8 Tips for a Healthier Holiday Kitchen

The holiday season is here! During this special time of year, you'll more than likely spend a great deal of 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 lots of ingredients, cook, clean, and enjoy lots of yummy food!

I know that you will want to buy quality food that is also healthy for your family, while keeping costs down. Look no further, here are a list of tips to help you accomplish your "Earth-friendly" feasts.

Here are 8 easy tips to keep in mind as you shop, cook, eat, and clean:

- Buy local!

- Choose food low in added chemicals and toxins

- Do not buy individual drinks, like bottled water or canned beverages.

- Avoid toxic chemicals in cookware

- Avoid Styrofoam and paper plates

- Choose reusable decorations

- Store and reheat your leftovers safely

- Clean the greener way

1. BUY LOCAL: Buying locally-grown produce helps support community farmers. It also reduces emissions produced by big transport trucks. Shop for your locally-grown produce at a farmer's market near you no more than 4 days before your big day.

2. 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:

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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 choice. While 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.

3. DO NOT BUY INDIVIDUAL DRINKS LIKE BOTTLED WATER, OR CANNED BEVERAGES:  It's super easy to homebrew tea, make lemonade, or purchase beverages in gallon jugs to cut down on cost and waste. Plus, you can use those pretty glass pitchers that you've been saving for a special occasion and add an ice bucket for extra charm.

 4. AVOID TOXIC CHEMICALS IN COOKWARE Is non-stick cookware in your kitchen? I have been guilty of using non-stick skillets in the past, but for safer cooking, try cast iron and oven-safe glass instead. 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.

5. AVOID STYROFOAM AND PAPER PLATES: Most of us are aware that Styrofoam (also known as Polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic made from the styrene monomer) is bad, in general, but do you know why? Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain (especially when heated in a microwave). These chemicals threaten our health and reproductive systems. These products are made with petroleum, a non-sustainable and heavily polluting resource.

Also, try to resist the temptation to purchase holiday-themed paper plates and go for dishwasher-friendly reusables. It’s so much more eco-friendly to wash your china in the dishwasher than to buy paper products, and then throw them away after using them.

6. CHOOSE REUSABLE DECORATIONS: I save and reuse gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbon all of the time. You can use any of these to create your decorations, or you can even try decorations made from food or other natural materials that can be composted afterwards.

7. STORE AND REHEAT YOUR LEFTOVERS SAFELY:  One of the best things about a big holiday dinner is leftovers. I mean, who doesn't like leftovers? They 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.

 8. 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. Traditional household cleaners (bleach, etc.) can cause the air inside your home to become polluted with chemicals. It is actually easier 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 Todd is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, clean water advocate, and a "rurban" mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.

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