Spring is the season of opening windows, airing out and organizing. Don’t let your pantry and cupboards miss out. Spring cleaning provides an opportunity to make your kitchen a place full of healthy choices. Use this dietician-approved list of things to toss (or donate to your local food bank) and non-perishables to keep on hand to set yourself for success, whether your goal is weight loss or just eating less junk.
TO TOSS: EXPIRED GOODS
Healthy or not, expired foods may not be safe to eat and certainly won’t taste their best. Instead of just tossing them into the trash, empty the food contents into a compost bucket or trash, and recycle the packaging.
If you come across an item that’s either getting close to or just recently passed its eat-by date, leave it out on the counter and plan a meal to use it ASAP.
TO TOSS: 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, it doesn’t need to be 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.
TO TOSS: FOOD LOADED WITH ADDED SUGAR
Foods high in added sugar are notorious for adding inches to waistlines. 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.
TO TOSS: 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. If they’re not in the house, it’s a lot trickier to eat them mindlessly.
TO TOSS: REFINED GRAINS
Traditional couscous, white rice and white pasta 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.
TO TOSS: SALTY SNACKS, SOUPS AND SAUCES
Much like decadent desserts, salty foods are OK once in awhile, 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 because 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 give meals and snacks a boost of protein and fiber. With just a handful of additional ingredients, beans can be whipped into spreads or dips, like homemade hummus, a quick vegetarian chili, bean burger patties, soups and more.
STOCK UP: WHOLE GRAINS
As your stash of white, refined grains dwindles, replace it with more nutritious and fiber-rich whole grains. I always have a stash of whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, barley and whole-wheat couscous in my pantry. I also keep healthy breakfast grains, such as old-fashioned or steel-cut oats and wheat bran, on hand to sprinkle onto yogurt and fresh fruit.
READ MORE > 3 GREAT WHOLE GRAINS, 3 GREAT WAYS
STOCK UP: HIGH-FIBER CEREAL
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, helps with satiety and prevents big blood-sugar spikes after a meal.
STOCK UP: 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 flavor to grains like quinoa and couscous. Grab the low-sodium kind, and be sure to store it in the refrigerator after opening.
STOCK UP: PACKAGED PROTEIN
Canned tuna and salmon are great sources of protein (and calcium in salmon’s case) and can quickly be turned into a number of nutritious meals for a busy weeknight dinner or a last-minute lunch. Sardines are also an excellent protein choice.
STOCK UP: 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, check the label to see if they should be refrigerated after opening.
READ MORE > 11 PANTRY ITEMS NUTRITIONISTS STOCK UP ON
STOCK UP: HERBS AND SPICES
Great for enhancing flavor without adding sodium, herbs and spices have also been making headlines for their powerful antioxidant abilities. They don’t last forever, though, so buy only the ones you’ll use and buy them in small quantities. Rotate them out every 6–12 months.
STOCK UP: HEALTHY TREATS
Dark chocolate 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.