Healthy eating is all about making good choices. Ensure you are giving your body what it needs by filling your kitchen with a variety of healthy foods. Make a commitment to yourself to stock up on nutrient-dense foods like complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats and replace foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and preservatives with healthier versions.
Let’s start with the REFRIGERATOR
Stock up on:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables: The more colorful the better. Red and yellow peppers, broccoli, spinach, carrots, bok choy, kale, dark green lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, bananas, oranges, red grapes, berries, kiwis, and whatever fruit and vegetables are in season and strike your fancy. Potatoes – yams, sweet potatoes, good old baking Idaho’s – are all excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. And when it’s in season, winter squash – like butternut, buttercup, kabocha – are sweet, dense and loaded with fiber and vitamin A.
- Lean sources of protein: Sliced turkey, lean ham, eggs, leftover cooked chicken, tofu and bean dip such as hummus all provide lean protein.
- Nonfat and low-fat dairy: Nonfat milk, plain nonfat greek yogurt, lowfat cottage cheese and other cheeses are all good to have on hand. Be sure to choose nonfat and lowfat versions of these foods because the higher-fat versions are major sources of artery-clogging saturated fat as well as cholesterol. Almond milk, Soymilk, soy yogurt, and soy cheeses are also great choices. Dairy foods provide important bone-building calcium and vitamin D as well as carbs, protein and important minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
- Beverages: Plain or flavored unsweetened sparkling water, low sodium vegetable juices, iced herbal and green teas, and good old water are all excellent choices. Staying well hydrated is crucial for health.
- Condiments and dressings: Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, low-sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, concentrated chicken or vegetable bouillon, soy mayonnaise or low-fat mayonnaise, all-natural ketchup, all-fruit jams, all-natural salad dressings (or make your own using olive or walnut oil and either vinegar or lemon juice), garlic and lemons are all great flavor enhancers.
And for the FREEZER…
- Lean sources of protein: Boneless, skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, fish fillets, and lean cuts of pork, lamb and other red meat to eat on occasion are good choices. Just pull something out of the freezer and stick it in the fridge the night before to defrost. Also stock up on frozen veggie burgers and veggie crumbles for quick lunches and dinners.
- Grains: Freeze portions of cooked brown rice or other whole grains that can be defrosted in seconds in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Vegetables: For days when you run out of fresh vegetables, frozen are good substitutes: stock up on spinach, brussels sprouts, corn, petite peas, edamame, etc.
- Fruit: Frozen berries can be defrosted in the microwave or overnight in the refrigerator or used frozen in smoothies.
- Whole grain waffles: They make a terrific quick breakfast topped with peanut butter or yogurt and jam. Add a piece of fruit and your good to go.
Now let’s tackle the PANTRY
Foods to stock up on include:
- Cereals Stock up on high fiber, whole grain, low-sugar cold cereals such as Kashi, Natures Path, Health Valley, Barbara’s, and Cascadian Farm cereals.
- Grains: Great choices include brown rice, wild rice, whole grain pasta, barley, bulgur wheat, quinoa, and whole wheat couscous. Some of these – such as quinoa and couscous take just minutes to prepare.
- Beans: Dried and canned – lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, and soybeans are all great sources of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Add them to salads, pastas, soups, stir-fries and stews.
- Spices: Any and all dried herbs and spices – oregano, basil, rosemary, etc. are great to have on hand to spice up potatoes, fish, meats and poultry, soups and stews.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, and other nuts and seeds provide vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Choose unsalted raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds and add them to cereal, salads, stir-fries and casseroles.
- Dried fruit: Raisins, dried apricots, dried cherries, dried apples, make great snacks and are delicious on cereal, in salads and mixed with nuts for an on-the-go snack.
- Whole grain bread and crackers: Note that bread keeps freshest longest in the freezer and defrosts in the microwave or at room temperature in very little time. Choose breads that list whole wheat or other whole grain as the first ingredient. Some healthy brands to look for include Ezekiel, Arnold and Orowheat whole grain/100% whole wheat, Trader Joe’s, Brownberry, Bran for Life, and Vermont Country Bread. Also try corn tortillas and and whole wheat pita bread.
- Oils: Olive oil is best but other good choices include canola oil, toasted sesame oil, and walnut oil.
- Vinegars: Balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, unsweetened rice vinegar, and flavored vinegars are good to have around for whipping up home-made salad dressings.
- Canned/bottled goods: Canned tuna, salmon and sardines are excellent sources of lean protein as well as heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. Be sure to have some low-sodium soups such as lentil and vegetable bean in your pantry as well. Canned tomatoes and marinara sauce (bottled or canned) can top not only pasta but also vegetables, beans, fish, poultry, eggs and meats.
In addition to the fruit that keeps best in the fridge (citrus, apples, berries, etc.) be sure to fill the fruit bowl that sits on your countertop with bananas, avocadoes, peaches, pears and other fruit that needs ripening.
If you are able to get to a farmer’s market in your area, that is one of the best places to find fresh, seasonal produce as well as breads, nuts, freshly made soups and other items. So stock your kitchen well and ensure you are giving your body the high-quality, nutrient-dense foods it needs for optimal health.
Allegra Burton, MPH, RDN
Nutrition with Allegra
Chapel Hill, NC