This kitchen makeover guide is here to walk you through the process of cleaning out your fridge and pantry one healthy step at a time. Decision fatigue is a real thing in this day and age! Whether you’re buying a new washing machine or simply trying to pick a cereal brand for the kids, the vast options available to us make the decision-making process overwhelming. Well, it’s not any different when it comes to cleaning out your fridge and pantry. What should you keep and what to throw away?
We get it! Food labels can be misleading. Do you trust the “healthy whole grain” marketing message or do you cautiously inspect the label? Not only that but throwing out food that you’ve spent money on can feel extremely wasteful. Don’t worry! That’s why we’re here to help.
Work through the various stages below one-by-one depending on your level of comfort. You don’t have to do this all in one day but it might feel really good to completely revolutionize your kitchen so that you can start off confident that your home environment has you set up for success with your nutrition.
To get a pdf copy of this guide CLICK HERE.
Use it or Lose it
Before we get into the complex waters of whether a food might be a good choice or not for your individual needs, we can start simply by evaluating whether something is still fit for consumption. Whether it’s fresh or packaged, if the item is past its prime, it’s time to “use it, or lose it”. You’d be surprised once you start digging into the back of your fridge as to how many condiments you’ll find that are past their use by date or maybe that raspberry jelly you bought for grandma 2 years ago has now grown a nice layer of mold.
If anything fits this criteria then you can safely ditch this food with zero guilt. It is NOT fit for human consumption. If it is edible but close to the end of its life you can use it. If it is off smelling, moldy, stale or otherwise showing signs of age, then let it go! Similarly, don’t forget the freezer. If you see visible freezer burn or can’t recognize the food, then throw it out.
Examine your Fats
A simple change you can make that can dramatically improve your health on a cellular level, is to replace refined vegetable oils with healthy, properly prepared fats that the body recognizes and knows how to utilize correctly. There are two places that these types of fats typically lurk;
(1) standalone fats & oils, and
(2) fats in packaged goods.
Although these oils may make our foods more affordable, they skew are fatty acid profile towards one that’s high in omega-6 fats and away from omega-3 fats. This is significant because although we need both, an over-abundance of omega-6 fats contributes to inflammation and cellular damage which in turn leads to diseases like cancer.
Step 1: Clean out the vegetable oils from the pantry
Canola, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, corn, peanut, rice bran, margarine and generic vegetable oil should all be removed. Replace these with fats like, tallow, lard, ghee, duck fat, or coconut oil for higher heat cooking, and olive oil, avocado oil and butter for finishing or low heat cooking.
Here’s a helpful smoke point chart to give you guidance on the maximal temperatures for these fats. Of the cooking fats/oils below, oils colored red are those that you should try to avoid, yellow-colored oils are great to consume but not always best for cooking (especially not at high heat) and green-colored oils are great for both cooking and consuming without cooking.
Step 2: Check packages
Look for foods in your pantry or fridge that contain these same oils (crackers, cookies, salad dressings, condiments etc.) Also look for anything that says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” as these are trans fats which cause free radical damage to our cells. If a product has trans fats, it is best to get rid of it immediately and find an alternative. Do not feel bad about throwing these items out, they do not need to be donated.
Don’t forget to check your dressings and dips as these are common places for poor quality oils and artificial ingredients. For dressings you can easily make your own at home from extra virgin olive oil and aromatics.
As an example, here are the ingredients listed in Girard’s Light Champagne dressing which boasts it’s low 60 calorie contribution per 2 tbsp serving:
INGREDIENTS: Water, Canola And Soybean Oil, White Wine (Contains Sulfites), Vinegars (Champagne And White Wine), Sugar, Salt, Mustard Seed, Monosodium Glutamate, Garlic*, Onion*, Spice, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate Added To Maintain Freshness, Molasses, Calcium Disodium Edta Added To Protect Flavor, Chives*, Tamarind.
Note: This can be a big step as many food products contain the types of vegetable oils mentioned above. You might not be quite ready to remove all of these items from your pantry or fridge. Evaluate how frequently you consume them and if you do have the resources, consider or look for healthier alternatives – preferably they will be whole food versions but even if it is a swap for another type of package food, if it’s a better option then go for it! You need to assess and evaluate your own needs and level of tolerance.
TIP: I recommend picking out the top 3-5 food items you use regularly and finding an immediate replacement for these.
Ditch the Chemicals
Food dyes, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavorings, MSG, antibiotics, thickening agents – the list of manmade chemicals being added to our food today is crazy! These artificial ingredients, not only fail to provide the body with any nutrition, but they actually cause damage to our endocrine, digestive, cardiovascular, immune and neurological systems.
