Do a kitchen cleanout to create an environment that supports you.
A “kitchen makeover” (or even a few small changes) makes things easy.
When you have a clear structure and a trusted system, you don’t have to think. You can just execute. It’s simple.
How you can build a “friendly kitchen” that helps you make wise choices?
“Upgrading” your kitchen environment, step-by-step
Do what works for you.
What do you need in a healthy kitchen?
What matches your living situation and daily routine?
What helps you make better food decisions, or to stay on track?
What do you need in order to make things easier, simpler, and more manageable?
Try this at your own speed.
You can tackle one small thing now, and then return to the project later. Or you can go scorched-earth/Extreme Kitchen Makeover reality TV on it.
It’s up to you.
This is an experiment.
You don’t have to “get it all” at once. You’re just trying something new.
Step 1: Prepare
Prepare your mindset, your tools, your triage plan, and the people around you (if there are any).
Prepare your mindset.
Think about what you want out of this process.
- Do you want a kitchen that serves a high-performance athlete?
- Do you want a kitchen that streamlines meal prep?
- Do you want a kitchen that’s tidy and feels pleasant to be in?
- Do you just want to be able to finally find the vegetables in the fridge underneath the piles of old Tupperware?
Prepare your tools.
Get a few big garbage bags, and your compost bin if you’ve got one.
Prepare your triage plan.
There are no rules here. You decide what foods and items to keep, minimize, move, and/or discard.
Rather than thinking about “good” or “bad” foods, try the “traffic light” concept: Red, yellow, and green-light foods.
- Red-light foods are foods that are just bad news for you. Maybe they make you feel sick, or they trigger you to eat too much, or you know they’re an unhealthy choice for you, etc. Red means “no go”.
- Yellow-light foods are foods that are sometimes OK, sometimes not. Maybe you can eat a little bit without feeling ill, or you can eat them sanely at a restaurant with others but not at home alone, or you can have them as an occasional treat, etc. Yellow means “approach with caution”.
- Green-light foods are foods that make you feel good mentally and physically. You can eat them sanely and mindfully, in the right amounts. These are usually things like fruits and vegetables, lean protein, legumes, etc. Green means “go for it!”
Each person will have a slightly different list of red, yellow, and green lights.
You might leave ice cream in the freezer untouched for months, whereas another person might need a restraining order from Ben & Jerry’s.
Prepare the people around you.
If you live with other people, let them know that you’d like to tidy out the kitchen to help make healthy choices easier.
Ask for their input and help, and/or negotiate a solution where everyone can win and get their needs met.
- Have a designated shelf or cupboard for “your stuff” and “their stuff”.
- Agree to only purchase small quantities of red- or yellow-light foods—enough for an occasional special meal, no more. (In other words, no more buckets of peanut butter or pillowcase-sized bags of chips.)
- Instead of banning all family favorites, try agreeing to have them a little less often.
Figure out how you can get what you need to succeed, while still respecting others’ needs and wishes.
Quick tip! Healthier environments for you also create healthier environments for others. Creating a healthy kitchen benefits everyone.
Step 2: Start with the easy fixes.
Look for some immediate wins.
- Remove or minimize red-light foods (or make them somehow inconvenient).
Review what foods are red-light foods for you. For most people, red-light foods are processed foods such as candy, chips, cookies, etc.
If you know or suspect certain foods trigger you into unhealthy behaviors: Get them out of easy reach. Make that stuff go away… or at least hard to get to. Safety first!
- Get rid of expired foods.
Dig into the back of your freezer, fridge, and/or pantry, check “best-before” dates, and dump any food that’s way past due, weird colors, and/or furry.
Step 3: Make some informed choices about what else to keep or discard.
After eliminating obvious red-light and possibly poisonous foods, now you have to make some more analytical choices.
Gather some data to decide on your next steps.
Check ALL labels. Read them carefully.
Never assume any product is “healthy” or “natural” or “crap-free”. Manufacturers are sneaky!
When in doubt ask yourself a few questions:
- Does this food come in a bag, box, or plastic package?
- What’s on the label? What are the ingredients?
- How far away is this food from what it used to be? (And do you even know what it used to be?)
- Based on your findings, decide whether these foods you’ve evaluated are worth keeping.
Step 4: Choose your trade-offs.
Once you’ve eliminated some obvious triggers and foods full of industrial chemicals, now you get to the negotiation stage.
- What are you willing to keep… with modifications?
- What is an effective compromise for others in your household (if there are others)? Is there a way to arrange things so everyone wins?
- Is there a way to “upgrade” familiar favorites to healthier versions?
- Can you try making things like salad dressing from scratch?
- Does having a small amount of yellow-light foods make it easier to have green-light foods? (For instance, does a sprinkle of croutons or splash of store-bought dressing make it easier for you to eat a salad? Then keep those things.)
- Can you put red-light foods into a place that’s hard for you to get to, but relatively easy for others who aren’t willing to part with them?
- Can you all agree to keep “treats” that others like, but you don’t find to be triggers? (e.g., if your spouse likes chips, but you find them “meh”, consider that a potential win-win situation.)
Be reasonable and mature. Know yourself and your needs, wants, and habits.
What do you need? What do others need? How can you balance those things while still staying on track to your goals?
What is “good enough” for right now?
Whatever you choose, choose with purpose and awareness.
Step 5: Recycle, dispose of, compost.
Don’t feel bad about “wasting food”.
Most of what you’ll throw out as red-light foods and yellow-light foods aren’t actually foods.
If a food that you’re discarding has some value (for instance, a can of beans that’s a red-light food for your digestion but still perfectly good), donate it to a local food bank or soup kitchen. Or if possible, toss it in the compost and feel good about giving back to the earth.
Otherwise, it goes in the garbage. Sayonara, self-sabotage!
Step 6: Consider what to add.
Your fridge and pantry might look a little desolate after getting rid of the unhealthy foods.
They won’t be empty for long because you’re going to fill them back up with healthy, muscle-building replacements for the garbage you just unloaded.
Take a moment to notice:
- What could you add to make healthy eating easier and more convenient?
- Do you need any more equipment? (For instance, good knives or Tupperware?)
Eating well isn’t just about “taking stuff away”. Mostly, it’s about adding good stuff and enabling healthy routines.
Did you complete your habit for the day?