerational Relationships.

Bullying Prevention and Character Education

Extension has a program to help educators identify and prevent bullying in school. Innovative intervention strategies include involving children to teach other children how to respond to bullies. Character education programs help children develop positive approaches to handling the underlying causes of bullying and other inappropriate behaviors.

School Readiness

To help low-income, low-literacy families prepare their children for school, extension provides school readiness brochures in English and Spanish. These materials cover important pre-language and other preparatory skills.

Reading Wizards: Parents and Children Reading Together

The Reading Wizards publication series teaches parents how to make the most of reading time with their children, as well as activities that they can do together. Programs for parents with children from two to twelve include activities that utilize popular books.

Tobacco Prevention

Smoking tobacco is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Pennsylvania, with tobacco smoke pollution being the third cause of death and illness. Extension tobacco prevention programs take a multi-faceted approach to create awareness of risks and increase the cessation of smoking in communities and schools.

Aging and Intergenerational Issues

Extension programs are designed to strengthen relationships and increase cooperation, interaction, and exchanges between any two generations. Of special interest are Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Kinship Care, which provide family caregivers of children with vital information, resources, and support to bridge generational issues and facilitate communication.

Special Topics

Changes in demographics, family structures, and ethnic population mixes have spawned the need for education to improve understanding of diverse populations. Extension programs cover various aspects of diversity education, while others focus on specific audiences, skills, and practices. Extension is continually creating special programs to address new and emerging needs, for example Diversity Issues—Cultural Perspectives on Parenting, Parents in Prison, Student Parenting, Understanding the New Face of the American Family, and Understanding Demographic Change in Your Community.

Financial Well-Being for Life

Personal Money Management

People with limited resources and difficult socioeconomic circumstances benefit from attending money management classes to learn how to maximize their income through saving and spending goals and how to maintain a good credit rating.

Bankruptcy Debtor Education

People faced with bankruptcy are required to take a personal finance class. Extension provides the class, but is also positioned to do more on an ongoing basis to help bankruptcy filers move forward financially. As a permanent community resource, filers can return to extension for additional educational programs that assist them with personal finances.

Family and Youth Budgeting

Financial security is a key factor for individual and family stability and strength. Extension educators provide programs to teach families and youth how to save, set spending goals, and responsibly manage debt. Programs are tailored to meet the socioeconomic needs of low- to moderate-income families.

Saving Strategies—Pennsylvania Saves

Extension has a solution for Pennsylvanians whose wallets are stuffed with plastic, whose incomes are heavily tied up in debt, and whose savings accounts are empty: financial education. Pennsylvania Saves teaches people how to set financial goals, manage financial recordkeeping, use a budget, record savings and spending, obtain a credit report, close unused credit accounts, and opt out of preapproved credit offers.

Bouncing Back When Family Income Drops

The loss of a job or income is stressful for families and affects many aspects of their lives. Extension helps families make sense of their loss, check financial resources, set spending priorities, pay creditors and maintain their financial reputation, cut corners and economize, use community resources, protect retirement benefits, and find new employment.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Taxpayer Education

Trained volunteers take the bite out of tax time by providing low-income earners with assistance in the preparation of common tax forms. For many, the assistance offers an introduction to extension and an opportunity to learn ways to stretch available income and resources or access other community assets.

Identity Theft and Scams

Anyone who uses a credit or debit card or has financial accounts is at risk of identity theft. It’s the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the United States. Extension offers a program to help individuals protect their identity and not become a statistic.

Building Community Engagement

Youth Who Care: A Visioning Project

The community-visioning process, in which adults and youth work together on a community project, enables young people to develop leadership skills while they make positive contributions to their community. Learning Today, Leading Tomorrow is a successful extension program that helps shape good citizens—the beginning of a concerted effort to empower citizens to be responsible for the future of organizations and government in their communities.

4-H Youth Development

The Pennsylvania 4-H Youth Development program engages youth in reaching their full potential through leadership, citizenship, and life skills. Involvement in 4-H helps youth explore new ideas, experience a variety of new opportunities, and build skills designed to help them achieve. Extension provides experiences that support healthy development and focus on youth and family development.

Advisory Boards, Community Collaborations

The direct involvement of volunteers in total support of its educational programs is a hallmark of Penn State Extension. In collaboration with volunteer advisory leadership committees, educators access community-based resources and support leadership to improve service delivery to families, and empower citizens to become actively involved in their communities. Our Children, Our Future and Smart Start are examples of initiatives to build school-family-community partnerships, raise awareness and understanding of school readiness, and increase professionalism with early-care and education providers.


PROSPER (PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience) teaches youth and their families the skills and attitudes that foster improved family life and parent-child communications. Youth are taught decision-making and problem-solving skills as
well as how to resist peer pressure. PROSPER has proven effective for reducing rates of substance use and problem behaviors, while fostering positive youth development, promoting family cohesion, and increasing the time that parents and children spend together.

Increasing Diversity Awareness

When professionals and individuals of all ages are sensitive to other cultures, they are better equipped to develop positive relationships, engage clients, and improve the overall quality of their service. To that end, extension programs are provided to K–12 students, community organizations, child care providers, and intergenerational audiences on topics such as Cultural Competency, Teaching Children Tolerance and Acceptance, African American Culture, and Understanding Issues of Poverty.

Workforce Development

Today’s employers are seeking employees who are capable of solving problems, making effective decisions, and communicating with co-workers and management. Often, low-income people striving to move out of poverty need to gain these skills and develop a work ethic that meets middle-class workplace demands. Extension partners with local, state, and federal agencies, schools, the child care industry, community groups, employers, and others to promote self-sufficiency and workforce development of youth and adults. Taking Control of Your Future, Lifeskills and Job Readiness, and Mentoring are designed to build skills and confidence as individuals take their place in the workforce.

About Penn State Extension

As one of the nation’s land-grant colleges and universities, Penn State has a special mission in addition to research and classroom teaching. That mission is “extension.” In every Pennsylvania community, Penn State Extension provides informal education with direct relevance to people’s daily lives. We share University-based research and expertise to help people, communities, businesses, and governments solve their problems and reach their potential. In a word, extension education helps Pennsylvanians to GROW.