I'm not talking about checking expiration dates or scrubbing the crud out of your tile grout. I'm talking about taking a critical look at our very own pantries and making healthier changes to our home food environment. Yes, there are so many other factors that influence the way we eat. This could include how close we are to fast-food, what's affordable to us, how our parents ate, or whether we eat meals as a family1, 2, 3.
Even TV-watching has been shown to influence eating habits among adolescents. This is related to the prevalence of food messages, the majority of which promote foods high in fat, sugar and sodium4, 5, 6. TV-watching adolescents tend to prefer unhealthy foods and are more likely to ask their parents to buy them. Kids who also had access to junk food in the home were more likely to consume it regardless of how many fruits and vegetables were also available.
So how do we make our environment work for us? How can we set ourselves up for success and role model healthy eating habits? Let's start by REALLY spring cleaning our pantry. We've come up with a few suggestions.
1. Purge the junk.
This is a huge step and can be a difficult one but I'm a firm believer in the saying: see no junk, eat no junk. The less you're exposed to junkfood, the less likely you will eat it.
Start by tossing out the obviously unhealthy items in your pantry. Some common culprits include: refined sugar, cake mixes, high-sugar cereals, microwave popcorn, high-sodium canned soups, chips, candies and cookies. You might prefer to donate any unopened non-perishable items to your local food bank. There are also so many other uses for sugar. I marked my 1 kg bag of sugar as "dirty" and have been using it for body scrubs and bug traps! Mmm..
2. Build your clean collection.
Purchase healthy pantry alternatives in bulk and on an as-needed basis. Replacing all your pantry items at once can get expensive and overwhelming. For instance, try starting with what you'll need for the upcoming That Clean Life challenge (Lighten Up Part 1!). Here are some suggestions for clean alternatives:
- Fat: coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, other flavourful nut and seed oils
- Flour: almond flour, oat flour, coconut flour
- Sugar: dates, honey, maple syrup
- Snacks: vegetable chips, brown rice tortillas, popcorn kernels, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, dark chocolate
- Other: quinoa, brown rice pasta, soba noodles, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc)
3. Find the right storage solutions.
My personal favourite is the mason jar. They are BPA-free, microwave-safe, oven-safe, leak-proof, portable and some are even freezer-safe. Mason jars come in a variety of sizes and are more affordable than other kitchen storage solutions. They look great in the pantry but can also be used to store leftovers, meals for work and smoothies.
(coconut flour in 1.9 L wide-mouth, walnuts in 1 litre, hemp hearts in 500 ml, poppy seeds in 250 ml jars)
Pyrex containers are a bit more expensive but are much more versatile and durable. They come in different variations and are ideal for storing, refrigerating, freezing and reheating. I like to store leftover kale chips in the same pyrex container they can be re-crisped in since they're oven-safe!
Photo via pyrex.com
4. Stay organized and strategic.
Try to organize your pantry items so that everything is in clear view and easy to access. You can identify your pantry items using pre-made labels, fun washi tape or washable window markers (my favourite). I recommend Pinterest-ing "pantry labels" for more ideas (see you in 2 hours!).
Though we recommend getting rid of all your junk in one go, we know this can be a difficult task. Realistically, you might find yourself struggling to let go of a few items and that's okay. Be strategic with where these items are kept. You want to make sure they are out of sight, in low-traffic areas and maybe even somewhere you typically wouldn't store. Who knows, maybe it'll reach its unnaturally long expiration date before you find it!