• Julia Axelbaum, RD, CSOWM

Kitchen Makeover: Healthy Eating Starts with a Healthy Space

A Special Series on Making Over Parts of Your Life to Eat Better and Lose Weight - Part 1

A kitchen makeover. Yes, that’s my suggestion to help you lose weight, maintain weight and live a healthy lifestyle. The good news—no unreliable contractors, no pricey appliances, and no mess.

Ready for your kitchen makeover? Let’s get started.

We begin by creating the right environment. Surround yourself with healthy food that will help you reach your goal and make a space that nurtures healthy habits. This is key to achieving your weight goals, because though it’s a common belief, will power alone will not do it. Simply put, the way you organize your kitchen—from fridge to pantry to counters—influences your appetite, cravings, and ultimately your weight.

Below, I’m sharing tips and ideas that I’ve recommended to my clients who successfully lost weight and kept it off that may help you as well.

7 Clever Kitchen Makeover Ideas for a Healthier You

1. Start with the refrigerator.

To begin, pull everything out of your fridge and freezer and start fresh. Throw out (or give away) anything that you just don’t need, haven’t consumed in a while or expired. Take out the drawers and shelves and give them a good clean. Make a mental note of what you have so that you can plan for future food purchases.

2. Make a List and Plan Your Grocery Shopping

Take the time to plan out your meals for the week, think about what foods you would like, the foods you know that will help you reach your goal—and then create your grocery list. This extra time planning in the beginning can pay off at dinner time in the end. Before heading out, check in with yourself to see if you’re hungry. If you are, have a snack that combines protein and produce: an apple with peanut butter or carrots with hummus, so that you are in full control to make healthy choices when you get there.

3. When You’re at the Supermarket

Treat your grocery cart like a plate by dividing it into three sections—the main area, bottom shelf, and child’s seat. Fill the main area with fruits and vegetables (it’s the biggest and we want half our plate to be produce), use the bottom shelf for proteins (chicken, turkey, fish, etc.), and use the smallest area, the child’s seat, for your carb-y foods (cereals, bars, breads) which provide fuel for your body and fiber to help keep you feeling full while losing weight. 

Try staying mostly on the perimeter of the store where the fresh foods are. If you need to go down an aisle for something (whole wheat bread, nuts, brown rice etc.) leave your cart so you’re not tempted to just casually throw in other foods you may not really want (or need!). 

Check out the handy checklist below.

4. Restock and Organize Your Refrigerator

Place healthy grab-and-go foods in the front and center of your fridge—hard boiled eggs, deli turkey, Greek yogurts or zip lock bags filled with ready-to-eat veggies (mini peppers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes) —so they'll be right there waiting for you. If your shopping trip led you to buy more indulgent snacks (for yourself or family) along with the healthy food, store them so they’re not at eye level, behind healthier options, or hidden in the crisper drawer out of sight. We’ve all opened the fridge door out of hunger or boredom and simply grabbed the first thing we see—so make sure you see the food you want to be eating and store that food in clear containers!

5. Refresh Your Pantry

Like your fridge, keep healthy staples—quinoa, nuts, canned beans, high-fiber cereals—front and center with easy access. Conversely, keep higher calorie foods like chips and sugary treats in the back, on the highest shelves, and in opaque containers. Sometimes, “out of sight, out of mind” is the best strategy. 

When it comes to reading food labels for packaged carbs, think of this simple equation: fiber + protein should equal more than the sugar.  Aim to keep your carb serving to no more than 150 calories and the higher in fiber, the better! 

Check out the handy checklist of pantry staples below.

6. Declutter Your Countertops 

Like you did with your fridge, clear your countertop. Take away cereal boxes, cookie jars or candy bowls and replace them with things you would feel good about eating like a bowl of fresh fruit or a box of cherry tomatoes. 

Remember “in sight, in mouth”. One study found that people who had chips or cookies visible on their kitchen counter weighed about 10 pounds more than people with bare counters. And, people who openly displayed breakfast cereals on their kitchen counters weighed about 21 pounds more than those who did not! Small steps make a big difference.

7. Downsize the Dishes

Check your cabinets and decide whether your dishes are the “right” size. We already know that eating smaller portions is smart so eating off smaller dishes will make it easier to control portions. Seeing a full plate of food helps cue you to feel more full, even when you’ve served yourself a smaller portion.  

Another good strategy—not quite part of the makeover, but still very helpful—is to serve main dishes from the stove/kitchen counter and only bring salads or veggies to the table. This gives you time to think whether or not you really need seconds, and if the veggies are in front of you, you’re more likely to choose those instead. 

Stick to this order at meal times: Start by drinking a big glass of water, then always make your first bite veggies before anything else. Next have some protein, and lastly enjoy your carb. Sticking to this order will help slow you down to be more mindful at meal times, and helps you fill up first on the lower calorie foods. If you think you may want seconds, that’s ok—just make sure to follow the same order again.

Once the kitchen makeover is complete, we’ll move on to another makeover—mindset about food, eating and your body.

Until then, eat well and stay healthy.

Keep this checklist handy while restocking your refrigerator and pantry.

No Cook, Grab and Go Protein Ideas:

  • Cottage cheese

  • Plain greek yogurt

  • Deli turkey slices

  • Tuna pouches

  • Pre-cooked hard boiled eggs

  • Individual hummus containers

  • Nut butter packets

Freezer Must Haves: 

  • Steamer bags of vegetables (and veggie spirals!)

  • High protein burgers (veggie, chicken, lean ground beef, tuna, turkey, black bean)

  • Meatless “beef” crumbles

  • High fiber bread or tortillas (to easily toast)

  • Individually portioned fish filets (salmon, tilapia)

  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

  • Pre-cooked grilled chicken

  • Edamame

Pantry Favorites:

  • Canned hearts of palm

  • Low/no sugar oatmeal packets

  • High fiber cereals (at least 5g fiber/serving)

  • Quinoa/Brown Rice microwaveable Pouches

  • Individual nut packets

  • Lean, low sodium beef jerky

  • Canned beans (black, chickpeas, kidney, pinto)

  • Protein powder and bars 

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