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Cook Up a Healthy Holiday Kitchen

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Author: the Inkslinger

The season of family celebrations is upon us. That often means more time in the kitchen preparing special meals and party feasts. Food plays a big role in our holidays, and that's just one of the reasons why the kitchen is the place we're likely to gather during winter's dawning days.

The role of the kitchen as a center of domestic holiday life underscores the importance of taking precautions to make sure it's one of the healthiest rooms in the house. Thankfully, that's easy to do, and as a gift to your family this season, we're serving up an extra helping of tips you can use to make your own kitchen cleaner and greener:

  • Stock it with as many organic and/or local foods as you can. Organic foods take pesticides and other concerns off the menu and local foods boost your community's economy while providing fresher and (usually) healthier options.
  • Go vegetarian as often as possible. A study from the Worldwatch Institute finds that when hidden impacts are accounted for, livestock production is responsible for 51% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Skipping meat and dairy products when you can reduces this impact and creates not just a healthier diet and a greener kitchen but a better world!
  • Don't use cleaners and other products made from synthetic chemicals. The residues they leave behind and the microscopic droplets they release into the air can easily and invisibly contaminate food, cookware, and place settings.
  • Use a chlorine-free detergent in your dishwasher. Dishwashers vent roughly six liters of air per minute during certain cycles, and the very hot water they use can turn a detergent's chlorine into an unhealthy vapor that's released into your kitchen.
  • Practice cutting board safety. Use separate boards and knives for meat and produce to avoid bacterial cross-contamination. When you're done, wash each board in hot soapy water, and treat them to a five-minute soaking in a 1:5 solution of vinegar and water to sanitize it before storage. Clean knives carefully as well.
  • Don't use dishcloths or sponges to clean up food preparation areas. They can absorb any bacteria that are present and spread it around for days. Use recycled paper towels instead. If you use sponges elsewhere, microwave them on high for at least a minute to kill any bacteria they harbor.
  • Always wash produce carefully -- even prewashed items and items you peel to make absolutely sure nothing gets transferred to your plate.
  • Don't let foods come into contact with materials that could potentially leach out hazardous chemicals. This means transferring foods to a safe glass or ceramic container before microwaving even if the label says the manufacturer's container can be used. Don't reuse plastic storage bags, which may weaken and become leach-prone after repeated washings.
  • Avoid non-stick cookware. It can release hazardous fumes when heated during normal use. Use cast iron cookware instead. When "seasoned" to create a naturally slick surface, foods will slide right out and make clean-ups simple.
  • Buy your foods in bulk whenever possible to avoid excessive packaging waste. And cook in bulk, too! Cooking up a big pot of something is more efficient than cooking several smaller batches. With leftovers saved for another meal, you'll save time, too!
  • Size your pots to your burners when you cook so you don't waste energy. For example, using a six-inch pot on an eight-inch electric burner wastes more than 40% of the heat that burner generates. Make sure your pots and pans have well-fitting lids and use them to trap heat inside when cooking and boiling.

These easy ideas will help make sure your kitchen is filled with more than delicious aromas and tempting tastes. They'll set the table with a bounty of good health the whole family can savor!

photo: teamaskins

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