Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 17 - Pantry Makeover Primer

One of the first steps in improving the health of you and your family is stocking your kitchen full of foods that can be used for delicious and healthy meals and snacks.

As a Nutritionist it is fascinating to open the cabinet and refrigerator doors of strangers and take a look inside a family's dietary life. The most common challenge is the pantry. The pantry has become a set of snack shelves that stores processed foods in pretty packaging. It can look more like a 7-11 then a one-stop-shop to well-being. This storage space is devoted usually more to low nutrient snacks than nourishing meal staples. Chips, cookies, candies, crackers, bread and boxed easy-to-make pastas and canned soups flourish in this non-perishable ecosystem. It is for this reason that so many of the calories come from the confines and corner of these cabinets. It is much easier for a kid to stick their head in a pantry and pull out 20 graham crackers then it is to chop up an apple and spread on some almond butter.

This is not my pantry, but I wish it was!
Before we makeover your pantry I want you to learn something pretty powerful. Food that is in sight is in mind. Food that is out of sight is out of mind. Remember this. In the 1960's researchers at Columbia University did a study on food visibility. What they found was not surprising. When plates of food with aluminum foil covering them were put in front of subjects they ended up eating less. When plates of food with transparent plastic wrap were put in front of other subjects they ended up eating a lot more. We eat more of these 'see-foods' because we think about them more. If unhealthy foods are more convenient, easier to reach and out where we can see them studies show we will eat more of them. If healthy foods are plentiful and visible then results will eventually be seen in their heightened consumption.

This is where a pantry makeover comes into play. What is more accessible and visible in a home than the pantry? It is usually one of the most familiar places in the kitchen for kids and adults alike, more convenient to navigate through without having to touch the broccoli or old salad dressing bottles.

A pantry makeover is essential to increasing vitality with you and your family. The more visible and available the healthy choices are the more they will naturally, without any other action, make their way into your collective family belly.


If you were my client you would become well educated on what ingredients to avoid and how to tell if a product is worth eating for your wellness goals. For the sake of a simple post though, here are some basic tips.

Throw away:
  • any package that has an ingredient list as long as your arm (my general rule of thumb for a keeper is a product with 5 ingredients or less)
  • anything that has a type of sugar as one of the first three ingredients (with the exception of treats that are for special occasions)
  • products that contain any of the following: high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil of any kind, unpronounceable lab-like names
  • bread, crackers or any other flour-derived product that does not have whole grain or 100% whole ____ (wheat, rye, spelt, amaranth, etc.) as the only flour ingredient
  • snacks that are not filling and cannot be paired with whole foods (like cheese puffs, pop tarts

Here is an abbreviated healthy pantry list:
  • Grains
    • 100% whole wheat or whole grain bread
    • Whole grain breakfast cereals (follow the throw away rules above and shoot for products that have a minimum of 3 grams of protein and fiber per serving)
    • Whole grain flour for baking
    • Alternative whole grains like amaranth, quinoa, millet, spelt,
    • Popcorn kernels (to be popped in oil on the stovetop)
    • Brown rice (both the basic rice and brown rice pasta)
    • Whole grain pretzels, crackers, rice cakes
  • Legumes
    • Canned beans like black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans
    • Dried beans like lentils, kidney beans, etc.
    • Peanut butter (a bean, not a nut) with no sugar or hydrogenated oils on the ingredients list
  • Nuts and Seeds
    • Nut butters like almond butter, walnut butter, hazelnut butter
    • Tahini (sesame seed butter)
    • Raw nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts etc.
    • Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
  • Dried fruits- No sugar added (have these for snacks, to sweeten cereals or baking recipes or to sprinkle on trail mix, granola or on morning breakfast cereal)
    • Coconut flakes
    • Dates, mangoes, pineapples, apples, bananas, raisins
  • Canned/jarred products (the best way to eat these are fresh or frozen, but some canned can be versatile additions to the diet).
    • Tuna, salmon, chicken
    • Soups
    • Tomatoes
    • Applesauce
    • Marinara sauce
    • Olives
    • Capers
    • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Broth (vegetable broth, chicken broth, bouillon)
  • Potatoes (yukon gold, purple, russet, red skin, yams, sweet potatoes)
  • Onions and garlic
  • Sweeteners
    • Maple Syrup
    • Local honey
    • Dried dates (from above)
  • Condiments
    • Mustard
    • Ketchup
    • BBQ sauce
    • Herbs and spices
    • Vinegar (red wine, apple cider, balsamic vinegar)
  • Energy bars (larabars are the best!) - Click here to read an amazing blog by my friend Gina Renee, L.Ac, along with a archived radio program on the subject!
  • Baking soda and baking powder

