My husband, Mark, loves visiting my family. There is always something to eat and the refrigerator is perpetually well-stocked with every imaginable food from exotic condiments to fresh cheeses and lots of delicious leftovers. Opening our fridge, on the other hand, is like peering into a cold, white abyss. The shelves are often bare and whatever items remain defy any semblance of edibility. I admit that keeping food in the house hasn’t always been one of my best practices. On the flip side, we don’t keep a lot of junk in there either. With a new year, perhaps it’s time for a fresh start for your fridge.
Have you figured out what’s lurking in the back of your fridge? Is it mystery meat or some sort of science experiment? Now is a great time to clean everything out and start fresh. Here are three steps in your refrigerator renovation:
- Identify It — Try categorizing your refrigerator and pantry shelves. Eggs and dairy on one shelf, meat on another. Veggies in the vegetable bin, fruit in the fruit bin, and condiments in the door. At a glance you’ll be able to tell what you have and what you need.
- Label It - check the labels of everything in your pantry and fridge. Is sugar one of the top five ingredients? How about saturated fat? Can you figure out where it is manufactured? Is there an expiration date? If you are watching your weight, be sure to put healthier foods on the top and middle shelves — you are more likely to grab what’s in front of you. Leave the less healthy foods for the bottom shelves where you’re less tempted to indulge.
- Launch It — If there’s foil or plastic wrap around it and you can’t tell where the wrap ends and the food begins, throw it out. If an item is past its expiration date, expel it. If you know you’re never going to eat it, pitch it. If you are tempted, toss it.
Are you guilty of being a fridge zombie? You know, staring mindlessly at an open refrigerator in the hope that somehow keeping the door open will help you decide what to eat. I’ve never found it to work and usually get scolded for wasting energy by air conditioning the kitchen. When it comes to eating right in the new year, practice the three P’s: Plan, Prepare and Portion. Planning, preparing and portioning your food not only prevents mindless eating but it also saves money and protects your waistline.
- Plan — set a weekly meal plan by deciding each Sunday, for example, what you plan to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I like to keep my meal planning simple and duplicatable. I have two or three meal options that I rotate each week. This week it’s seafood and chicken. Next week it may be egg dishes, whole grain pasta meals and a beef dish. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually great days to hit the grocery store as many stores offer sales and discounts especially on protein like fish, poultry, beef and pork.
- Prepare — is there a day of the week that you are home most often? Make that your prep day and prepare some meals in advance so that you can easily cook or reheat them throughout the week. I roast almonds on Sundays to have as snacks throughout the week. You can also boil eggs to have on hand especially when you’re out the door early so that breakfast becomes portable and convenient. My favorite pre-prepped foods are chicken breasts and home-made turkey/spinach burgers. They can be easily cooked in bulk, individually packaged and frozen so you’re prepped for a quick after work meal or a packed lunch.
- Portion — small glass containers are a great way to plan your portions. Measure out veggies in 2 cup portions to grab and go. Portioning out leftovers works great as well. You can get a divided glass storage container for your veggies, complex carbs and protein that can be easily reheated — that’s fast food the healthy way!
For those of you who are either deployed or find yourself on the road a lot, eating at the chow hall or in restaurants makes it a bit more challenging to control your food choices but not impossible. You can still plan ahead. Check out the week’s menu in advance. Rather than looking at a menu or buffet line when you are ravenous, you can sidestep the distractions and go for the food on your plan for the week. If possible, ask for meals prepared the way you might prepare them at home. For portion control, choose a salad plate versus a dinner plate. You’ll feel satisfied that your plate is full without overindulging.
We certainly are blessed in this country to have abundant sources of safe and healthy food choices. Unfortunately, our lifestyle and habits often fall short of eating well and current trends in food imports can be equally challenging*. With a little advanced preparation, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying easier, faster and healthier meals everyday. I guess I’d better head out to the grocery store…I’ve got a fridge to stock!
* (Next week we’ll talk about allergies, food triggers and safer food sources.)
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“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. –Virginia Woolf”
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.