Food choices are a way to tip the scales – positive or negative – in health. As noted in my writer's brief, I encourage all folks to get into their kitchens. Research suggests foods we prepare in our homes tends to be healthier than foods purchased at take-out or eaten in restaurants. After all, you get all the control over food preparation in your home.
Whether you are new to cooking at home or want to stock your kitchen with healthier options, consider these foods the next time you shop:
- Pick whole grains. Buy oatmeal, barley, brown rice, quinoa, and 100% whole-wheat (or whole-grain) pastas, breads, bagels, English muffins, waffles, crackers, etc. Start where you are comfortable, including instant versions or frozen. (Have you seen frozen brown rice in your local store?)
- Go unsweetened. You can buy unsweetened frozen and canned fruits. Juice that is 100% juice has no added sugar compared to a juice cocktail or juice drink. Plain, white milk (or an unflavored alternative milk like soy milk) are better choices than flavored varieties. Look for plain (unflavored) yogurts and mix in your own flavors, like cut fruits, sunflower seeds, or cocoa powder.
- Go frozen. Plain frozen veggies are easy ways to incorporate fiber and needed nutrients. Pour into a pot or microwave-safe container to cook. Quick. Done.
- Use a slow cooker. For a new cook, a slow cooker is an easy way to get into the kitchen. Add your ingredients, cover, and come back in several hours. If you do not want to use it for a full recipe, it is great for cooking tough cuts of meat, that become very tender in the slow cooker.
- Stock the pantry to chew. Pick more apples over apple juice. Add spinach, kale, and leafy greens to salads and stews over smoothies. Chewing our foods is often more satisfying and keeps us full longer than drinks.
- Choose liquid fats. Heart-healthy fats are found in liquid oils (canola, olive, vegetable, etc.), fish, and nuts and seeds. Use these more often than solid fats like butter, shortening, cheese, meat and poultry skin and fat. Avoid foods that have trans fats and hydrogenated oils.
- Go canned. Low and reduced-sodium canned tomatoes, other veggies, broth, and beans are a low-cost convenience.
- Stock treats (if you can control your portions). Is it sweet or salty you like? Ice cream or chips? Cream-filled snack cakes or cheese crackers? Make treats an occasional choice. If you "pig out" on your treat, it may be a better idea for your health to not keep it in the pantry.
- Pick fresh meats. Fresh meats have less sodium than processed varieties like deli meats, sausages, pepperoni, etc. Frozen, prepared meats (breaded fish, pre-formed burgers, etc.) tend to add more fat and sodium. Go to #4 and toss some chicken thighs or pork roast in a slow cooker for tender fresh meat you can add to salads, sandwiches, and other recipes.
- Find healthy conveniences (and things you may not make yourself, but could). A salad bar at a grocery store may have pre-cut melon (if you do not want to buy a 10-lb melon to eat). Look for pre-made hummus, guacamole, and fresh salsa in cold cases at stores. (Watch the portion on hummus and guac.)
This list may be too much to all at once. Start with what makes you comfortable and add on more. Take some time to stock your pantry with healthier options.
Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.