Position healthy foods in easier to see places and unhealthy foods (or the treats) in hard to see places.
  • Put treats in containers that are not transparent and on the top shelves or near the back. 
  • Place the healthy snacks and items label out (with pictures that can entice our imagination) on the most accessible shelves or put them in glass or plastic see-through containers. 
  • Make sure that fruits, vegetables and other super fresh foods are on the kitchen counter or table for when the family gets home. 
  • Make a point of utilizing one healthy snack pantry item a day by preparing it and placing it out on the table for the family to eat. Take whole grain crackers and spread freshly made hummus on top with a slice of a favorite vegetable. Positioning pantry items with fresh foods in this predetermined way will introduce new food ideas to others in your household and up the nutrient density in their diet.

Developing labeled locations in the pantry of food categories is a great way to encourage healthy eating and independent food decisions.
  • Make a shelf or section devoted to breakfast choices (healthy cereals, breads, etc.), and one for lunch and dinner choices. 
  • Create a section for snacks. If mindless snacking is an issue take the snacks and put them in baggies that are portion sized that family members can take on the run or grab when gentle hunger strikes. This will prevent the mindless eating out of the box or bag and will develop an awareness about quality verses quantity.
  • Get creative with this! Does your family LOVE pasta? Have a section for pasta dishes. What about soup? During the winter this can be a great section to entice participation. You can place canned beans, grains and bins of covered potatoes and other root vegetables there so that the kids can choose their favorite items for the weekly soup.
  • Using glass or plastic containers can be a God send for healthy eating! How many times have items been pushed to the back of the shelf only to be found years later? When we pour the cereal into a glass container or display all the different nuts in bins instead of the grocery store baggies people are more likely to eat them.
    The dark back confines of the pantry can be a scary place if we do not circulate and utilize its contents every week. When you buy new pantry items put them behind the old ones.

I cannot tell you how many times I hear from my daughter, 'there is nothing to eat!' Here is a pantry makeover solution to remedy this 'picky eater syndrome:' 

On the designated snack section print out or write on a post-it-note different snack and meal ideas with the items that are present (you can laminate the cards that you use the most often for common staples so that you do not have to do this regularly). Here is an example of a food suggestion card taped to the snack section:
  • STOP! Before you eat one of these snacks ask yourself what your body feels like having.
  • Look on the counter for fresh fruits that can be cut up and paired with cheese, yogurt or nuts.
  • Snacks can also be: half of a sandwich, leftovers from last night, or even a breakfast item.
  • Is there a favorite vegetable and dip combo available? 
  • Do you feel like any items in the fridge like eggs, sausage, turkey and cream cheese wrap, celery and peanut butter?
  • Other suggestions: crackers, rice cake or toast with almond butter, homemade 1 minutes trail mix with favorite dried fruits and nuts, popcorn
The above Food Suggestion Cards labeled and taped throughout the pantry section can develop food decision and preparing skills for your children and the whole family. It will save you time for having to come up with ideas and family members can create their own food suggestion cards and submit them to the pantry once they start using their imagination and love of fresh, whole food!

For more detailed grocery shopping lists, tips on how to read labels and even a personal one-on-one pantry makeover in your own home, visit my site and contact me.


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