If you are anything like me, you admittedly have a case of spring fever. With the days getting longer, and the trees and plants beginning to bud out, springtime is officially here. Often, this time of year is a time to “declutter” – to clean out our closets and tidy up our homes. That’s what makes spring a great to time to also clean up our eating habits. And what better place to start than in the kitchen – a room in the house that can either make or break our nutrition and health goals. After all, a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator serve as the foundation for nutritious and delicious meals.
Follow this quick step-by-step guide for spring cleaning and restocking your kitchen for a healthier tomorrow:
- Grab a couple of trash bags, open your pantry, cabinets, refrigerator and freezer, and pull everything out. That includes every snack food, canned good, spice jar, half used bag of sugar or flour, condiment, and Tupperware container with fuzzy leftovers. Once empty, thoroughly wipe down the shelves and drawers of your pantry and refrigerator/freezer.
- Take a quick assessment of the items that once called your kitchen home. Toss or combine duplicate spices, check the expiration dates on those spices, as well as canned goods, oils, condiments, etc. Toss anything that is outdated or spoiled, fuzzy or green (eek!). If you have unopened and unspoiled items that you know you are not going to use or eat, consider starting a donation pile for the local food bank.
- While you are tossing, make a list of nutritious foods and kitchen staples you could purchase to give your health a fresh start. Reflect on the following questions:
- Does this food have minimal ingredients? Does it have ingredients I can pronounce or recognize? Consider milk’s label as an example. Only 3 ingredients: milk, vitamin A and vitamin D. Minimal ingredients? Check! Ingredients I recognize? Check!
- Is this food helping or hurting my health goals? More good news for dairy foods: research continues to suggest that healthy eating styles that include low-fat and fat-free dairy foods are linked to reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, specifically cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Do I have foods in my freezer, refrigerator and pantry that help me meet the MyPlate recommendations for all Five Food Groups? Consider the following:
- Dairy foods: low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese
- Whole grains: brown or wild rice, couscous, bulgur, quinoa, millet, oats, whole grain pastas, whole grain crackers, whole grain breads
- Protein-rich foods such as dry beans, peas or lentils or “low-sodium” or “no-salt added” canned beans, nuts, seeds and nut butters, canned tuna (in water), salmon or sardines, lean meats and eggs
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, “low-sodium” or “no salt added” canned vegetables, and fruits “canned in juice”
- Cooking and baking essentials: whole wheat flour, oat flour, salt-free seasoning blends, herbs and spices, olive, canola or avocado oils, cornmeal, low-sodium broths, dry breadcrumbs, and vinegars
- Organize. As you put everything away, consider the real estate of your pantry and refrigerator, and use the front and center shelves for frequently used ingredients and healthy snacks, tucking away any less-than-healthy foods – after all, you’re more likely to eat it if you see it.
The key to health is to keep smart choices in reach and those less than healthy foods out of sight (or out of your kitchen altogether). Keep a running grocery list and when you empty a bottle or run low on a kitchen staple, place that item on the list for your next grocery store run. Take time to plan weekly menus and make a grocery list and stick to that list every time you visit the store. Think about downloading a list app for your phone so you always have your grocery list when you get to the store.
And don’t forget to get the recommended three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods every day by incorporating milk, cheese and yogurt into meals and snacks. If you need recipe ideas, visit us at www.westerndairyassociation.org.
Happy cleaning and cheers to a healthier you!