Spring Clean Your Pantry: What to Toss, What to Keep

myfitnesspal spring clean pantry 1

How you stock your pantry can either set you up for success or sabotage your healthy-eating efforts. With Spring cleaning chores on the brain, now is not only a great time to organize your closet but also to pick apart your pantry.  Luckily for you, I tackled this very task in my own kitchen last week, and I’ve put together a list of the things to toss or donate, and the staples to stock up on.

TOSS OUT

Expired goods Healthy or not, expired foods in your pantry may not be safe to eat. Instead of just tossing it into the trash, empty the food contents into a compost bucket or down the drain, and recycle the packaging. If you come across an item that’s just recently passed it’s eat-by date, leave it out on the counter instead of putting it back in the pantry, and plan a meal to use it up by week’s end.

Items with trans fats Look at the list of ingredients. If you see a type of oil preceded by the words “partially hydrogenated,” you’ve got trans fat on your hands. (For example: “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.”) If a product has less than 0.5g per serving, food manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the Nutrition Facts label, but that doesn’t mean the food doesn’t contain it. Some common trans fat-filled foods include: microwave popcorn, shortening, cake mixes and frostings, pancake and waffle mixes, non-dairy creamers, packaged cookies, crackers, processed meat sticks, some canned chilis, and packaged pudding,

Foods loaded with added sugar Foods high in added sugar are likely also adding to your waistline. Again, look at the ingredient list. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, added sugar is a big component. Some of the usual culprits include breakfast cereal and pastries, packaged desserts, baking mixes, packaged pudding, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, and even some dried fruits and packaged nuts.

Packaged snack foods Pretzels, potato chips, cheese doodles, rice cakes—these foods do very little to satiate hunger or nourish your body. I think we gravitate to them purely for their salt and crunch factors.

Refined grains Traditional cous cous, white rice, white pasta—all of these grain-based items have been stripped of nutrition through processing and provide little more than refined carbohydrates. Donate these items to a local food pantry or, if you prefer to use them up, incorporate them into a meal with plenty of vegetables and legumes.

Salty snacks, soups, and sauces Much like decadent desserts, salty foods are okay once in a while. But having a cabinet full of them is asking for trouble—especially if you have high blood pressure, or have been told to cut back on sodium. Food manufacturers add salt mainly for two  reasons: our tastebuds love the stuff, and it acts as a preservative. When it comes to foods like nuts, soups, and sauces, opt for the low-sodium version—you can always add a little more if needed, which is still usually less than the amount found in the regular version.

STOCK UP

Canned or dried beans Beans are incredibly versatile and can give meals and snacks a boost of protein and fiber. With just a handful of additional ingredients beans can be whipped up into spreads or dips, like homemade hummus, a quick vegetarian chili, bean burger patties, soups, and more.

Whole grains As your stash of white, refined grains dwindles, replace them with more nutritious and fiber-rich whole grains. I always have a stash of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat cous cous in my pantry. I also keep healthy breakfast grains, like old fashioned or steel cut oats and wheat bran, on hand to sprinkle onto yogurt and fresh fruit.

High fiber cereals Though typically a breakfast food, I will admit cereal for dinner isn’t the worst meal in the world. Fiber plays an important role in digestive health—it keeps things moving, and also helps with satiety and prevents big blood sugar spikes after a meal.

Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth I always have one 32-ounce container of each in my pantry, which comes in handy for making a quick soup or adding a little bit of flavor to grains like quinoa and cous cous. Grab the low-sodium kind, and be sure to store it in the refrigerator after opening.

Packaged protein Canned tuna and salmon are great sources of protein (and calcium too, in salmon’s case) and can quickly be turned into a number of nutritious meals for a busy weeknight dinner or a last minute lunches.

Nuts and seeds Walnuts, almonds, pecans—whatever type of nut you prefer, are all good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Vacuum packed bags will maximize shelf life. When choosing nut or seed butters, keep in mind that the healthiest ones have the fewest ingredients—just nuts and maybe some salt. Because natural nut butters don’t contain shelf-stable trans fats or preservatives, be sure to check the label to see if they should be refrigerated after opening.

Herbs and spices Great for enhancing flavor without adding sodium, lately herbs and spices have also been making headlines for their powerful antioxidant abilities.

Healthy snacks and treats Dark chocolate, granola bars, and dried fruit without added sugar are more nutritious than cookies and candy. A small handful of dried fruit or a square of chocolate can quickly take the edge off of that sweet tooth. Granola bars can make a great snack or a quick grab-and-go breakfast, just look at the ingredient labels and choose ones that provide the most fiber and least amount of sugar and other additives.

What are your spring cleaning pantry plans? I’d love to hear what you will be tossing and keeping! 

