The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to stay home and as a result, you’ve been cooking more of your meals yourself. If you weren’t all too familiar with your kitchen before, you’re certainly getting well acquainted now! But you want to make sure you’re cooking all this food the healthiest way possible, right? Well, that’s where we come in, ready to serve up the best tips so you don’t end up actually developing the worst cooking habits that can put your health in jeopardy.
Here are the 17 unhealthiest, worst cooking habits you’re going to want to avoid, especially during these trying times.
You’re not washing your hands.
Now more than ever, it is vital to wash your hands and it’s super important to do this before you start handling any food.
“Handwashing is the most important way to prevent the spread of harmful germs that can cause illness [and] regular soap works fine,” Dr. Lynette Charity, board-certified MD, anesthesiologist and keynote speaker, said to us in a previous story. “Rubbing your hands for 20 seconds ensures germs get washed down the drain.”
RELATED: Click here for all of our latest coronavirus coverage.
You’re not washing fresh produce.
Be sure to wash any fresh fruit or veggies you buy before you start cooking or eating them. This is especially important for raw produce you aren’t heating in any way, but you’ll want to disinfect all before handling.
You’re not using different cutting boards.
You always want to avoid cross-contamination no matter what, but doing all you can to avoid any type of illness is imperative. And that starts with how you’re cooking your food! Be sure to practice safety measures when handling raw meat. So what does that mean? Easy: don’t use the same cutting board and knife on that chicken breast and those fresh vegetables, and give everything a good cleaning afterward.
You’re still rinsing chicken.
Now, while yes, this is when you want to take extra precautions with cleaning raw foods, that doesn’t apply to chicken. As you most likely already know, washing chicken in the sink allows for the possible spread of foodborne illness bacteria and this bacteria can actually fly up to three feet away from where the chicken is rinsed, according to the USDA.
So this is one food you don’t want to wash before starting to cook with it!
You’re not storing and eating leftovers properly.
Properly storing leftovers is something you always want to do right, but during a pandemic, you really don’t want to end up getting get sick with food poisoning. So don’t leave your cooked meals on the counter for more than two hours after cooking them in order to prevent any harmful bacteria from growing. Place the food in the refrigerator and eat the meals within three to four days.
You’re adding too much salt.
It’s not all that hard to get carried away adding salt to, well, just about everything, as you’re probably used to eating meals that are heaving on the salt stuff from restaurants. But now that you’re cooking for yourself, ease up on the salt, as a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that the typical American adult eats enough salt a day to cause heart damage at 3,730 milligrams of sodium a day—much more than the FDA-recommended max of 2,300 milligrams.
You’re frying everything.
Frying foods is an easy way to whip up just about anything and hey, let’s be honest here: fried equals true comfort food. While it’s OK to indulge once in a while, you don’t want to end up frying something at each meal of the day! Instead, why not try out air frying or roasting as healthier alternatives.
You’re using too much oil.
We’re not saying ditch the olive and coconut oils completely here! But again, everything should be in moderation, so measure out exactly how much you need for a recipe instead of just eye-balling how much you think you should use in order to avoid over-using the highly caloric ingredient.
You’re overcooking vegetables.
Eating the adequate amount of vegetables daily is obviously always a goal, but when there is a novel virus the world is dealing with, it’s even more of a necessity that you’re treating your body right. And one way to do that is to make sure you’re cooking veggies up the right way! You don’t want to overcook them, as that can actually break down the nutrients. When in doubt, microwaving is an easy, quick, and healthy way to cook up vegetables.
STAY INFORMED: Sign up for our newsletters to get the latest coronavirus food news straight to your inbox.
You’re overdressing your salads.
Trying to recreate that one salad you always bought for lunch every day? We commend your commitment, but you want to be careful, as this healthy meal can get unhealthy rather quickly, and you want to make the most of the fresh veggies you have on hand during this time. Make sure you’re not going topping crazy when making a salad, adding in craisins, sugar-coated nuts, globs of cheese, and dressings packed with added sugars.
You’re not using a meat thermometer.
There’s a much more effective way to see if that meat you’re cooking is done besides actually cutting open a chicken breast or a steak to see what color it is on the inside. Instead, use a meat thermometer, which will best ensure your food is at a safe internal temperature to avoid eating anything that is undercooked. Poultry should reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and seafood and ground meat should come in at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit, according to StateFoodSafety.
You’re not rinsing your canned foods.
Just about everyone has stocked up on canned foods, and canned beans are a healthy addition to your meals, as long as you’re prepping them the correct way. See, canned beans come in a liquid that looks a little odd, but will end up adding a whole lot of unnecessary sodium and extra starches to your meal. Make sure you drain the beans from the liquid and give them a good rinse before you add them to your meals.
You’re not being mindful of portion sizes.
Sometimes, it’s much easier to cook in bulk, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that doesn’t mean you need to eat everything you eat in one sitting! It’s easy to get caught up in mindlessly eating while you’re cooking, working, or watching a movie, so try to keep your portions reasonable.
You’re not checking the color of meat.
When it comes time to finally cook up that chicken or ground beef you have in the freezer, you want to make sure the meat is essentially still good to eat. Check the color and make sure there isn’t a potent odor so you don’t end up eating meat that has gone bad.
And if you’re wondering which frozen foods are truly the best to have on hand, here are the 31 Healthy Store-Bought Frozen Foods To Stock In Your Freezer.
You’re not defrosting correctly.
If you’re leaving chicken out on the counter before you start cooking with it, let’s just stop doing that right now. What you want to do instead is move your meat from the freezer to the fridge so it can gently and safely defrost. Make sure it’s in a pan or bowl too, as this will allow for anything that may drip to fall into a safe space and not onto any other food. Leaving it out on the counter is just asking for germs to spread and during a time like right now when you’re being extra cautious with sanitizing surfaces, putting frozen meat out isn’t ideal.
Your fridge isn’t set to the right temperature.
How you store your food is vital to the cooking process, so have your fridge set to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, as this is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. This is especially important for pregnant women and the elderly, which Shelly Feist, executive director of the non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education, explained to us in a previous story.
“A cold refrigerator greatly slows the growth of germs that can cause illness,” she said.
You’re not meal prepping.
OK, we get it—you’re not nearly as busy as you once were, as there is no commute to think about or any social gatherings to attend that make meal prepping essential to saving you time in your day-to-day. But just because you’re at home, that doesn’t mean you still can’t meal prep. Even though you have much more time on your hands, meal prepping not only allows you to portion control your meals so you’re not overeating, but it helps you get the most out of your food since you’re not food shopping as frequently. And if you’re in need of some inspiration, here are tons of meals you can make ahead and freeze for later.
in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer
your most urgent questions).
Here are the precautions you
should be taking at the grocery store, the
foods you should have
on hand, the
meal delivery services and
restaurant chains offering takeout
you need to know about, and ways you can help
support those in need. We will
continue to update these as new information develops.
Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage,
and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.