I’m fascinated by the link between what we eat and our health. Isn’t it amazing that, by eating the right type of food, we can help prevent things like heart disease and diabetes? Lately, I’ve read a lot of articles about ideas for staying healthy when you cook at home. But instead of talking about what you should and shouldn’t eat, I thought I’d look at health in the kitchen a slightly different way.
Here are my top 10 things you can do in the kitchen to be healthy and stay safe!
- Keep your knife sharp. Although it may seem odd, a sharper knife is a safer knife. If you happen to cut yourself with a sharp knife, it heals faster and hurts less. Dull knives are dangerous, so keep your knife sharp. It will make prep time go faster too!
- Avoid the temperature danger zone. Food-borne bacteria—the kind that can be harmful to your health—really like temperatures between 41 and 134 degrees. It takes about four hours in this temperature range for bacteria to multiple to unsafe levels. So, if you’re cooking things like meat, eggs or dairy, leave those in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them. If by accident you’ve left something out too long, it’s best to throw it away.
- Use vinegar as a cleaning agent. Vinegar isn’t just for your food, and bacteria hate it! Plus, I’d rather use a nontoxic substance to clean my countertops than something off the grocery store shelf. I put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle and use it on countertops, handles and stovetops. Wipe it down with a damp cloth and your kitchen is clean. Just avoid using it on granite and marble countertops.
- Avoid high heat with nonstick pans. Nonstick pans are so popular! In fact, I’m willing to bet most of you reading this have a few in your cupboard right now. Most nonstick pans were made to use with medium heat. Try to avoid putting an empty nonstick pan over high heat longer than a minute. There are chemicals in the coating that can give off gasses at high heat that can make you nauseous, dizzy and like you have the flu. So be safe and either put something in the pan or keep the heat on medium.
- Get rid of flare-ups. We love to grill, and now that the weather is heating up, more and more of us are cooking outside. When we cook a piece of meat that is high in fat, the fat melts. When that fat drips onto the coals or the flame, it causes flare-ups. Try to avoid that if possible because when that happens, tiny carcinogenic particles stick to our food. Instead, cook fatty meats over indirect heat. To do this, ignite a burner on the opposite side from the meat or pile coals to one side. As the fat melts, it will drip onto the empty side with no flare-ups. Once the meat is almost cooked, transfer it to the hot side of the grill for finishing.
- Put out a kitchen fire. Because I cook a lot at home, I have a small fire extinguisher under my sink just in case! But if you don’t have space or don’t cook a lot, there’s a simple solution if you have a fire. First, DO NOT use water to put out the fire, especially if there is a lot of greases. It will just make the situation worse. Instead, smother the fire by putting a lid on the pot or using a dry powder such as flour. Yes, it will make a mess but not as much as a fire!
- Wash your produce. These days, most conventionally grown fruits and vegetables found in the grocery store have pesticides. To limit your intake, make sure you wash all fruits and vegetables (even those with skin that you peel off). Personally, I wash everything as I’m unpacking it. The only things I wash just before eating are berries. They are particularly fragile, and it’s best to give them a rinse before consuming.
- Cook foods to proper temperatures. Did you know that the U.S. Government provides suggested cooking temperatures to help prevent foodborne illness? Here’s a quick guide:
- Fish/seafood: 145 degrees
- Pork: 145 degrees
- Beef: 145 degrees
- Poultry: 165 degrees
- Ground meat: 155 degrees
- Fruits/vegetables/grains/legumes: 136 degrees
- Make treats yourself. Who doesn’t love a treat from time to time? But instead of buying something at the grocery store, make it yourself from scratch. It’s rewarding; you’re likely to appreciate it more and eat less of it. Plus, it might be a fun way to get your children involved too!
- Make your plate half colorful veggies. When cooking at home, I try to make sure at least half of my plate contains vegetables. Most Americans aren’t getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables each day, which can make a significant impact on overall health. Also, fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which makes you feel full faster. Plus, there are so many choices to choose from!