3 Snack-Packing Tips You’ll Love

myfitnesspal snack packing tip

Bars and single-serve packs are convenient, but they’re not always the most nutritious option. The worst offenders tend to be loaded with sugar, sodium, and bloat-causing preservatives, and all that packaging isn’t doing anything good for our landfills. With a little planning and the right container, you can make it to your next meal without starving and stay on top of your nutrition goals. Try carrying one of these healthful snacks—and let us know your thoughts!

Ants On a Log Make this throwback favorite with one stalk of fresh celery, 2 tbs. of all-natural peanut butter, and 1/8 cup of raisins. Keep the fiber-licious treat neat until snack time by packing it in a shallow, rectangular container (Snapware makes a nice one), and consider saving the “recipe” in your MyFitnessPal diary to easily log it again.

Hummus & Veggies Great in a bowl and on the go! At the grocery store, pick up pre-sliced veggies and a ready-made tub of the Mediterranean dip (look for one that’s low in sodium and preservative-free) to cut down on prep. Then, portion out 2 tbs. of humus into a small zip-top bag; carry veggies separately. At snack time, work the humus down into one corner of the bag, carefully snip the tip with scissors, and squeeze. (This trick works with peanut butter, too!)

Office Nachos Yep, you read that right: Nachos! Stash the ingredients for a healthy version—10 whole-grain tortilla chips, ¼ cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 2tbs. of salsa, and ¼ cup cooked black beans (canned is great)—in a salad storage kit (Fit & Fresh has a good option). Layer everything on a paper plate and zap it for 30 seconds in the microwave at work.

Have you discovered an easy way to carry homemade snacks? Do tell!  

Plan, Prep, Party!—3 Steps to a Cooking-At-Home Habit

3 Steps to Cooking At Home Habit

 

Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngCooking at home might be one of the healthiest habits you can create. It also might be the most daunting to get started. Some people start and stop for years, just trying to stick to what seems like a basic breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule. Here are some simple ways to make cooking for yourself as essential to your day as brushing your teeth in the morning.

When you’re trying to master any new habit, you need to maximize your chances of success by optimizing your environment. That means you have to set the barrier to entry so low that all you have to do is step over it. You have to have the courage to aim low… but often!

Step 1: Plan A lot of people set themselves up for a rocky start by trying to plan, shop for, prep, and cook all of their meals for a week at once. That’s 0-21 meals in one step! Instead of tackling all that chopping, dicing, sautéing and cleaning in one day, set a more reasonable goal, such as cooking one meal a day for yourself. Think of the “biggest bang for your buck” goal that you are 90-100% confident you can do every day for 2 weeks. If you’re only 80% confident you can prepare one meal a day for yourself, make the habit more reasonable. How about aiming to make healthier snacks first? Remember, this is the habit you’re going to master first. You can get to everything eventually, but by starting more reasonably, you’re maximizing your chances for eventual success.

Step 2: Prep The most overlooked step to the smooth operation of a professional kitchen has nothing to do with cooking: it’s the prep. When the ingredients are ready to go, all a chef has to do is show up and start cooking. I’ve worked with dozens of clients who wanted to start cooking for themselves, but didn’t know what tools they had in their pantry. Don’t get held up by all the annoying little stuff you have to do, in order to get to the thing you need to do—something programmers call, “shaving yaks,” which sounds like a real drag! Sit down and take inventory of what you need for the next two weeks to make your habit happen. Do you have knives? Cutting boards? Ziptop bags? Mason jars (a.k.a. hipster Tupperwear)? Make a list and remember that every item you check off is one step closer to your goal.

Then, when you go to the grocery store, cut every corner you can. Pre-chopped veggies—check! Pre-cooked chicken breasts—check! Buy what it takes to get the job started and make your life easier. There will be plenty of time later to learn how to make your own fish stock, but for right now the priority should be on getting started!

Step 3: Party Most people who successfully cook all of their meals as a habit do their prep and cooking on a single day, and then store it in the fridge, ready to reheat and serve. And one of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they are learning a new habit is they think they have to do everything themselves. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the kindness of family and friends! Instead of sitting in your house alone on cooking night, invite some friends over and have everyone cook their meals together! You provide the oven and they share their experience, talent, and labor—not to mention help with clean up. You can try new recipes together, take turns coming up with menus, or all pitch in and cook for a friend who’s having a stressful week. Another bonus: you might even have a little fun, which can help make the habit stick!

Cooking at home is a very healthy habit, but to make it stick it’s important to start small, set yourself up right, and make the experience as easy and as fun as possible. Pick a meal (or two!) that you are confident you can make every day for 14 days. Plan it out, so you’re not stuck with a hairy yak, and turn the habit into a good time. As you eat the delicious fruits of your labor, take note of what’s working and what you can do better, and invite the people you love to your table. After all, cooking for yourself is healthy, but cooking for other people is downright fulfilling.

Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.

