Hospital:

How to Spring Clean Your Pantry to Support Weight Loss

April 14, 2022

Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version in March 2021. 

A change in seasons may be a great time for a fresh start. If you’re a self-proclaimed “spring cleaner,” you can also reflect on your overall health and what you put inside your body – not just your house, suggests lead bariatric dietitian, Andrea Bookoff, MS, RD.

To help reorganize your pantry and dietary habits for fulfilling meals and sustainable weight loss, Andrea shared the tips below:

Keep Your Food Organized

For starters, a cluttered pantry can foster unhealthy eating habits. We tend to eat with our eyes, so we’re more inclined to grab what’s directly in front of us – ignoring what’s pushed to the back. Not only can this lead to waste, but it diminishes the diversity of our diets, as we eat the same thing over and over again.

A cluttered pantry can also be disrespectful to your body. Food is a key form of self-love. If you eat recklessly, your body won’t be nourished properly.

Start with a System

If you have the time – or perhaps a rainy day to take advantage of – unload everything from your pantry and sort through it. For some, this may be unrealistic, but you can certainly clean and re-organize shelf by shelf over time.

Next, come up with a system. Everyone’s lifestyle is different, so you’ll likely respond best to a system that makes the most sense to you. Plus, you have to make the most of the room you have.

You can reorganize items by meal (i.e., your favorite ingredients for oatmeal, smoothies, pasta dishes, and so on would be grouped together), or you can categorize your items into oils; spices; grains; starches; canned veggies; canned fruits; canned fishes; snacks; etc.

You may separate sections with baskets or bins, color-code, or labels. One of the most helpful tricks, however – particularly for bariatric patients focusing on proper portion control – is to store things in see-through containers or jars.

When you keep cereal, chips, and pasta in their packing, it can perpetuate poor portion control. When you can see into a container, and see how much food is left, you can reflect on quickly you go through it. This can help us determine what to replenish more often and what to maybe cut back on.

Toss Foods You Don’t Need or that Don’t Serve Your Health Goals

First, you can get rid of anything inedible: expired, rotten, or stale items. If there are snacks and other non-perishables that you don’t want anymore – or maybe you over-stocked for a family celebration – you can donate them to a nearby food bank, coworkers, or neighbors. This way, they’re out of your sight and not readily tempting you.

Next, take a close look at nutrition labels, especially on newer items or ones you don’t use as often. If you don’t recognize an ingredient or can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t put it in your body.

It’s also possible that your health needs, goals, and medications have changed. What works for us nutrition-wise one month or year may look very different down the road. It’s important to adjust your food-buying habits to match that.

Stock Up on Staples and Diverse Foods

Any staple food items that you always run out of are ones you should stock up on. Not to mention, buying in excess may not fit your lifestyle or budget. Sometimes you don’t know what you want to cook a couple of weeks out, and that’s okay.

This is also a great place to think about what you can add to promote long-lasting fullness, rather than what you can remove. This way, there are no feelings of restriction or deprivation. Many western dietary habits lack fiber intake. One of my top recommendations is to add color to your day with fruits and vegetables – whether fresh, frozen, canned, or in 100% fruit juice. These small changes add up over time and can trickle into our other choices as well.

Redefine Convenience Meals

Healthy convenience meals, made with wholesome ingredients, often come with a higher price tag. Pre-packaged foods may also not be an appropriate breakdown of the nutrients your body needs. If you find yourself crunched for time, it’s best to stock up on canned goods (tuna, chicken, salmon, beans, veggies, olives, etc.); frozen whole fruits and vegetables; and packed whole grains (brown rice, potatoes, eggs, etc.), which all have a long shelf-life and can be easy to assemble into a well-balanced meal.

Take Advantage of Seasonal Favorites

It’s a common misconception that healthy foods are always more expensive than junk food. You can actually find plenty of fresh and affordable produce at local farmer’s markets and grocery stores. Usually, what’s in season is cheaper.

Some springtime favorites in New Jersey include:

  • Artichokes
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Corn
  • Fava beans
  • Green Garlic
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Thyme, parsley, and other herbs
  • Wild Mushrooms

Of course, nobody – nor pantry – is perfect. What’s important is that we remember to reflect on what we buy and consume to help us stay on track!