Cooking at home is one of the best ways to meet your nutrition and weight-loss goals. That’s why having an organized kitchen is key, because you can make your environment work for you. We all know keeping junk food out of the house is the best way to avoid eating that bag of chips. Similarly, setting yourself up for success isn’t just about motivation; it’s also about knowing your pitfalls and removing those obstacles so they don’t become an issue (hello, fruit bowl front and center; goodbye, chips).
The good news is it can be simple to implement healthy habits — starting with these smart kitchen hacks.
1. GET A WHITEBOARD
Or something to write the week’s menu down so you don’t have to make decisions during the week when you’re hungry or short on time. Planning meals helps save time, money and energy. It’s also a great strategy to support weight loss and improve your diet. One study found people who planned their meals had more varied and healthier diets, on average, than those who didn’t. Make it easy and fun by placing a whiteboard on your fridge or above a counter and writing out your menu each week.
2. CLEAR OFF YOUR COUNTERS
Keeping your counters free of clutter not only feels better in terms of feng-shui (the Chinese practice of harmonizing individuals with their environment), but it also makes it easier to clean. Recent research shows dust could speed the growth of fat cells, potentially triggering weight gain. That’s because household dust can contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that negatively alter your hormones. While these findings are preliminary, dust mites are known to trigger allergies and asthma, too, so it’s important to regularly wipe down your kitchen counters.
3. MAKE YOUR FRIDGE MORE COLORFUL
The eye is naturally drawn to color, so try placing fruits and veggies in clear containers front and center in your fridge. “When you see vibrant colors first thing, you’ll be more likely to reach for nutrient-dense fruits and veggies as a snack or when cooking,” says Jessi Holden, RD. Then use the lower drawers to store meat, cheese or meal prep leftovers, she recommends.
4. PRE-PORTION SNACKS
For many people, smart portion control — especially when it comes to snacking — is a big part of the weight-loss equation. If you can’t find pre-packaged single servings at the grocery store, you can easily do-it-yourself. When you get home from shopping, take a few minutes to portion nuts, pretzels or your other go-to snacks into baggies or small containers, recommends Amy Goodson, RD. “That way, when you’re hungry, it’s a no-brainer to just reach for a single portion,” she says.
5. EAT ON SMALLER PLATES
Speaking of portions, research shows people typically keep eating until they’ve finished their entire plate of food, no matter how big the plate. Eating meals on smaller dinner or dessert plates is one way to keep portions in check and prevent overeating. That doesn’t mean you should eat less than you need, though — if you check in with yourself after the meal and find you’re truly still hungry, it’s fine to eat a little more. Using a food journal like MyFitnessPal can help you keep track of how much you’re actually consuming.
6. ARRANGE YOUR PANTRY WITH A PLAN
Canned foods like tuna, salmon and beans are nutritious, budget-friendly and long-lasting. To maximize space and make sure you can keep track of what you have, consider using inexpensive wire baskets, stacking shelves or pull-out drawers. The inside of your pantry doors offer an oft-overlooked opportunity for better organization and storage. Try installing shelves for rolls of foil, cling wrap and zip-top bags. Finally, to take advantage of space when storing cooking oils, sprays and other condiments, opt for a lazy susan which easily rotates so you can save time and quickly find what you need.
7. STORE PANTRY STAPLES IN CLEAR CONTAINERS
To make sure you’re taking full advantage of all the whole grains, nuts and seeds tucked away in your pantry, store them in clear plastic containers. It’s easy to find a variety of sizes. Keep bulky items like flour in the biggest container, and save the smaller ones for things like seeds and finishing salts. Not only do clear containers encourage you to use these items, but they save you money when you go grocery shopping, since you already know how much you have or need.
8. DITCH PLASTIC CONTAINERS
If you’re a fan of leftovers or meal prep — cooking big batches of food at once and reheating it later — consider upgrading your old plastic containers and getting glass ones instead. They can safely go in the fridge, freezer, oven and microwave, says Rachel Paul, RD. Glassware tends to have better airtight seals than plastic, meaning your food tastes fresher and more flavorful. You can also throw them in the dishwasher without worrying about leaking toxins. While they might be a little more expensive than plastic, the investment pays off over time — plastic containers often end up soaking up food odors and need to be replaced more often.
9. STORE SPICES IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
Spices are an easy way to add flavor to a dish without adding extra calories, and they can also add important micronutrients. The problem is, if you have a messy shelf or drawer full of random spices, it takes forever to find the one you need. You might end up forgoing spice altogether. To avoid that, store your spices in alphabetical order in a spice organizer. You can get one for the counter, in a cabinet, or for inside a drawer.
10. KEEP A FRUIT BOWL VISIBLE
It’s a simple trick, but a powerful one to help you make smarter snacking choices. One study found people who kept a fruit bowl out in their kitchens had lower BMIs, on average, compared to those who didn’t. It doesn’t really matter where you keep it — the table, the counter or on a mounted shelf — as long as it’s visible. For fruits and vegetables that are better stored in the fridge (more on that here), keep them in clear containers at eye level, so they’re the first thing you see.
11. STORE LESS-NUTRITIOUS FOODS OUT OF SIGHT
The same study mentioned above also found keeping less-nutritious foods on the counter was associated with higher BMIs. The main culprits included soda, candy, cereal and soft drinks. If you stock these items (or any others you know you have a tendency to over consume), keep them on higher shelves in the cabinet instead. This makes it less tempting to reach for them and helps you cut back on excess calories.
12. GROW YOUR OWN HERBS
When you think of leafy greens, herbs might not be the first things that come to mind. However, herbs like parsley and basil add nutrients and flavor to meals, and they’re super versatile. The next time you’re at the grocery store, skip the more expensive packaged herbs and instead pick up an herb plant. Many stores carry basil, mint and parsley plants for less than $5. You can grow them in pots outside (in warm months) or on a sunny counter or sill.
13. INVEST IN AN INSTANT POT
There’s very little an Instant Pot can’t do, and thanks to the pressure cook setting, it significantly cuts back on cooking time spent in the kitchen. “You can use them to make everything from hard-boiled eggs to chicken tacos and steel-cut oats,” says Laura Ligos, RD. If you need some inspiration, check out these 11 healthy Instant Pot recipes.
READ MORE > 8 DIETITIAN-APPROVED GADGETS FOR HEALTHY COOKING
14. HAVE A COMPOST BIN
Composting food scraps instead of throwing them away may not have any immediate health benefits, but it’s undeniably good for the environment. When food waste sits in landfills, it takes up space and releases methane, a greenhouse gas. If you don’t want to compost in your own home or yard, it can be a good excuse to visit a farmers market (which have drop-off sites) where you can stock up on nutrient-dense local produce.
15. CHOOSE GREEN CLEANING PRODUCTS
Food isn’t the only thing in your kitchen that can affect your health. In fact, research shows the dust that piles up on your kitchen counters could negatively alter your hormones, contributing to weight gain. To steer clear of potentially harmful chemicals, experts recommend choosing from the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of healthy kitchen cleaners.
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