The yearly seasonal changes are a good time to freshen up the household, change the batteries in your fire alarm units and generally be ready for different outdoor temperatures and humidity, and the shortening or lengthening of the daylight hours.
In the personal health department, it is smart to check the expiration dates on medications and nutritional supplements each season, as well as on glucose monitoring strips. Just as we do with the rest of our homes, it’s also important to consider cleaning up and organizing your kitchen on a seasonal schedule. This keeps food safe and usable, and helps to ensure smooth daily functioning of your kitchen so that you will be prepared to make and eat more healthy meals at home.
The following are a few tips and tasks for getting your kitchen in tip top shape:

» Wash with warm, sudsy water and then rinse all shelves and racks in the cupboards, food storage units and refrigerator — anywhere that food is stored.
Before putting the food back into storage, check the expiration dates of all opened and unopened foods; if expired, it needs to be pitched. If it is food that you do not anticipate eating, donate unopened, in-date, non-perishable foods to your local food bank. For additional help understanding the expiration date labeling, or to learn when a food is unsafe to keep or eat, check out this U.S. Department of Agriculture website: www.fsis.usda/gov.
» Organize foods in some way to make it simpler to locate them. This expedites food preparation. For example, spices can be organized alphabetically on a turntable for quick access. All canned products can be grouped according to content. For example, group together all tomato products, all canned beans and peas, all noodles, all rice or other grains, or different oils and vinegars. The same holds true for both the refrigerator and the freezer. In the freezer, group together frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, bread items and so on. You can quickly locate what you are looking for, and hopefully will not overlook food items that are randomly placed in storage.
» Storage containers that are stackable and clear make it so much easier to identify what is in the fridge and freezer when quickly pulling together a meal. Making larger batches of recipes to freeze portions for later use is just money down the drain if you don’t see those stored meals in the back of the freezer, or if the containers are not labeled with the contents and the date that the recipe was made. Have storage labels and markers on hand in the kitchen.
» Check out the items that are used for recipe and meal preparation to be certain that they are in reasonable and organized locations. It makes from-scratch meal prep so much easier if all the mixing bowls are stacked together, the measuring cups and spoons are near all the baking equipment and pots, pans and lids are near the stove. Many people have things scattered hither and yon, and so preparing a meal from scratch is overwhelming because it is difficult just to locate the necessary utensils for preparation, let alone find all of the ingredients.
 
 Have an ongoing shopping list handy in the kitchen or on your computer or phone, so that as you run low or out of ingredients, you can add them to the list. There is nothing more frustrating than making a recipe and, halfway through, you are missing an important ingredient. One idea is to have a master shopping list of the usual items that you have stocked in your kitchen; as you run out, you can just check them off for the next grocery shopping trip.
Having a clean, organized kitchen supports making healthful family meals from scratch.
Rita P. Smith, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, has worked in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 40 years.
VITAL SIGNS
This column, which promotes community health, is sponsored by Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Region Ten Community Services Board, Thomas Jefferson Health District and the University of Virginia Health System.


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