This article was created in partnership with GreenPan.
If you've been trying to make smarter food choices, bravo! But how's your kitchen looking? Yep, kitchen. You probably don't think much about it, but it actually plays an important role in your healthy eating habits—after all, it's the place your food spends the most time.
A dirty kitchen—and we're not just talking about clutter or unwashed dishes—can totally throw off your clean-eating plan. That's why we partnered with GreenPan to find easy ways to create a healthier space. GreenPan makes ceramic, nonstick cookware that's completely free of toxins, guaranteeing your pan is just as clean as the food you're making. With these simple tips, you can have a healthy kitchen that'll inspire you to make good choices all year long.
1. It sounds obvious, but keep it clean.
First, start with the basics. “It’s tempting to ignore a sink full of dirty dishes, but going to bed with a messy sink breeds bacteria, attracts pests, and can discourage home cooking,” says Allison Bean, lifestyle expert and editorial director at The Spruce. “Instead, try cleaning while you cook—scrub a saucepan while waiting for the chicken breast to brown, for example—and it’ll feel like you barely have any dishes to wash at all.”
But don't just stop at the dishes. Most of us are guilty of the “Hey, if I can’t see it, it must be clean!” school of cleanliness. “That cereal you stepped on and swept under the fridge with your foot isn’t doing you any favors,” Bean says. Those bits of forgotten food can grow mold, collect bacteria, and add a general grossness to your kitchen.
“When cleaning, make the effort to get into hard-to-reach places between the fridge, cupboards, and under the oven,” Bean says. By giving your kitchen a deep clean, you’ll remove potential sources of germs and odors. Though this might sound time-consuming, it only takes a little extra work to remove tons of potentially harmful bacteria. After your first thorough cleanse, maintain with just a few quick sweeps and wipes after cooking.
2. Toss the plastic.
You've probably heard about the dangers of BPA, which has been known to leach estrogen-like chemicals into food, especially when heated. But even BPA-free plastic might not be better. A study found that 95 percent of the plastic food containers and kitchen items chosen for testing released these hormone-mimicking chemicals when exposed to sunlight, dishwashing, and microwaving. Though it’s not clear yet what effects these chemicals have on the body, it’s pretty clear we are absorbing them—which doesn't sound great.
Instead, opt for stainless steel utensils and glass containers. Those types of utensils are (for the most part) affordable and pretty hard to ruin on the stove. Though glass food containers can be an investment, they're more durable than plastic, are easier to clean, and keep your food safe. Plus, they look fancy.
3. Ditch traditional nonstick.
Remember the plastic talk we just had? Well, guess what coats most nonstick cookware? Plastic! Generic pans get their nonstickiness from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), a plastic synthetic coating. When it's heated to around 464 degrees, it can start to degrade. As the pan gets hotter, plastic particles begin to release into the air. And once you hit 680 degrees, the fumes turn toxic and can potentially lead to a condition called polymer fume fever—eck.
Why gamble with unpredictable pan temps and potentially toxic fumes? Instead, swap in GreenPan—the ceramic pans work like the traditional nonstick ones but without any plastic. The slick coating is made from a natural sand derivative that heats quickly and can sear, brown, fry, steam, and deglaze with the best of 'em. Plus, every piece of GreenPan cookware (like the Lima 18-Piece Set) is oven safe and has a good-looking, fit-for-an-adult finish.
4. Reach for this kind of cutting board.
Be honest: When’s the last time you deep cleaned or replaced your cutting board? A cutting board has to handle everything from raw meat to apple slices, so it’s important to keep it clean. Unfortunately, this can be really hard to do if you have a wood or plastic board.
Wood is porous, which means it absorbs some of those raw meat juices every time you cut a piece of chicken breast. And with plastic, all those little cuts create tiny crevices for bacteria to hide. That doesn’t mean that every wooden or plastic board is hosting a germ party, but it does mean you have to be very diligent when you clean.
To make things easier, try a glass cutting board. The surface stays smooth no matter how many times you dice an onion, and it's completely nonporous, so you can easily remove all the germs with every wash. Plus, glass cutting boards look sleek and futuristic, like you’re living in some kind of Jetsons dream home. So that’s fun.
5. Harness the magic of vinegar.
Ironically, when you’re trying to clean out your kitchen, you should consider replacing your cleaning supplies. The regulation of what can and can’t be in cleaning products is a little confusing. Legislation recently passed in California requiring companies to say what’s in cleaners, but this has yet to completely go into effect and isn’t nationwide, which often means you’re getting a chemical surprise with every spray. Even if the ingredients are listed, it’s hard to know what’s good, bad, or toxic.
The Environmental Working Group has a list of things to watch out for in your cleaning solutions. It recommends avoiding any cleaner with “fragrance, parfum, or scent,” as those additives can cause allergic reactions. You'll also want to steer clear of ammonia since it can make asthma worse and irritate your skin, lungs, and eyes.
To avoid relying on chemical soup, get some DIY mixtures going—though take note that natural cleaners are less effective at disinfecting than commercial products, so don't ditch your dish soap entirely.
“Vinegar is a great chemical-free option and can shine stainless steel, remove grease, and wash fruits and vegetables,” Bean says. It's cheap, and studies have shown it's effective at killing germs such as E. coli, especially when combined with salt. For most surfaces, a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar with a scoop of salt will do nicely. If you need a heavy-duty scrub for your stove or oven, just add a little baking soda. Vinegar and baking soda can take care of clogged drains and baked-on stains, and create an impressive science fair volcano. Just sayin'.
6. Don't fall for the single-use trap.
It might seem like using an item once and then discarding it is the cleanest option, but this creates clutter and waste, and puts more plastic in your home, Bean says. Opt for reusable Bee's Wrap instead of ziplocks. You can also ditch paper napkins for cloth. “Not only do they make for a prettier table setting, but they help keep paper napkins out of landfills,” Bean says. Just remember to wash those cloth napkins on high heat regularly to keep them germ-free.
7. Take the Real Food Test.
Now that your kitchen is clean, what about your food? Rachel Berman, general manager of Verywell Fit, Family, and Mind, suggests putting your grocery items to the Real Food Test.
“Take a look at the ingredient list, and if there are items that you can’t pronounce or the list is longer than five ingredients, rethink it,” Berman says.
Labels might say “organic” or “healthy,” but the ingredients tell the real story. With processing, you tend to get extra sugars, fats, and chemicals, so if there are multiple complicated ingredients, that probably means the food is processed. But when you stick to foods with simple ingredients, you know exactly what you’re putting in your body.
8. Keep good food in sight.
How often do you pick up the first thing you see when you look in the fridge? Unless you're searching for something super specific, a glimpse inside usually lasts about five seconds (at least for us). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, you can use these snap decisions to your advantage by keeping good food in sight.
“Keep healthy items at arm’s reach,” Berman says. “So when you’re craving a snack, nutritious foods are the first you’ll see.” She recommends storing a bowl of grapes in the front of your refrigerator and putting a container of nuts right in the center of your pantry. These snacks still taste like sweet and salty treats but offer more nutritional value.
Whatever your favorite healthy food is, put it front and center, so the good choice becomes the easiest thing to do. Which, really, is the takeaway for all these tips. Make them habits and toss up a few prayer-hands emojis as eating healthier becomes that much simpler.