Food dyes (e.g. Red #40, Yellow #6, Blue #1 & #2) have been linked to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, chromosomal damage and thyroid cancer among other conditions.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose & saccharine are made with chemicals known to be neurotoxins and carcinogens, effecting brain function. Some of these chemicals also affect your weight by triggering the hormone that instructs your body to store fat and decreasing levels of serotonin (which regulates mood, sleep cycle and digestion).
Sodium nitrites and nitrates are food additives used to preserve, flavor and add color to processed meats like bacon, ham & hot dogs. They’re carcinogenic and can negatively affect the function of the liver and pancreas (where insulin is produced).
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer often found in soups, seasonings, frozen entrees and even restaurant foods. It is known to overexcite brain cells in the hypothalamus. Studies have shown that it can increase hunger and cause stronger food cravings. Chinese meals as commonly prepared in western society often contain MSG, which is why you may find yourself lurking in the pantry looking for something else to eat not too long after finishing your meal.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are preservatives commonly found in cereals, chewing gum and potato chips. In large quantities, both can cause tremendous damage in the body, from disrupting your endocrine system, to producing cancer causing compounds.
Antibiotics are often administered to farm animals to either treat infections or promote growth. Unfortunately they are passed on to us through the meat and dairy products we consume. A steady concentration of antibiotic residue may affect transfer of antibiotic resistant bacteria to humans, as well as having immunopathological effects, producing allergic reactions, causing cellular damage, kidney disease, liver damage, reproductive disorders and potentially cancer. (1) However, the full extent of long-term effects of antibiotics on human health is still not yet known.
For a glossary of food additives, click here. In general however, these types of items are easy to spot because they will not be recognizable as food or even pronounceable. Some will use a number or acronym (like red #40 or BHA) or have a process attached to it, like hydrolyzed yeast extract.
Hunt these chemicals out and again, if you can isolate the top 3-5 foods in your home that contain these ingredients and find alternatives, then you’re off to a great start.
Weed out the Sugar
Processed sugar unfortunately lurks in many more food products than we’re aware of – marinara sauce, bread, instant oatmeal, protein bars, flavored yogurt, canned soup, peanut butter, condiments, salad dressings, flavored water and more! While we encourage people to find some flexibility with their diets, finding room to enjoy desserts around the holidays or for special celebrations, we want you to develop some awareness about your daily sugar consumption.
Sadly, although it tastes amazing, cane sugar does not provide our bodies with nourishment like other foods. Whether weight loss or general health are your primary motivations for improving your nutrition, making an effort to remove tempting sugary treats from your pantry and swapping out foods where sugar is hiding, will undoubtedly improve your results.
If sweet foods are especially triggering for you then we HIGHLY recommend taking this step. We know this can be a tall order for those of you where sweet treats provide a source of comfort during stressful or emotional times, but that makes for an even stronger case as to why these types of foods should not be brought into the house. Your kids don’t need Oreos or Reese’s peanut butter cups any more than you do!
To help you with this stage, think about the good-better-best continuum. If you can’t completely rid your pantry or home of sweets, then how can you improve the environment just a little? Maybe you just start off by minimizing the quantity and variety of different tempting foods you have on hand. Or perhaps as a “next level” you can switch out traditional candy and cookies for dark chocolate sweetened with honey or bake cookies with a natural sweetener like monk fruit or stevia. Places like Thrive Market and Whole Foods are also great places to find better alternatives to your typical favorites.
Find Healthy Alternatives
For some of the foods listed above, here are some suggested alternatives:
- Traditional white bread – sprouted whole grain bread (Ezekiel bread by Food4Life)
- Instant Oatmeal – overnight steel cut oats sweetened with a little honey & cinnamon if needed
- Granola bars or protein bars – make healthy homemade alternatives, or switch out for Perfect Food bars or RX bars.
- Flavored yogurt – switch for Greek yogurt with berries and a little honey if needed
- Canned soup – Homemade is best and so easy to make! Try our Chicken Tortilla Soup or Lemon Kale & White Bean Soup.
- Peanut butter – ditch the Skippy or Jif and go for organic if you can. Many health food stores allow you to make your own in store from nothing but pure peanuts. If you’re inclined to make your own, all you need is a food processor.
- Condiments & Sauces – check the labels and look for those with reduced sugar and minimal additional ingredients. Here’s a great low sodium, no sugar added marinara sauce alternative.
- Salad dressings – get yourself an oil spritzer or oil and vinegar dispenser so you can easily drizzle the desired amount of olive oil over your salad, veggies or protein. The New Primal brand (available at health food stores like Whole foods) also has some great options for healthy dressings, or make your own from scratch with just oil, vinegar, lemon juice & a little salt and pepper.
