Healthy eating starts in the kitchen and specifically in the pantry. Here are some tips on how to organize your pantry to make better food choices this season.

Spring Cleaning Your Pantry

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Healthy eating starts in the kitchen and specifically in the pantry. Here are some tips on how to organize your pantry to make better food choices this season.  

1. Identify and toss out junk food:

  • By definition, junk food is high in calories, low in nutritional value, and require very little or no preparation.  Items such as cookies, snack cakes, chips, cheese puffs, should be occasional treats and not a staple in the pantry. 
  • Read about more healthy snacking tips.

2. Ditch the sugary drinks:

  • Includes beverages with high amounts of added sugar such as soda, energy drinks, sweet tea, and fruit juice.  If consumed on a daily basis, sugary drinks (and foods) have been linked to obesity and chronic disease. (1, 2) This is especially true if drinks contain high fructose corn syrup. (3, 4).
  • Replace with lemon water or flavored sparkling water with no added sugar.

3. Avoid items that contain partially hydrogenated oil:

  • Eliminate items with hydrogenated oils listed anywhere in the ingredient list. You can avoid this unhealthy fat if you choose whole (non-processed or minimally processed) foods. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as frosting made with shortening, packaged snack cakes, crackers, stick margarine, and fried foods.

4. Check sodium (salt) content of foods:

  • Salt can be found in many unexpected foods from pancake mix to canned goods. It is easy to exceed the daily recommended amount of sodium per day without picking up the salt shaker.
  • Replace with foods labeled as “no salt added” or “low-sodium” defined as having <140 mg sodium per serving. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sodium limit of 1500mg/day for most adults. (5)
  • Choosing dried beans, dried herbs and spices is a way to avoid excess sodium in your diet.

5. Remove refined grain products: 

  • Refined and enriched grains lack fiber and naturally occurring nutrients.  These items include: white bread or white flour products, white rice, most sugar sweetened cereals.
  • Replace with whole grains that are minimally processed and are high in fiber. Look for “100% whole grain” or has “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient.  Remember, you can still get plenty of nutritious carbohydrates from other whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and legumes (i.e. beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.).
  • Read about the top fiber-rich foods.

Other Helpful Tips:

  • Check the expiration dates because some products can start losing their nutritional value after their expiration date.
  • Oils should be kept in a cool, dark, environment and should be checked periodically for freshness. A simple sniff-test will help you determine if it is going bad or rancid.
  • Nuts and seeds can be kept in the freezer or refrigerator to extend their shelf-life.
  • Having a healthier pantry will always lead you to make better choices, and it is an easy step you can take towards improving your health. Let this spring season inspire you to prioritize your nutrition and start new habits.

About the Author
Vanessa Heatwole is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Sentara RMH Medical Center working with outpatients by appointment. Her passions include helping patients meet their weight loss goals, empowering those with eating disorders and teaching how to control diabetes with diet.