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Make the Most of Your Time at Home

Make the Most of Your Time at Home

A helpful resource from UPMC


by Madeline Waters / UPMC - March 30, 2020

If you’ve suddenly found yourself and your children stuck at home, cooking can be a healthy way to spend time together. Gathering together in the kitchen to cook and then enjoying a meal together has many benefits. It’s an opportunity for parents to be healthy role models by creating a supportive environment to promote nutrition, develop cooking skills, serve as a venue to talk about food and life, help reduce anxiety, and allow you to disconnect while connecting with each other.

Kids in the Kitchen

A great way to get your children excited about food and nutrition is to get them involved in the kitchen. Try getting your children involved in planning and preparing healthy meals by assigning simple, age-appropriate tasks. This will teach cooking skills, promote good nutrition, and show children the value of spending time together as a family. No matter the skill or comfort level, there is a role for everyone. Here are some suggestions based on your child’s age and ability. Start slow and give your child time to master each task:

  • Age 3 to 5: Mix together simple ingredients, wipe tabletops, and wash produce
  • Age 6 to 7: Peel raw fruits and vegetables, shuck corn, use a vegetable peeler, crack eggs, measure ingredients, and load dishwasher
  • Age 8 to 9: Use a can opener, juice citrus fruits, check the temperature of foods with a thermometer, beat eggs, put leftovers in shallow containers, and practice food handling
  • Age 10 and older: Slice or chop vegetables, boil potatoes, microwave foods, bake foods in the oven, and simmer ingredients on the stove

Make mealtime more exciting and fun with meal themes. Not only is this a great way to get children involved, it is also a great way to expose children to new foods. Some suggestions: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Slow Cooker Saturday, and Breakfast for Dinner.

Food Preparation Safety and Kitchen Hygiene

Keep the family healthy by practicing proper food safety and kitchen hygiene. A clean kitchen may serve as a major line of defense for preventing the spread of viruses and foodborne illnesses. Practice kitchen hygiene and food safety as a family using these tips:

  • Hand Hygiene is Key: Wash hands front and back, up your wrists, between fingers, and under fingernails. Wash hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing two choruses of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song). Dry hands with disposable paper towels, clean cloth towels or air dry. Wash hands before preparing or eating food.
  • Clean your kitchen surfaces: Wash countertops, cutting boards, dishes, and cooking utensils with hot soapy water after each use to prevent bacteria from spreading throughout the kitchen. Wipe up spills and clean surfaces with hot, soapy water and rinse well. Be sure to clean under drawers and edges of glass shelves. In addition to kitchen surfaces, remember to clean other commonly touched items in the kitchen such as cabinets, refrigerator handles, etc. Clean up spills on appliances. Rinse produce under running tap water, no soap required. Avoid washing seafood, meat, poultry, or eggs as this can cause more bacteria to spread.
  • Sponge and Dishtowel Safety: Sponges and dish towels are useful kitchen tools, but they can also spread bacteria and cross-contaminate surfaces if not cleaned properly. Be sure to sanitize your sponge every other day. Replace sponges every 1-2 weeks. If your sponge starts to smell, it is best to toss it and replace it with a new, clean sponge. Wring your sponge out after using and store in a dry place. Avoid using your sponge to clean tabletops or countertops, as this could spread germs. Instead, use paper towels or disinfectant wipes. Wash dish cloths and dish towels regularly on the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Keep It Cool and Fresh: Check that the refrigerator temperature is set to 40°F or below for food safety. Keep your refrigerator clean by removing any spills or lingering odors. Throw away foods that are losing their quality or have spoiled – for both refrigerated and non-refrigerated items in the pantry. Know the difference between “use by” and “expiration.” Use by or best if used by date is not a safety-related date. It’s the last date recommended for use of the product at optimal quality. Expiration date means don’t consume the product after this date. A good rule of thumb, if in doubt – throw it out.

Although more time at home may be overwhelming, a positive outlook can turn it into an opportunity to bond with your children as you cook, practice kitchen hygiene, food safety, and enjoy nutritious meals together.

Madeline Waters is a registered dietitian nutritionist at UPMC Williamsport. Get the facts about coronavirus, visit


Writing: Madeline Waters / UPMC


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by UPMC, Jim & Mary McIlvaine

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