MyFitnessPal Summer Shape-up Meal Plan – Part 2

As promised, here is the second half of our summer meal plan featuring some delicious, nutritious dinner and snack options for you. Remember to download the printable meal plan, when you have a moment, to help you with planning.

And when you’re ready to log each meal in MyFitnessPal, just search the Database by the food name as written below.

20130628_1
1. Food Network – Grilled Steak with Barley Salad
Recipe Details: 500 calories per serving using 1 ¼ pounds sirloin steak and ½ teaspoon salt
2. Skinnytaste – Grilled Salmon Kebabs
Recipe Details: 267 calories per 2 kebabs
Pair with freshly roasted veggies and a side quinoa.
3. Eat Live Run – Tomato & Feta Stuffed Chicken
Recipe Details: 287 calories per ~6 ounces chicken breast
Make a salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing to enjoy on the side.
4. Rabbit Food for My Bunny Teeth – Southwest Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Recipe Details: 391 calories per pepper made with regular (not reduced-fat) cheese.
Does not include simple guacamole, but feel free to add some!
5. Kashi – Black Bean Mango Entree
Product Details: 340 calories per entrée

20130628_2

1. How Sweet It Is – No Bake Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bites
Recipe Details: 160 calories per oatmeal peanut butter ball
2. Homemade – Frozen Grapes
Food Details: 62 calories per 1 cup
Pull individual portions from the freezer and pair with a cup of low-fat yogurt for a cool, high-protein snack.
3. The Curvy Carrot – Peanut Butter Banana Quinoa Muffins
Recipe Details: 334 calories per large muffin
Try baking as mini muffins for a smaller snack to tide you over.
4. Smitten Kitchen – Baked Kale Chips
Recipe Details: 100 calories per serving – recipe makes approximately 2 servings with ¼ teaspoon salt.
A perfect partner to any sandwich.
5. Kind Bar – Assorted Flavors
Around 200 calories per bar and packed with protein to keep you satisfied.

We’ll be creating more nutritious, healthy blog posts this summer, so stay tuned for more on that. Have a great weekend, and happy eating!

MyFitnessPal Summer Shape-up Meal Plan – Part 1

We’re excited summer is finally here — but eating healthfully takes some planning, so to kick off the season right, we compiled some delicious, healthy recipes and created a printable meal plan for you to try. We even added the foods for you, to make logging your daily nutrition in MyFitnessPal easy. Just search the MyFitnessPal Database by the food name as written below.

There’s a lot of content here, so we’ve decided to break it up. We’re sharing a few breakfast and lunch options today and will post our dinner and snack options on Friday – so check back just before the weekend for the second half!

mfp_06262013_1

1. A Sweet Simple Life – Muffin Cup Baked Eggs
Recipe Details: 80 calories per egg cup, prepared without cheese
Pair baked eggs with a slice of whole wheat toast and a cup of fresh fruit. These can also be frozen and microwaved for a quick and easy weekday breakfast.
2. Motive Nutrition – Breakfast Egg Sandwich with Crispy Prosciutto
Recipe Details: 393 calories per satisfying muffin sandwich
Enjoy with a small piece of fruit on the side.
3. Homemade – Cottage Cheese with Pineapple and Walnuts
Recipe Details: 270 calories per ¾ cup 2% cottage cheese, ½ cup fresh pineapple chunks and ¼ cup walnut halves
4. NatureBox – Breakfast Taquitos
Recipe Details: 180 calories per 1 taquito prepared with small corn tortillas, regular pork sausage and cheese (not reduced-fat)
Grab an apple or banana and take these to go.
5. Garden Lites – Spinach Souffle
Recipe Details: 140 calories per souffle
Perfect for heating up when you’re running late in the morning!

mfp_06262013_2
1. Good Life Eats – Cucumber and Avocado Sandwich
Recipe Details: 404 calories per sandwich made with hearty 100% whole wheat bread (110 calories per slice) & 3 tablespoons mashed avocado
Tastes great with kale chips on the side
2. Eat Yourself Skinny – Summer Quinoa Salad
Recipes Details: 270 calories per 1 cup
We love having some strawberries afterward for dessert!
3. Food Fitness Fresh Air – Sweet Pea and Garlic Soup
Recipe Details: 200 calories per serving topped with 1 tablespoon 2% plain Greek yogurt
4. The Kitchn – Tuna Cabbage Salad
Recipe Details: 159 calories per serving made according to directions with 2% Greek yogurt and 1 pinch of salt & pepper
Great for sandwiches or mixed into a bowl of leafy greens.
5. PJ Organics – Chicken Enchilada Meal
Product Details: 440 calories per entrée
Keep some in the freezer at work!

We hope this proves useful and inspirational as you embark on a healthy, happy summer. Again, stay tuned for the dinner and snack portion of the meal plan this Friday—just in time for your weekend grocery shopping!