A healthy diet starts in the kitchen. By having a fridge and pantry stocked with fresh ingredients and nutritious snacks, you can better control the foods you eat. In addition, a healthy kitchen requires proper food handling and storage to keep you and your family safe. Take the following test to see if you have a healthy kitchen!
You have a spice rack that needs its own shelf. Herbs and spices add flavor to your food reducing the need to add excess salt. Not only will this reduce sodium, but you’ll benefit from extra nutrients in herbs and spices too. Rosemary and cinnamon contain disease-fighting antioxidants, and curry powder contains curcumin which has been found to reduce joint inflammation.
Your pantry has more ingredients than meals and kits. Packaged quick-mixes and meals are convenient, but many contain excess sodium, trans fat, and other unhealthy preservatives. Fill your pantry with whole ingredients that will allow you to cook up a quick meal in minutes. Grains such as whole wheat pasta, whole wheat couscous, and rolled oats are easy and quick-cooking. Nut butters, olive oil, low-sugar dried fruits, and seeds are other healthy staples.
Your produce bins are about to burst. Defrosted berries and canned green beans can’t compete with the flavor of fresh varieties. If your favorite fruit or vegetable is in season, stock up and eat them as soon as possible to prevent nutrient loss during storage. The versatility and flavor allows you to use these fresh foods in creative ways for quick meals such as stir-fry, pasta salad, fresh salsas, cereal toppings, and yogurt parfaits.
You have healthy snacks at your fingertips. We eat what is convenient, so make your healthy foods more accessible. Keep measuring spoons and cups right next to your most commonly used snacks in the pantry so you can measure appropriate servings. Stock your kitchen with small containers so you can package snacks at the beginning of the week, and grab them on your way out the door. Slice vegetables, such as red pepper rings and cucumbers, and wash grapes before storing so they are ready to go when you are.
Your shelves are stocked with nutrient-dense drinks. Sodas, fruit drinks, and energy drinks contain a lot of calories, but not much else. Switch to drinks that offer more nutritional benefit such as milks, and fresh or 100% fruit juices. You should still be mindful of the calories, but if you need some flavor beyond water choose nutrients instead of excess sugar. For a low-calorie option to fulfill your soda craving, mix 2 oz of fresh fruit juice with club soda.
Your storage methods and kitchen tools are focused on food safety. A kitchen filled with healthy foods won’t do you much good if your practices in the kitchen are unhealthy. Store and cook foods with food safety in mind to reduce foodborne illness. Designate cutting boards for produce-only and raw meat-only. Store raw meats in a separate refrigerator bin, or on the lowest shelf on a tray so juices do not drip. Wash produce well before eating, and always wash your hands before and after handling food.
You have a leftover tracking system. According to Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., leftovers should be eaten within four days to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Keep a calendar to track the leftovers stored in your fridge, or write on containers so that you can determine exactly when foods need to be eaten. You can also create a fridge rotation system -- older items on the bottom shelf and newer items above, or rotate foods by pushing them forward and placing newer leftovers behind them.
How did you do? If your kitchen matches up with all seven signs then you are on the right track! If not, don’t be discouraged. Set a goal and make small changes to clean up your kitchen, and your eating habits at the same time.