Spring is finally here and what better time to take stock of your lifestyle habits and make some positive changes than a new season! You probably think of spring cleaning in terms of your wardrobe and closets, but how about spring cleaning your eating habits?!
I’m not talking about “clean eating,” the ever popular trend touted by celebrities and hashtagged all over Instagram. The intention behind “clean eating” is to encourage the consumption of “whole,” “real” foods – items that are minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible, such as raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and oils. This is all well and good, however, the implication with “clean eating” is that if you veer from it, you’re eating “dirty.” And that’s something I can’t get behind.
Surely we can all benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats – statistics show Americans don’t get enough of many of these foods. But a can of beans, a bag of frozen vegetables, a slice of whole grain bread – all processed foods – are all healthy ingredients that can and should be included in a well-balanced diet. Taking time to clean your pantry, fridge, and freezer can help you actively assess what you are eating.
Healthy eating starts with the ingredients you have on hand. You can’t make a nutrient-rich breakfast, lunch, or dinner if your kitchen isn’t stocked with the right foods. And if your pantry isn’t organized, you certainly won’t know what you have.
The first step to spring cleaning your eating habits is to take stock of what’s lurking in those cabinets. To begin, remove everything from your pantry and discard anything that has expired or been open for longer than you remember. Next, organize the remaining items by category – grains, canned goods, pasta, spices, snack foods, etc. Make a list of anything you need to replace or new foods you want to add. Finally, before you put back the food you’re keeping, clean all the shelves. Replace food items based on the categories you organized so you know where to find everything.
Similar to the pantry, you want to make sure your fridge and freezer are filled with fresh ingredients, not moldy cheese, spoiled milk, or a frozen casserole that’s been in there for over six months. Empty the fridge and freezer, clean the shelves and drawers, and sort through everything before you put it all back. Make note of what you need to replace, being mindful not to buy items that you didn’t previously use. If you have a bottle of BBQ sauce that’s barely been touched but has been open for months, perhaps that’s an item you don’t need to replace.
The best part of cleaning out your dress closet is that you will likely need to replace some old clothes with new, right?! When it comes to your kitchen, the same is true. Head to the supermarket and farmers market with a list in hand and stock up on non-perishable items for your pantry and fruit, vegetables, dairy, and meats for your fridge and freezer. Spring is a fantastic time of year to add some new fruits and vegetables to your diet. Fill your shopping cart with items you know you’ll enjoy, and add a couple of produce items that you may have never tried before. Artichokes, asparagus, leeks, and rhubarb are delicious options during the spring months and so much fun to experiment with in the kitchen.
There is always room for all foods in the diet, but with the abundance of fresh produce that you’ve just stocked up on, making healthier choices will be so much easier.
Write down your menu for the week to stay on track and prevent those last minute pantry raids. Search Pinterest and your favorite websites for spring recipes that you’ll be excited to make – it’s much easier to stick to healthy eating habits when you’re cooking something you actually enjoy! And don’t forget dessert! Just because you’re spring cleaning your eating habits doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy an occasional treat. Make some minor modifications like using low-calorie sweeteners in place of some of the sugar in a recipe or swapping vegetable oils for butter.
Taking the time to clean up your eating habits now will make for a fun and enjoyable spring and summer to come!
Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and culinary nutrition expert. She has extensive experience as a recipe developer, writer, editor, and speaker. She is the co-author of We Can Cook: Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron’s, 2011), past columnist for the Culinary Corner column in Today’s Dietitian Magazine, and maintains a popular blog at JessicaLevinson.com. Jessica is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and various Dietetic Practice Groups of the AND, including Nutrition Entrepreneurs, Food and Culinary Professionals, and Dietitians in Business and Communications. Follow her out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.