As the holidays quickly approach, my kids are excited not only to devour the holiday food, but to also participate in the cooking process. From choosing recipes and going shopping to preparing the food, my kids are involved every step of the way. But during this process, I’m always stressing the importance of food safety. My goal is to instill proper food safety habits now, so they will last a lifetime.
I make it a point to spend time in the produce aisle. I like to identify the fruits and vegetables and explain to my kids what it is and how to select it. I show them how to look for signs of a quality fruit or vegetable and signs of spoilage. I then have each child select the fruit and vegetables needed for our holiday meal.
When selecting meat, I tend to go to my local butcher. I explain to my girls the types of meat in the case and why the butcher wraps the raw meat twice. I then show them that I place the raw meat away from the fresh produce in my shopping cart.
My girls always complain how cold it is when we are strolling down the dairy aisle. Of course, I take this opportunity to explain why dairy foods must be refrigerated and why they keep it so cold!
When we get home, I stress the importance of putting away all the groceries immediately and show them how to store each type of food in its proper place (refrigerator, freezer or pantry).
[Read more: Food Safety – Start at the Store]
It all starts with proper hand washing. I taught my girls since they could stand how to use soap and water to properly wash their hands, especially after using the restroom. They are pros at it, but sometimes I have to remind them to wash their hands before they touch food.
I also stress the importance of washing hands after touching raw food, like after they crack eggs. They are fully aware that they are not allowed to eat any batters made with raw eggs. Any utensils or bowls that came into contact with the raw eggs also need to be put in the sink immediately, so they are washed without being licked.
[Bonus Activity: Encourage kids to take the Cookie Rookie Pledge!]
Cross-contamination is another concept I teach my young girls. They know that after I prepare raw chicken, fish or beef, the cutting board and knife go right in the sink to be washed. I then clean the work area and wash my hands before taking out a new cutting board to prepare a different food, like fresh fruit or vegetables.
These are simple but extremely important concepts I have been slowly teaching my kids over the years. I know they learn by my example in the kitchen and I also have them follow my lead by doing it on their own. Learning these food safety habits will not only help prevent them from getting sick now, but will also in the future when they have a kitchen of their own.
Toby is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition, where she provides nutrition and food safety consulting services for individuals, restaurants and food brands. She is a nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com, writing for their Healthy Eats Blog, a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report Eat + Run Blog and Today’s Dietitian magazine, and an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Toby trained as a clinical dietitian at New York University. Through consulting and faculty positions, she has established herself as one of the top nutrition experts in the country.