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Grab a green-light snack from the refrigerator

If you're newly retired like me, you may be spending more time in the kitchen. I used to avoid doing that, holding the fervent hope that on any given morning my husband would say, "I know it's going to be a long day for you, I'll be in charge of dinner tonight." Truth be told, he was almost always in charge of dinner.

But now that we're practicing retirement — I've made the move, and he's intending to do so very soon — it's more important than ever to be in real partnership on all things.

I'm choosing to see our kitchen as a test environment to help us figure out how this business of being together all the time will actually work.

If our kitchen is going to be a retirement laboratory, I thought I should reacquaint myself. I've cleaned cupboards with a vengeance, culling scarred, Teflon-coated pans and duplicate kitchen gadgets.

I was amazed at what I encountered in the back corners of our lower-level cupboards. I found seven funnels of varied sizes. The colanders seemed to have multiplied and had little baby colanders. I discovered a new set of blades for my food processor (the one I thought I'd have to replace completely), so there's definite cost benefit to this kind of purging.

On the advice of a savvy friend with an incredible kitchen and a marriage to match, I totally revamped our refrigerator, splitting our fridge into red-light/green-light foods. The foods we should eat more often are at eye level when you open the door (plain yogurt, carrot sticks), and the higher-fat, higher-sugar items are tucked out of sight toward the back. So, if either of us opens the refrigerator, we're more readily drawn to health-oriented, easy-grab foods. Or at least that's the theory.

My plan is to freeze grapes and cut-up bananas in tiny freezer bags in case one of us is looking for a frozen snack and needs redirecting. By the way, dear, where did all these small containers of ice cream come from?

I'm putting in play advice I got long ago. Try this: cut up vegetables in similar sizes immediately upon purchase. It will help easily pull out ready-to-go containers of diced carrots to use in lentil soup or thickly chunked peppers to give those shish kebobs more veggies.

Did you know that the Harvard School of Public Health and the Culinary Institute of America have collaborated to advise us about healthier kitchens (www.healthykitchen.org)? A leading proponent and a getting-more-famous-every-day physician and self-made chef, Dr. David M. Eisenberg, firmly believes in having "teaching kitchens in medical schools." He has reportedly influenced a few colleagues to put demonstration kitchens in their medical offices and partner with their patients to practice healthier food preparation. His physician friends give culinary seminars that include a knife-skills class taught by a facial plastic surgeon (Really. I do not make this stuff up.).

It's definitely a new kind of doctor-patient partnership. I can see it, can you? Grab one of those green-light snacks and chew on the idea for just a little longer.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. You can reach her at 541-261-2037 or Sharon@hmj.com