So you’ve committed yourself to eating better for the New Year, a new birthday, or just as a way to feel better day to day. We commend you. Planning and eating healthy meals takes time and effort, but it’s well worth the investment.
While we can help with one portion of the healthy-eating equation—we make healthy dinner plans designed to help you lose weight or make better real-food choices—your environment has a major role to play in how well you eat, too. One of the first areas you should address is your kitchen. After all, it’s where the food is stored, and it’s where you prepare every meal.
These healthy kitchen tips can help you make better choices and enjoy your time in the kitchen more.
1. Declutter your counters.
A 2016 study found that people who eat in cluttered kitchens eat more food—in the case of the study, cookies and crackers—than people who eat in orderly kitchens. According to the study, people who ate in a cluttered kitchen and were in a “out-of-control” mind-set ate 103 calories compared to people who ate in an uncluttered kitchen and had a “in-control” mindset. They ate only 38 calories on average.
Clean off counters and empty out drawers. Take stock of what you use every day. Do you use your blender for smoothies every morning? It can remain. Do you have a coffee maker for the weekends your in-laws come to town? It needs to be stored out of sight. Once you’ve weeded through your countertop clutter, put back only what you use, and either store or ditch the stuff you don’t need or want.
2. Shrink your dishes.
One of the easiest ways to eat better is to reduce your portions to something more proportional. However, big plates may make these right-sized portions look tiny. The average dinner plate is over 10 inches, but you can make your meals looks more “filling” with smaller plates.
If you’re not able to replace all your dishes, use salad plates instead of dinner plates. These smaller plates can help convince your eye you’re eating more than you really are. That means you’re more likely to feel full with less food.
3. Set out fruit bowls.
Do you leave ready-to-eat foods on the counter for quick snacks? Nut bars, fruit gummies, perhaps even candy? Replace those foods with something a bit more simple and wholesome—fruit.
When you see apples, oranges, bananas, and pears in front of you, you get a gentle nudge to eat a piece and add a tally to your daily fruit count. You also are likely to eat fewer calories and get more vitamins and minerals than if you had chosen a chocolate-dipped nut bar. If you have any other areas where family members commonly convene—the coffee table, for example—place another fruit bowl there to encourage your family to eat pears over puffs.
4. Dejunk your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Purging clothes you no longer need feels good. The same can be true for your kitchen. When you’re ready to begin a healthy-eating journey, make time to clean out your kitchen’s main storage places—the pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Remove sugary drinks, cereals, and cookies. Ditch refined carbs (we’ll replace them in the next tip) like crackers, white pasta, and white rice. Empty out all those empty calories you’ve been stashing “for the husband” or “for the kids.”
In the freezer, it’s time to bid farewell to Ben & Jerry’s. While you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to ditch those foods you’ve been avoiding for a few years now. (You know, the ones covered in so much ice you’re no longer sure if it’s chicken or steak.)
5. Stock up on healthy dinner necessities.
Now that you’ve cleaned up your kitchen’s act and you’re ready to start fresh, it’s time to stock up for success. One of the best ways to guarantee you can eat better is to equip yourself with ingredients that make simple, healthy dinners easy.
Look to add these items to your pantry, fridge, and freezer to help you achieve your goals:
- Dry beans—They’re inexpensive and a great source of meat-free protein.
- Canned beans—These require no prep work, and they form the base of many great meals, like black bean enchiladas.
- Whole-wheat pasta—You can never be wrong with pasta and sauce, but you can do better when you pick whole-wheat noodles over refined white pasta.
- Brown rice—Get a whole-grain side in just minutes with boil-in-bag or minute brown rice. You can also use the brown rice as a base for any number of burrito, veggie, or sushi bowls.
- More quick-cooking whole grains—Oats, quinoa, and farro are ready in less than 20 minutes. Cook ahead on a weekend, and use the grains for the base of salads during the week, or stir into soups for a fast fiber boost.
- Canned, diced tomatoes—These are a workhorse in a healthy kitchen. They’re great additions to everything from soups and stews to pastas and quick skillet dinners. Look for organic options, which often have less sodium than conventional options.
- Nuts and seeds—Boost boring salads with crunch and major nutrition points with nuts, like almonds or walnuts, and seeds, like sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
- Frozen vegetables—In off-season months, frozen vegetables are often a more nutrient-packed option when compared to conventional produce. Most frozen produce is picked and frozen within a day of leaving the fields, which means the nutrition is sealed in. Stock up when there’s a sale, and look for the quick-cooking microwave-in-bag options for speedy sides. Skip the ones with sauces and flavorings.