Mealtime Multitasking

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RD, CD
talking on phone and cooking

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Between work, practice, homework and chores, fitting in nutritious meals and snacks can seem quite challenging. Many parents find themselves multitasking in order to get everything done. While this may be a way to accomplish multiple tasks, there can be some serious safety risks if you're not paying attention. Follow these six steps to safely multitask in the kitchen, at work and in the car.

1. Keep Your Cool.

If you're bringing a packed lunch from home, store your food in a refrigerator or cooler with ice packs when you get to work. As many as six hours can pass between the time lunches are packed at home until they are eaten, which is a lot of time for bacteria to build up. Be the boss of your brown bag and make sure to store it in a refrigerator (set at or below 40°F) as soon as you get to work. Or, pack your lunch in an insulated lunch bag or cooler — and throw in a frozen ice pack to ensure the safety of perishable foods.

2. Always Be Prepared.

Handheld foods are a popular option for those multitasking and driving. Limit the fast food, candy and chips and opt for easy to eat fruit such as apples or bananas, sandwiches on whole-grain bread, mixed nuts or whole-grain crackers and cheese. If you're a frequent in-car diner, be sure to keep a supply of moist towelettes or bottles of hand sanitizer close by so you can clean up quickly before digging in.

3. Make a Clean Break Between Tasks.

Cross-contamination can be a serious risk when multitasking but is easy to do when you're at home and trying to juggle tasks  such as washing dishes, talking on the phone or doing laundry. Hand-washing is the easiest way to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, so take time to lather up between household chores.

4. Follow the Rules.

Eating while watching TV is a popular habit. Next time you roll out the TV tray for dinner, remember the two hour rule and make sure leftover food doesn't sit out of refrigeration for longer than two hours (in hot weather of 90°F or above, this time is reduced to one hour). For an easy reminder, set a kitchen timer before you sit down to eat.

5. Get the Right Tools for the Job.

Make sure you're fully equipped to cook foods safely. Keep a food thermometer handy so you can quickly check to make sure protein foods are cooked to a proper internal temperature. That's 145°F for fish, 160°F for ground beef and 165°F for poultry and casseroles.

6. Never Go in "Cold."

If leftovers are on the menu, make sure you reheat them to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure their safety the second time around  whether you're heating them up in a microwave or in a conventional oven.

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