Strategies for creating a healthy kitchen
Keeping your kitchen stocked with healthy foods means shopping, choosing the right foods, and creating a healthy kitchen environment. From farmer’s markets to specialty stores to supermarkets to delivery services, the options for getting food into your house these days abound. See Meal planning for simple, quick healthy cooking for specifics.
Some foods are highly perishable (like fresh produce) and need to be purchased weekly or more frequently, other foods are moderately perishable (like bread) and need to be replaced every few weeks, and some foods are non-perishable with long shelf-lives (like nuts, grains or canned goods) and only need to be replaced as you use them up (or if they’re long past their eat-by date). Read What to Do for a specific list of these types of foods to keep in the house.
In addition to having the right foods on hand, creating a healthy eating environment will help you maintain a healthy kitchen for the whole family. For example, studies show that both visibility and convenience greatly influence our eating habits. We’re more likely to eat what we see, so keep healthy foods easily accessible and in plain sight and less healthy ‘sometimes’ foods behind pantry doors, in opaque containers, and in the back of the freezer.
Other studies reveal that using larger sized bowls and spoons can increase our food consumption by as much as 50% from everything from cereal to ice cream! So swap out smaller sized plates and cutlery to keep your portions in check.
What to Do
Pick a time each week to menu plan for the upcoming week. Write out all of the meals you intend to cook and which ingredients you’ll need for their preparation.
Maintain a list of groceries you’ll need including perishables and other foods that need replenishing. Don’t wait until you’ve run out of something – when you begin to run low, add it to the list so you don’t find yourself in a bind. Think about whether keeping a list on your cell, a notepad, or a white board in your kitchen will work best for you.
And keep track of recipes that sound good to you as well as ones you’ve had success cooking and serving.
Get foods into the house
Set aside time once a week to go grocery shopping, and don’t forget your grocery list! Remember that each time you shop, you’ll become more efficient as you become increasingly familiar with a store or website’s layout and offerings.
While at the store, inquire whether your grocer has a ‘produce butcher’ who will cut the fruits and vegetables you buy to your specifications while you finish the rest of your shopping.
Alternatively you can set aside time to grocery shop online if you find that fits your schedule better.
Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods
Purchase these highly perishable foods weekly, if not more frequently:
- Fresh produce, including herbs
- Fresh and pre-cooked meat, poultry, and chicken
Purchase these moderately perishable foods every few weeks:
- Whole grain bread
- Plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese
- Tofu and tempeh
- Pre-peeled whole garlic cloves
- Other meats, such as deli cuts (but stick with low-sodium, nitrate-free varieties)
Purchase these non-perishable, frozen and refrigerated foods with longer shelf-lives as needed and keep them on hand at all times (remember to read the packages to ensure proper storage and to determine when and whether items need to be refrigerated):
- Shelf-stable milk and milk-alternatives like almond or soy milk in tetra-paks
- Nuts and nut butters like peanut, almond or cashew
- Dried beans (remember that lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking)
- Ready-to-eat canned beans – look for BPA-free cans or tetra-paks and “no salt added” on the label
- Dried fruit – stick with varieties without added sugar
- Frozen fruits, vegetables, and grains
- Refrigerated fermented foods such as kimchee and sauerkraut
- Dried whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet
- Whole grain pastas (and look for pastas made with legumes instead of grains, they’re super high in protein and fiber!)
- Whole grain flours
- Hot cereals – choose varieties without added sugar
- Cold cereals – look for varieties with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 4 grams of sugar
- Canned fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines
- Canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce (low-sodium, low- or no-sugar varieties)
- Olive oil and any other oils you enjoy
- Dried herbs and spices, sun-dried tomatoes, and seaweeds
- Condiments like mustard, sriracha, hot sauce, and vinegars
- Jars of minced or chopped garlic and ginger
- Olives in the can for your pantry, or marinated varieties for your fridge
Eat from smaller serving dishes and utensils to keep your portions in check.
Keep bowls of fruit on the counter and freshly cut vegetables in plain sight in the refrigerator. Store less healthy ‘sometimes’ foods in the back of the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer behind the more healthful options.
Think of mealtime as quality time
Turn off the TV, put away phones, tablets, and any other distractions, and allow everyone to focus on the food and each other. Enjoy your time together!