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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

4 Easy Tips To Make Your Holiday Kitchen Greener


The holiday season is upon us! For most of you, that means spending a lot more time in the kitchen - whether you're hosting a party or simply cooking a traditional meal for your family. No matter what the reason, you're going to shop for many ingredients, cook, clean, and enjoy lots of yummy food (let's hear it for the leftovers)!

If you're like me (and I'll bet you are, since you're here), you want to buy quality food that is also healthy for your family, while keeping costs down. I've done the legwork for you and created a list of tips to help you accomplish your "green" feasts.

Here are 4 easy tips to keep in mind as you shop, cook, eat and clean: 

- Choose food low added chemicals and toxins

- Avoid toxic chemicals in cookware

- Store and reheat your leftovers safely

- Clean the greener way!

1) CHOOSE FOOD LOW IN POLLUTANTS AND ADDED CHEMICALS:

As you may already know, today's food can contain ingredients that you definitely don't want to eat, such as: pesticides, hormones, artificial additives and chemicals found in food packaging.

Here are 3 ways that you can cut down on these types of chemicals: 

When you go grocery shopping, buy organic when you can. Why buy organic? Two reasons: organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides and organic meat and dairy products can limit your family's exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics. I know what you're probably thinking: "Organic costs more. I thought that you were going to show me how to save money??"  Don't worry, it's okay to buy some non-organic fruits and vegetables. You can find the list of the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables here.

Cook with fresh foods, rather than packaged and canned, whenever possible. Packaging chemicals in some food containers can leach  into food. Bisphenol A, for example, is used to make the linings of canned goods. Go for fresh food or prepared foods stored in glass containers. Pick recipes that call for fresh, not canned, foods.

Cook with frozen fruit and vegetables. When cooking with fresh produce is not an option, your next-best choice would be to cook with frozen fruit and vegetables - some would even argue that frozen is the better choiceWhile fresh fruits and veggies may be more visually appealing and taste better, they don’t last as long in your refrigerator and may not even be the most nutritious. Frozen produce is available year-round, and in most cases, is cheaper than fresh. Plus, the vitamins and nutrients are preserved in frozen fruits and vegetables because of the way that they are processed; they are picked, then quickly blanched and immediately frozen and packaged, generally when nutrient levels are at their highest. This means that frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak, in terms of freshness, and nutrition.

2) AVOID TOXIC CHEMICALS IN COOKWARE

Is non-stick cookware in your kitchen? It is in most kitchens across America, but for safer cooking, may I suggest cast iron and oven-safe glass? My family uses both, but there are many benefits of cooking with cast iron cookware: they are inexpensive, conduct heat wonderfully, go from stove-top to oven with no problem, and can last a lifetime, if properly cared for. There are also health benefits when cooking with a cast-iron skillet. You can boost your iron intake from eating food cooked in cast iron cookware. Iron is a vital mineral that is crucial for maintaining energy levels, and it also helps strengthen immune systems.

If you're not completely sold on using cast iron cookware, you can reduce the possibility of toxic fumes when cooking with any non-stick cookware you already own: never heat an empty pan, don't put it in an oven hotter than 500 degrees F, and use your exhaust fan over the stove.

3) STORE AND REHEAT YOUR LEFTOVERS SAFELY 

Who doesn't like leftovers? Leftovers help to keep you in the holiday spirit by giving you a break from the kitchen! When storing your leftovers, it's best to avoid plastic containers - especially when reheating them, even if they claim to be "microwave safe." The chemical additives in plastic can get into food and liquids. Ceramic or glass food containers, like Pyrex, are safer.

If you do use a plastic container, handle it carefully. Use it for cool liquids only; wash plastics by hand or on the top rack of the dishwasher, which is farther from the heating element. Use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave. Also, avoid disposable (or single-use) plastic as much as possible -- reusing it isn't safe because it can harbor bacteria and trashing it fills up landfills, polluting the environment.

4) CLEAN THE GREENER WAY

Having guests means that there will be tons of cleaning to do - before they arrive, while they're there and after they leave. You will also have to clean while you cook, but do you clean the green way? Traditional household cleaners (bleach, etc.) can cause the air inside your home to become polluted with chemicals. It is easy and cheaper to clean the green way. You can try natural alternatives like vinegar, baking soda and water.  Avoid commercial anti-bacterial products (learn about natural alternatives here) and the biggest hazards: acidic toilet bowl cleaners, air fresheners, oven cleaners, and corrosive drain openers.

While cleaning, no matter what products you use, be sure to do it safely! Open the window, use gloves and keep young kids away from toxic products. Dust and vacuum often since dust often contains toxins. Wash your hands with plain soap and water -- it's simple and very effective. Use a baking soda and water paste instead of commercial oven cleaner.

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Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, corporate sustainability coordinator at her day job, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.

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