Now that we have officially sprung ahead for daylight savings and warmer weather is in the forecast, it’s time to shrug off all of those bad winter habits – extra couch time, comfort food, etc. – and make a fresh start. One of the best places to tackle first is the fridge; home to virtuous and treat foods alike, getting your fridge prepped for success early on can really help get those good habits back in swing.
So, while you are clearing out the cobwebs and last vestiges of winter, here are a few tips to get your fridge contents in tip-top condition.
1. Keep veggies and fruits visible. We’ve all let it happen – good intentions when buying all of that beautiful produce only to let it wither away in the crisper drawer, totally forgotten. Time to take your produce out of bags and out of drawers! While most of us store our fruits and veggies in plastic bags buried in fridge drawers, that can actually trap moisture and humidity, and hasten the demise of your produce.
Here are some great tips for storing fruits and veggies sans plastic, and some timelines for freshness from Cornell University. To avoid the plastic altogether, bring reusable produce bags to the store or market with you.
2. Think healthy convenience. While we always suggest limiting your intake of processed foods, if you are short on time having some pre-prepared items on hand can be a real lifesaver. Here are our top picks:
- Pre-cut veggies and fruit: you can easily do this yourself for things like carrots and celery (we store a week’s worth in a container filled with cold water), but if you are willing to pay for the convenience most grocery stores have great pre-prepared options
- Pre-portioned cheese: avoid the temptation of having a giant block in the fridge by buying 1 oz slices from the deli counter or wedges like Laughing Cow
- Packaged dips: sure everyone PLANS to make homemade hummus and salsa, but no harm in having in the fridge just in case
- Pre-boiled eggs: many people turn up their nose at this one, but pre-boiled, pre-peeled, vacuum-sealed eggs are a fantastic way to get some quick and easy protein
3. Prep for optimal hydration. Just because it isn’t that warm out yet doesn’t mean hydration is any less important! According to NHANES data (1) less than half of adults consume adequate water, with 80% drinking less than 4 cups per day. Of total fluids, less than 40% is from plain ol’ water, the rest coming from sugar-sweetened beverages (13%), caffeinated drinks (~ 10%) and alcohol (8%).
Why is water best? Well, it’s zero calories with no artificial ingredients, and research suggests improved weight maintenance and loss among those with higher water intakes (2). Plain water can be a bit boring, so plan for hydration success by stocking the fridge with brewed unsweetened decaffeinated black or herbal iced tea (we love hibiscus and peach!) or stocking up on low-sodium sparkling water. See our previous Drink Up! post for additional healthy non-water beverage options.
4. Read condiment labels. Sure, they are convenient but all of those bottled condiments and sauces may be boosting your calorie, sugar and salt intake. Common culprits include mayo, ketchup, BBQ sauce and salad dressings; Low-fat and fat-free versions, while lower in calories, may pack even more of sugar and salt punch.
Here’s a good round-up of less than stellar condiments and suggested swaps with healthier alternatives from Huffington Post. We are by no means saying you have to cut out condiments (we need our hot sauce!), BUT read labels and be a savvy consumer.
5. Focus on brightly coloured produce. When you look inside your fridge, you should see the colours of the rainbow; and no, we’re not talking bright packaging! Vegetable and fruit colour can be a great indication of antioxidant content – often the brighter the better, but not always. Don’t forget about cauliflower! For instance, orange and green veggies indicate a rich source of beta-carotene. When you go grocery shopping, try to buy at least one piece of produce in every shade:
- Red: apples, radishes, tomatoes
- Orange: carrots, squash, oranges
- Yellow: yellow bell pepper, bananas, lemons
- Green: broccoli, leafy greens, asparagus
- Blue: blueberries!
- Purple: grapes, beets, cabbage, eggplant
- White: cauliflower, garlic, turnips
6. Keep easy snacks handy. We always suggest packing an afternoon snack to avoid ravaging the fridge before dinner. Whether you store them at home or at work, here are our favourite handy snacks from the fridge:
- Cut veggies and 2 tbsp hummus
- 1 single-serve Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp peanut butter with and apple slices
- 1 cheese string with an orange
- 2 tbsp almonds (unflavoured) and mini single-serve cottage cheese
7. Be aware of added sugars. The World Health Organization has proposed new guidelines for sugar consumption – down from no more than 10% of total calories to <5% – which equates to ~ 6 tsp per day. To put this is perspective, a can of regular soda has 10 tsp! What can you do to reduce your sugar intake? Here are some common culprits.
- Ditch regular sodas, fruit “drinks” and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- Watch the added sugar in yogurts – aim for < 14 g per serving (only about 8 g is natural)
- Limit portions of obvious added sugars like jam, honey and syrups
- Check your cereals – find a balance of < 8 g of sugar and > 4 g of fibre
- Ditto granola bars – skip anything with > 10 g of sugar and look for > 4 g fibre
The new Nutrition Facts panel proposed by the FDA will finally distinguish added sugars from those that are naturally occurring… BUT that is a ways off. In the meantime, look at the ingredient list – if sugar or its ilk (note: anything with “-ose”) is in the first three ingredients listed, look for a better option.