You may think of cleaning out the cupboards as a spring cleaning project, but checking to see how long that box of crackers has been there can be a great way to start the new year.
“Kicking off a new year means looking at the fridge, the freezer and the cabinet, and how can you make some changes to increase the quality of the food and work towards better health,” clinical dietitian and Hannaford Supermarket dietitian Marilyn Mills said.
Brrrrr, broccoli (fish, meats and leftovers, too)
Frozen team-bags or boxed vegetables and fruits are a great way to keep fresh produce in your kitchen (and in your diet).
“Their vitamins will be maintained much better frozen, because most fruits and veggies are frozen within hours of being picked,” Mills said. “Certainly when I’m looking and recommending frozen veggies I’d like to try to avoid sauces that have been added, because those will be higher in salt and sodium and will have a higher calorie content. … For fruit I’m looking for no sugar added, so that will resemble the fresh fruit.”
Mills also recommends purchasing frozen fish, or freezing chicken, turkey, beef or any other meat in single-serving portions. That way, protein is accessible for a healthy dinner, and freezing in smaller portions can help with maintaining portion control in cooking.
“The other trick that I have is frozen leftovers,” Mills said. “We might make a great soup, stew or casserole, but we don’t want to eat it in four days in a row. The best thing to do is freeze your soup or casserole in one to two cup portions.”
Of course, freezer burn can ruin any meal. It might seem like common sense, but dating frozen goods and putting new items in the back with older items in the front of the freezer can save time and money.
What’s in your spice rack?
While cleaning out your kitchen, it’s worth taking a look at what spices and herbs you have in stock. Spices and herbs (both whole and ground) add flavor without having to use too much salt.
“I definitely believe in having turmeric,” Mills said. “It can be used in both Indian and Asian, Latino cooking, and it’s an anti-inflammatory. … Also ginger, which helps to calm nausea [and] cinnamon, which can help your blood sugar, especially for people that have diabetes.”
Oregano and basil are both anti-inflammatory and help with digestion.
When it comes to salt, Mills recommends using salts with a crystalline shape, like sea salt or kosher salt instead of granulated salt.
“You can get away with less,” she said. “Your tongue grabs onto the flavor better.”
Although spices don’t spoil, they can lose flavor. Generally, ground spices can last for two or three years before they lose their potency.
Another good way to take advantage of the spice aisle in the grocery store is by finding combination herbs and spices that are salt-free. Mills said Perfect Pinch from McCormick’s is one type of mixture that can be used on meats, fish and vegetables to provide a lot of flavor without using a lot of salt.
Take a second look at your pantry
Typically, a good rule of thumb when it comes to grocery shopping is to stick to the outer aisles (the dairy, meat and produce sections). That’s recommended because the aisles with the most sodium, junk-food and processed foods are located at the center.
That’s giving the center aisles a bad rap, though.
Mills recommends stocking up the pantry with a jar of natural nut butter (peanut or almond for example), canned tuna, canned chicken and canned beans for protein.
She added that checking the prices of organic canned fruits and vegetables is also a good tip for integrating organics into your pantry.
“I’m a big fan of having canned diced tomatoes with no salt added in the winter time, because a lot of people say fresh tomatoes aren’t the same in winter as they are in the summer,” she said.
For grains, Mills said every pantry should be stocked with old-fashioned oats, quinoa, brown rice and multigrain pasta.
There are sneaky products when it comes to grains though. A seemingly healthy box of rice with a flavor packet can pack a lot of salt.
“Unfortunately, most of them have far more sodium than really necessary to give them flavor,” Mills said. “Shake well to distribute and use half of it, and either hold on to the other half to flavor something, or throw it away.”
“When you're starting a new year, you may be interested in weight management or improving your immune system. So I would encourage keeping fresh fruits in your fridge,” Mills said.
When restocking the fridge, consider options like grapefruits and clementines, since citrus are in season. Eggs are a kitchen essential, but they’re also a low-cost and high-quality protein, Mills said. Try switching out sour cream with plain Greek yogurt. Substituting the Greek yogurt in dips or other recipes can help for making smart choices.
Even buttery spreads are getting a makeover.
“With the new guidelines and recommendations to get the trans-fat out, we're going to see more tubbed spreads that are better for us,” Mills said.
As seen in the January 9th, 2014 issue of The Hippo