Preparation and planning are essential to eating nutritious foods –for ourselves, families and guests. In fact, effective time management is the key to leading a healthier, more productive life. And when healthy lifestyle choices become a priority, questions of motivation and convenience resolve themselves.
One of the best places to start is with your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer. Making the right decisions of what we consume and what is available for our families, means having the right ingredients and the right staple foods readily available in our cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer.
And, too, it means avoiding stocking them with junk food—items that are rich in calories, fat, and salt but with little to no nutritional value. Usually, out-of-sight means out-of-mind.
As we enter 2017, let’s give the inside of our refrigerators, freezers and pantry a healthy makeover.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: Refrigerator Health
They are delicious and nutritious and available in multitudes of types and all colors of the rainbow. Our choices are only limited by our imagination.
Carrots, celery, and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower make great snacks. To increase the chances that you will reach for them, instead of a grab-and-go convenient package of chips or cookies, get your veggies ready! Wash them, cut them, and place them in containers.
Make sure to have some fresh greens—baby spinach, arugula, kale—in stock. Not only can you create your own one-of-a-kind salad masterpiece, they are great for sautéing or steaming. And make sure to consume the stalks and stems whenever possible (soup, stir fry, scramble, pureeing for a smoothie); they are not garbage! In fact, they actually contain more fiber than the leaves themselves.
Like veggies, they come in a variety of flavors, colors, and textures. Fruit really is spectacular. They are great to snack on, can satisfy your sweet tooth or substitute for a less healthy dessert, or be combined with a glass of milk, piece of cheese, or gracing yogurt or cottage cheese.
Apples, grapes, and pears tend to last longer in your fridge. And when dealing with melons and pineapples, like veggies, try cutting them up and storing them in the refrigerator, so they are ready for consumption.
Bananas, oranges, and vine-ripened tomatoes tend to do well on countertops. While we are discussing countertops, in a study by Cornell University, researchers found that leaving a bowl of fruit on your kitchen counter can help you maintain a normal weight. On average, those who did, weighed 13 pounds less compared to those who did not have fruit as a healthy snacking option in plain sight.
Herbs can really help spice up the flavor in your meal and, in doing so, even help you cut back on added salt. The next time you are at the market, pick up some thyme, rosemary, paprika, basil, cilantro, dill, or garlic. Experts recommend the following refrigerator storing techniques: for dry herbs, wrap them in a damp paper towel and for damp herbs, wrap them in a dry paper towel.
Raisins, dates, figs, and dried apricots and cranberries are great to store in your fridge when you have a sweet craving, to top a salad, yogurt, or cottage cheese, or substitute for sugar when baking.
Nuts and Seeds
Because they are a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats, nuts and seeds provide satiety—they make you feel full. So although they are calorie dense, a handful can trim the total number of calories we consume down the road.
Of note, when exposed to light and heat, nuts can spoil. Generally speaking, if you plan to store nuts for less than three months, the pantry is fine. However, for longer periods, the refrigerator or freezer may be best. Experts recommend keeping them away from foods with a strong odor such as onions as they may absorb some of the smells.
I know I stand with many when I say “there’s just something about cheese….mmmmmm.” In addition to containing protein and calcium, it provides satiety. If you are a cheese-lover, make sure to keep sliced or pre-shredded cheese available (note: some cheeses can be stored in the freezer) to add to a meal or as a snack.
And I would like to take a moment to give a special mention to cottage cheese. It is packed with casein protein which when compared to other proteins (whey and soy) enters our bloodstream more slowly and steadily. As a result, it provides vital amino acids that can last for hours and keeps you really feeling full for longer.
The incredible, edible egg contains just 70 calories and is very versatile—it can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack, and can be prepared either scrambled, boiled, or poached to name a few ways. Experts recommend keeping eggs in their carton on a lower shelf to avoid humidity.
It is highly nutritious and an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Not to mention, it is a probiotic—contains “good” bacteria which keeps “bad” bacteria that causes illness, in check. Yogurt can be eaten alone, used as a dip, blended with a smoothie, or mixed with fruit, to name a few options.
While researching, I came across an interesting (but not scientifically proven) idea: by inverting the container after you open it, it creates a vacuum at the top of the container that impairs bacterial growth and slows down its spoilage. This allows for a longer shelf life. Just a thought! But make sure that the lid is solid or you may end up with a mess on your hands (or floor).
Soy, almond, skim, or 1% or 2% reduced fat milk are great choices to help quench your thirst or complement a snack or meal.
These food and drink items are not the only healthy ones, but were discussed because they are commonly available and also can be combined well with other foods. They can serve as a good start that may require you to add your own favorites, and modify according to personal tastes, allergies, and imagination.
And, too, “location location location” is key when it comes to eating healthy. Studies support the notion that we reach for foods that are convenient and readily visible.
Think of eye-level shelves as your kitchen’s primary fuel station.
When the the age-old, seven-word question that is heard in nearly every home across our nation at some point—“What should I make for dinner tonight?” or “What can we eat?”–these staples will keep your fridge ready with healthy options to make sure that you can prepare something great, at any time of the day (or night).
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.