Replace Refined Grains
Not everyone needs to be on a grain-free diet. However, bleached white flour or wheat flour enriched with synthetic vitamins and minerals is not a whole, nourishing food and does not add tremendous value to your diet. If you tolerate grains, then try to switch out some of your foods made with white flour for sprouted flours instead or products made with traditional grains like einkorn, spelt, kamut, sorghum, or pseudocereals like quinoa & buckwheat. You can also switch with gluten-free flours like coconut and almond flour.
Don’t forget, just because you make a change in the home to remove some of these types of foods so they become less of a staple, does not mean that you need to completely eliminate them from your life (unless you do experience food sensitivities). If your kid wants to go out for pizza for their birthday, then by all means enjoy! Find an appropriate balance that works for your level of tolerance so that you can enjoy sustainable, daily improvements.
What to Add?
As a general rule, your goal is to get as close to original, whole food as possible (most of the time). If a food is separated from its original source by more than 3 steps, minimize its contribution to your diet.
As a reminder, here’s a shortlist of processed foods that are commonly found in the typical American home:
- Snack foods (like pretzels, chips, crackers, granola bars, cookies, cakes)
- Frozen foods (like “TV dinners”, mozzarella sticks, waffles)
- Instant foods (like mac and cheese, instant mashed potatoes, instant pancake mix)
- Whitened foods (like bread, pasta and rice)
- Deli foods (like lunch meat); and
- Cereals (yes, even the “healthy” ones)
So what foods should you include? Well make sure you check out our Superfood Shopping List for a thorough list that you can take to the store.
But here’s a quick summary:
Protein – (Meat, Poultry & Fish)
Choose organic, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised chickens & wild-caught fish for the best quality that is free from chemicals. Avoid larger fish like swordfish or grouper as these larger fish accumulate mercury.
- Lean sirloin or ground beef
- Chicken (breast, thigh and whole)
- Ground turkey
- Turkey, chicken or pork sausage
- Shrimp, crab, oysters & mussels
Dairy & Eggs
To reduce the amount of processing your dairy products are exposed to, choose whole fat dairy where allowable given your own individual needs for fat in your diet. Beware of added sugars in dairy products where fat has been removed. To maximize vitamin D and omega-3 levels in your eggs, purchase organic eggs from chickens that have been pasture-raised. Dairy tolerance is highly individualized, so make sure it does not cause you digestive issues (typically caused by lactose).
- Eggs (from pasture-raised chickens)
- Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
- Full fat milk (from grass-fed cows)
Fruits & Vegetables
Try to purchase fresh, organic produce that’s in season and sourced locally whenever possible. If fresh organic produce is outside of your budget, then frozen is your next best option.
- Apples, pears
- Citrus (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit)
- Tropical Fruit (pineapple, mango, banana)
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries)
- Grapes (red, black, green)
- Peaches, plums
- Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach)
- Red & purples (red peppers, tomatoes, purple cabbage, beets)
- Yellow & oranges (e.g. yellow peppers, squash, carrots)
- Mushrooms, onions
- Green veggies (broccoli, asparagus, zucchini)
Healthy food does not need to be bland. Even a few spices can elevate your meal to chef status! Here are a few basics I recommend including;
- salt & pepper
- fresh garlic
- chilli powder
- onion powder
In addition to the aforementioned stages, you may also find these additional questions beneficial in the decision-making process as you sort through your foods:
- When was the last time I used this?
- Can I make a nutritious meal with this today?
- Does this item have a purpose?
- Do I enjoy eating this? Or will someone else enjoy eating this?
- Will I ever use this?
For items that are still viable but won’t get used, put them in the donate pile to bring to your local food bank. If you have produce that won’t get eaten, toss it in the compost bin or contact your local community garden to see if they take compost donations. Of course, if you need to, toss the old produce knowing that by cleaning out your kitchen today, you’ll be able to reduce food waste in the future.
We hope you enjoyed this kitchen makeover guide! Firstly, we know it’s quite a process and may be one that you approach over the course of several weeks or even months. Secondly, however long it takes you, your body will appreciate the extra lengths you’ve gone to to preserve its overall wellness, so don’t give up! If you liked this article, make sure you check out The Nutrient Dense Kitchen on a Shoestring.
(1) Bacanli, M., Basaran, N. (2019). Importance of antibiotic residues in animal food. Food and Chemical Toxicology, (Volume 125), pp 462-466. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278691519300456
(2)Nutritional Therapy Association. (2020). Culinary Wellness pt.1, Student Guide [PDF Document].
Kitchen Makeover Guide – Own Your Eating with Jason & Roz is written by Roz Ackerman for www.ownyoureating.com