How to Prep Your Kitchen for the Healthiest, Most Delicious Year Yet

Photo: Getty Images / Sally Anscombe
After a stressful fall and winter spent subsisting on microwaved burritos and takeout Thai because my fridge is always empty and my time is always short, I'm obsessed with the idea of completely revamping my kitchen over the holiday break in order to set myself up for healthier habits in the new year.

Currently, I have no idea what I even have in stock and how much of it is expired—let alone what I could make with any of it. This doesn't bode well for my resolutions, says Kimberly Snyder, CN, a holistic wellness expert and the New York Times best-selling author of Recipes for Your Perfectly Imperfect Life. "The key to eating healthy and sticking to your New Year’s resolutions is always being prepared," she says. "If your pantry and fridge are stocked with lots of healthy, easy food options, you’ll be a lot less likely to cave and order takeout." 

I'm pretty sure my current stock—half a jar of year-old kimchi, moldy snap peas from who knows when, and whatever is hiding behind the instant ramen in my pantry—doesn't count as "healthy, easy food options," so I'm going to have to put a little elbow grease into prepping to delete my Seamless app. Below, Snyder and registered dietitian Whitney English, MS, RDN, of Plant-Based Juniors offer me (and you) their best tips for food-based resolution-enabling kitchen organization.

7 pre-2020 kitchen-centric tips to set you up for your healthiest year yet

1. Edit ruthlessly

In addition to trashing expired items, both pros recommend tossing anything that doesn't align with your 2020 nutritional goals. "When it comes to your pantry and fridge, it’s important to remove items that could derail your healthy eating habits; out of sight, out of mind," says Snyder. The specifics depends on what personal healthy eating goals you plant to set for the year, but generally Snyder recommends clearing out any item that contains artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners, or high fructose corn syrup.

While it may feel wasteful to get rid of uneaten items, English insist it's okay to do so in this case (just don't, you know, buy them again in the new year). "Too often we hang onto things we purchased that are not necessarily good for us, but that we don’t want to throw out because we spent money on them," she says. But you don't necessarily need to finish the random frozen pizza in your fridge just because you bought it. "Your health is worth more than that," she says. And check out your city or town's composting programs—lots of food items can be composted instead of just chucked into the trash.

2. Buy healthy pantry items in bulk

When it comes to easy, healthy meals, pantry items are your secret weapon. "Stock up the pantry with dry staples like quinoa, lentils, and chia seeds that you can always have on hand for quick meal options when you’re running low on groceries," Snyder says. "Save money by shopping the bulk section of your grocery store to get these items."

English then advises against storing these items in their original packaging where possible. "Invest in some large glass containers," she suggests. "These can help you organize your kitchen and be used to store bulk bin items, which happen to be some of the healthiest foods in the diet including whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds."

3. Don't be afraid to stockpile produce

"Whole food starches like sweet potatoes or spaghetti squash last a long time in your pantry," says English. "Don’t be afraid to stock up on these veggies because they have a long shelf life—up to five weeks in the pantry and two to three months in the fridge." It'll ensure you almost always have a healthy starchy staple on your hands when you're in a pinch.

Illustration by Well+Good Creative

4. Reorganize your refrigerator

Now that you have lots of new staples for your fridge (and have purged all the expired stuff), do your future self a favor and reorganize the fridge to optimize freshness and make healthy ingredients easier to find on a regular basis. As in the illustration above, keep your meal-prepped foods, leftovers, milk (or alt-milk) and water on the top shelf; nut butters, dairy products, and smaller dairy items on the middle shelf; eggs and meat on the bottom shelf; fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the crisper; and condiments in the door of the fridge.

5. Engage Santa's help (or leverage end-of-year deals)

"Add essential or new and interesting kitchen gadgets to your holiday wish list," says English. "Sticking to your nutrition goals is much easier when you have the proper equipment. A good blender or food processor can make the difference between delicious, nutrient-rich soups, sauces, and dips and inedible chunky, grainy mush. Having an air fryer may make the difference between vegetables that get eaten and those that end up going bad in the refrigerator." (If you're not sure where to start, here are some essential cooking gadgets that every healthy cook needs.)

6. Load up on flavor-enhancing ingredients

Most of us could stand to eat less sodium, but there are ways to get flavor in your food without relying on the salt shaker. Be sure to add spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, and chili powder to your pantry—all of which can be combined in infinitely creative different ways to boost the flavor of seemingly basic meals like salmon and roasted vegetables. And you can't go wrong with shopping the spice aisle at Trader Joe's.

If you're looking to branch out a bit more, experiment with some finds from the sea. "Sea veggies, like organic seaweed or dulse flakes [dried red algae], are great to have in the pantry for a salty, crunchy fix. Throw them on top of a salad or just snack on them plain! They’re packed with micronutrients, like calcium and potassium, and are especially great for your hair," says Snyder.

7. Make a plan to satiate your sweet tooth

"Keep organic dark chocolate on hand for a sweet treat—even a small square will help to curb your sweet tooth cravings without overdoing it," Snyder says. "I stash my dark chocolate in the freezer; it keeps me from staring at it every time I open the fridge or pantry, which leads to more nibbles here and there."

Planning a new year fridge revamp? Here's a shelf-by-shelf guide to engendering icebox envy. Plus, sneak a peek at the wellness-oriented kitchens of the future.

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