Creating and sustaining healthy eating habits are essential to long term health, performance, and weight management, and the environment in which you surround yourself can have a huge impact on making healthy changes. Most people don’t realize this, but your kitchen is a significant influence on how you eat. By giving your kitchen a little TLC by way of our kitchen makeover, you can set yourself up on the path to successful and long-lasting healthy eating.
I’m a see-food eater; I see food, and I want to eat it. Many of us are similar – certain foods trigger us into wanting to eat more of them, for whatever reason. I learned a while ago that it was best for me to keep certain foods out of sight (and out of house) if I wanted to make significant changes to my health. Enter the Kitchen Makeover!
This isn’t about renovating your kitchen; it’s about creating an environment where you can be successful in meeting your nutrition goals, removing unnecessary triggers and items that can deter you from healthy eating, and empowering you to make better choices for you and your family. Having a good kitchen setup can also help make meal prep and planning a total breeze. Win!
Stop – Go – Somewhere in Between
To help with classifying which types of foods should stay and which should go, use the Red-Yellow-Green light system.
- Red-Light foods:
These are foods that get a defining “Do not engage!” warning, because they cause unpleasant feelings, make you feel sick, cause you to over-eat, are over-processed, and/or generally just make you feel sub-par. When thinking on red-light foods, we tend to think on candy, chips, pop, and most packaged foods. (Note: some packaged foods are ok – oats, rice, frozen fruit and vegetables are examples of these; it’s hard to tote these around without some sort of container!).
Other foods can be considered red light if they trigger less-than-desirable behaviors, such as bingeing or obsessing over food, even if they’re considered healthy. These not-so-typical examples include things like nuts and nut butters, granola, and “fitness/health” foods (protein bars, gluten free foods, etc).
Red means Stop! Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200! In short, avoid these foods by getting rid of them.
- Yellow-Light foods:
These are foods that are sometimes ok, other times not. Occasionally, in certain environments, or in small amounts, these foods might be fine, but outside of some defined parameters, these foods might cause you to have some issues. For example, you might be ok with having dessert after a meal and being satisfied with a few bites, but if that cake was home, you’d down it like a dog getting into dinner.
Typical examples of yellow light foods might be things like nuts and nut butters and “health/fitness” foods, or other, less-obvious things such as multigrain pasta, sports drinks, and diet sodas.
- Green-Light Foods:
These foods are a go all the time, and you can eat them because they make you feel good mentally and physically, they help move you towards your goals, and they don’t trigger you into unhealthy eating habits. Great examples include:
- fresh produce (i.e. greens, fruit, vegetables, berries, etc.)
- lean protein sources (i.e. chicken, beef, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes, etc.)
- whole grains (i.e. quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, etc.)
- healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nut butters, coconut oil, etc.)
Notice the continuum of red-, yellow- and green-light foods. Some foods might be a red light for one person, but could be a yellow light for others. Foods can also move across a continuum as you improve your eating habits; what was initially a red food six months ago might be a yellow food today. For example, nuts and nut butters used to be a red light food for me, but they’ve now become a yellow-green light food. I know when to use them to my advantage, and they no longer cause me significant issues, but I also know that if I eat too many, that could be a problem.
Time to Mobilize the Troops!
Now that you’ve identified RYG foods, time to get down to the real work. Here’s where we decide what to toss, keep, and mull over until the end of days.
Toss all red light foods, anything expired, and any other foods that trigger you into unhealthy eating behaviors. Keep all green-light foods.
What about yellow light foods?
If you must keep some of these around (because your partner or family member enjoys them), put them in a single place out of sight so that they’re not staring you in the face every day.
What about packaged foods?
Foods that come in boxes, bags or other plastic packages are more likely to be a red or yellow light food for most people. The exception to this might be frozen fruit or vegetables, and packages with pasta/rice/grains. When buying packaged foods, be sure to read the ingredient list and label!
- Does it have a lot of ingredients with complicated names? Ingredient labels are written so that the first ingredient is the one that is most plentiful. If you’re buying frozen carrots and the first ingredient isn’t carrots (and it has a bunch of other ingredients listed), think twice before purchasing.
- When you look at this food, can you tell what it used to be? In other words, how far away is this food from its original form? Can you count the steps of processing from what it used to look like? Not all processing is bad; again, look at the ingredient list. Canned vegetables, fruits, and legumes are perfectly fine so long as they’re not packaged in heavy syrups, brines, salt or sugar.
- When does it go bad? Packaged/process food lasts a lot longer than fresh food. If you leave it out on the counter for a week, only to return to the food in it’s original, “pristine” form, it’s probably not a great idea to consume it.
The kitchen makeover can be a tough one, but it’s an essential first step in creating a healthy environment. You decide on what to keep and what to toss. Make decisions based on your goals, your health, and your lifestyle.
In the next part, we’ll discuss how to re-stock your kitchen with useful tools and ingredients for cooking healthy, tasty meals.