Kitchen Focus

January brings a host of New Year's resolutions with it and many of them are all about living healthier lifestyles and losing weight. This month, to help out we're offering tips and hints about how to put your refrigerator on a diet that will make living healthier easy for you. In the coming months, we'll tackle some related topics, including:
  • Slimming Your Pantry,
  • Watch Those Liquid Calories, and
  • Kitchen Tools to Tackle Fat

But we're starting with the place where most of us fall prey to unhealthy eating ... the refrigerator.

We begin with the biggest task of all: taking stock of where you are and where you need to go. It's easy to eat food that's unhealthy if that's what your kitchen is full of or the healthy food you do have available are difficult to enjoy. So, when you have a bit of time to devote to the task (I'd recommend at least an hour), open your refrigerator and take everything out. Separate the good for you (or at least better for you) foods from the rest. Do you have things like lowfat yogurt, whole grain bread, fresh fruits and vegetables and skim milk in there? Or are you faced with high fat, creamy dressings, sugary sodas and lots of salty cold cuts? This isn't a time to berate yourself, but it is a time to make plans and stick to them.

Begin by throwing any items that aren't at their prime out ... after all, rotten vegetables won't encourage you to eat healthy! Then either remove unhealthy items you won't use (throw them out, give them to charity, whatever), plan to carefully use those that remain, and vow to replace them as they are used with healthier options. For example, if you've been using whole milk, replace it with reduced fat milk the next time you're shopping. If you move directly to skim milk you might actually hurt your efforts by making the change so obvious. You might want to go for 1% milk for a month or so before trying skim milk -- you'd be surprised at how the gradual change makes it easier.

Make eating healthy easy. Stock lowfat yogurt in individual containers or keep a larger tub and fun stir-ins like nuts and raisins available. Having fresh fruits and vegetables on hand is good. Having them ready to eat is even better. The orange consumption in my home skyrocketed after I simply peeled and sectioned a few oranges every Sunday morning and popped them in a container in the refrigerator for easy snacking. If having carrot sticks front and center in the refrigerator isn't enough to encourage a healthy habit, try mixing together a simple, healthy ranch dip with an envelope of dressing mix and low or no fat yogurt. Keep the dip right beside the carrot sticks and watch them become a healthy after-school snack. Another fun option at my home is frozen grapes or blueberries. Pop a bunch in the freezer and let them sit out for a couple of minutes before enjoying ... they are almost like a sinful sorbet!

If portion control is an issue, try pre-portioning snacks and meals to help yourself out. If you've got leftovers, separate them into appropriately portioned meals for quick lunches or dinners during the week. One way to help with portion control is to use the lunchbox method ... even if you are eating at home, put together a meal as though you were going to take a lunch to work or the park. Just make sure that you are choosing portions wisely! The recommended serving of cooked meat is only 3 ounces -- or about the size of a deck of playing cards. A serving of vegetables should be about the size of a tennis ball and a pasta serving should be no larger than a Walkman radio.

Finally, if keeping track of what's a healthy choice and what isn't is making things difficult, try organizing your refrigerator so that you have a small area (remember, small) that contains those once-in-a-while food choices and the other areas of your refrigerator contain those fruits and vegetables and yogurt and lean meat that we all know make up a healthy diet.

One of the biggest advantages of carefully organizing a well-stocked healthy refrigerator is that meal planning and preparation suddenly become simpler tasks. That's good news since one of the reasons that many people say that they don't eat a healthy diet is that they don't have the time to do it. A little refrigerator makeover will leave you with an organized tool in your efforts to build a healthy lifestyle. So take a little time and get your refrigerator in order and watch pounds come off and years added to your life. Not a bad payoff for a little investment of time and organizing, right?

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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