Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Family

By Tracy Wright

The kitchen is often cited as the hub of the home where family and friends gather to cook, eat and share memories. Is your kitchen always good for your health? Organizing, cleaning and setting up your kitchen can have profound impacts on both your physical and mental health.

Healthy Organization

The first step to having a healthier kitchen is making sure its organized and stocked with the proper healthy foods and supplies. Keeping unhealthy food off of the counter is a good way to making sure you promote healthy habits. Stock your fridge and pantry with fruits and vegetables and get rid of fatty and processed snacks.

In the fridge, [make sure] the healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, cheese and yogurt are the easiest to reach,” said local resident and mom of three Ami McClay. “Other items like bananas or avocados are easy to reach on the counters. I keep those in view so when they are looking for something, they tend to want that first.”

Make sure you know how to properly store different types of food. If not going in the refrigerator, make sure it resides in a cool and dry place.

“I put a guide on the fridge of the best ways to store various fruits/veggies so that they last the longest, and how long to expect them to last,” said mom and physician Andie Pepin.

There’s an app for that!

Apps like Fridge Pal, Fresh Box and Best Before can help you inventory your fridge and pantry items, share shopping lists, search for recipes, and make sure you keep track of items that may be expiring. You can even scan barcodes to enter into your virtual fridge and pantry. They are available for free or at a very low cost for both Apple and Android products.

See it and Believe it

For better visual food organization, there are many stackable see-through fridge bins as well as pantry containers to store your food so you know what you have to eat and what you can make.

“I am working on continuing to organize and refine our pantry to make it easier to find what I am looking for. More organization equals less stress for me and more likely that I will find it easier to cook our meals rather than order out,” said mom and communications professional Stefani Crumley.

Meal Planning and Healthy Cooking at Home

Organizing your kitchen in a way that inspires healthy eating can work wonders. A kitchen with visible foods and products can help people to stay home and cook with healthy ingredients—saving money and calories typically spent when eating out.

Grow Your Food!

A popular option is creating your own indoor herb garden. Home Depot recommends finding a place in your kitchen that receives direct sunlight and begin with seedlings that can grow well indoors. They advise starting with three to five herbs like chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme, which are popular ingredients for cooking. Using fresh herbs makes for tastier meals and can inspire healthy cooking. If you have kids, involve them with the herb garden as a fun family project.

Benefits of Meal Planning

The thought of meal planning may seem too exhausting for many people or families, but well executed meal planning actually saves time and money and promotes eating more healthfully.

Create a budget each week and think about your family’s schedule. When is the best time you can all sit down together and eat dinner? Ask your family members what their favorite healthy foods are. Remember- there are so many recipe resources in cookbooks and online that can “revamp” fatty or high caloric dishes to make it healthier. Make a schedule of meals for the week and post it somewhere visible in the kitchen. Keep a list of successful recipes visible for future ideas.

Clemson University Home and Garden Center recommends that meals should include a serving of protein like lean meat or fish, beans, or a low-fat dairy product. Include side dishes that pair well with the main dish and contain plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains like whole wheat bread or pasta, or brown rice. That is why it’s important to have these ingredients readily available in the kitchen.

Keep utensils and appliances in a convenient place so that meal planning is a breeze. Involve children in searching for ingredients and helping to create a shopping list as well as preparing and serve meals.

“Our kitchen is designed so that stools encourage the kids to be able to see and reach comfortably to help cook. This is how they learn to eat a variety of food— by touching, smelling and chopping etc.,” said local mom Laura Aeder.

Keep it Clean!

Of course, no kitchen can be healthy without it being properly cleaned. This includes not only regular cleaning of surfaces, dishes and appliances, but also healthy storage of foods. Keeping a clean kitchen also helps ward off pests like insects or rats.

Since bacteria grows everywhere, including where we make and eat food, it’s essentially vital to continually wash hands and clean cooking surfaces. Begin by washing your hands before and after handling food for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water, said Clemson University Home and Garden Center. This includes intermittent hand washing while preparing food especially after handling raw meats, touching pets or using the restroom. Surfaces should also be cleaned. Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counterparts with hot and soapy water.

It’s best to dry surfaces, hands and materials with paper towels rather than hand towels where bacteria can grow. Keep cleaning supplies and soap near the sink for easy use. Consider having separate cutting boards for ready-to-eat foods and raw foods. If possible, clean plastic boards in dishwasher at high temperature.

Don’t Be Toxic!

Many people are working to reduce toxic chemicals in their cleaning products. Thankfully there are many products on the shelf free of harsh chemicals that you can use to clean or you can make them right in your home! Clemson University Home and Garden Center suggests some possible recipes. Mixing four tablespoons of baking soda with a quart of water creates a great all-surface cleaner. Chrome and stainless-steel appliances can be easily cleaned with white vinegar.

Disinfecting with Plants

Another way to clean your kitchen is by naturally stripping your space with air purifying home plants. HGTV recommends certain house plants that can remove “pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide.” Examples of these include English ivy, bamboo plants, Chinese evergreen or pot mum.

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