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Cleaner Kitchen, Healthier You
When your pantry is packed with processed junk and your crisper is a no-man’s land, making healthy food choices just doesn’t come, well, naturally. Terry Walters, author of "Clean Food" and "Clean Start," believes that building a healthier lifestyle starts with putting a few organizational systems in place.
“I really am the queen of clean and ‘clean,’” she says. “People look at my pantry and say, ‘Where’s your food?’” Make no mistake, Terry and her family eat plentifully and well; her minimalist approach to food storage streamlines everything from shopping to cooking. Read on for her tips for maintaining a nourishing, no-mess kitchen.
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Go for Glass
Toss: Cardboard boxes, cellophane bags, any and all things plastic
Try: An all-glass solution. “Buy pantry essentials like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and whole grains at your grocery store's bulk bins, which allow you to purchase dry goods by weight in your desired quantity,” clarifies Terry. “Store them in mason jars. Using glass makes it easy to see what you have, which is handy when making a grocery list or throwing together dinner. To avoid discoloration and loss of nutrients, be sure to store them out of direct sunlight.”
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Toss: Stale spices in haphazard containers
Try: “Quality seasoning is an easy way to add flavor and nutrients to your food,” Terry says. “I pour all my spices into uniform jars, and I replace them once a year. If you pay attention, you’ll notice they lose potency as they age, which reduces both taste and nutritional value.”
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Toss: Commercial “nutrition” bars (and other scary packaged snacks)
Try: One drawer of healthy options. “Keep it stocked so that you can still eat well if you’re strapped for time,” Terry says. “In a perfect world we’d all make our own snacks, but I know that’s not always possible, so look for products with ingredients you can recognize and labels like ‘raw’ or ‘sprouted.’"
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Toss: Soda cans, juice boxes
Try: A blended superfood snack. “I keep a green powder supplement on hand, and I throw it into smoothies for a quick nutrient punch between meals,” Terry says. “We don’t eat perfectly all the time –- who does? -– so this is a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps.”
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Toss: Wan, waxy, out-of-season fruits and vegetables
Try: Locally grown grub. “Local produce not only tastes fresher, but it also lasts longer because it isn’t spending days or weeks in transit,” Terry explains. The fridge is another place to ditch the plastic: “Fruits and vegetables emit gas as they ripen, so storing them in mesh produce bags allows them to breathe,” she says. “Plastic leaches nutrients from living organisms like miso as well, so always transfer those products to glass containers once you’ve brought them home.”
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Toss: Canned soups, frozen dinners
Try: Make-ahead meals. “I rarely prepare an entire meal in one go,” Terry says. “Instead, I do what I call ‘upcycling’: I see what I have, and I think about what I can add to it. Maybe a grain I cooked on Sunday can be topped with protein and veggies, or some stock hanging out in the freezer can be turned into a soup. Double batches and piecemeal preparation are huge time-savers that require minimal extra effort.”
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Once you make a wholesome, home-cooked meal, ensure leftovers stay fresh by freezing anything that won’t be consumed in a few days. Terry recommends using glass containers with plastic lids. “They stack neatly, and you can see exactly what’s in them,” she says. “You can use the same containers for sensitive dry goods like chickpea and almond meal, which keep best in the freezer once opened.”
Terry is also a huge proponent of leftovers as lunch, reducing both processed food and unnecessary waste from packaging. “I send my kids to school with glass containers and sandwiches wrapped in parchment, and their friends think they eat gourmet meals,” she shares.
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Do More with Less
Toss: One-trick gadgets and gizmos
Try: A handful of quality tools. “All any chef needs is a sharp knife, a wooden spoon, a large wooden cutting board, a cast-iron skillet, a Dutch oven, a glass casserole dish, and a blender or hand emulsifier,” declares Terry. “Less clutter means more creativity, and good basics will last forever.”
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If you find grocery shopping an exercise in frustration and overspending, Terry recommends taking a more minimalist approach. “There are certain things I always have on hand: dried beans, canned beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds,” she says. “I buy whatever produce looks fresh and delicious, and then I fill in any gaps as needed.” That means replenishing dry goods that are running low and, yes, buying the occasional special treat.
A different approach to shopping means a different approach to cooking. “I’m not a big menu planner,” she admits. “It’s not, 'What do I want to make?' but rather, 'What can I make with what I have?' I try to clear us out on a weekly basis so things don’t sit around unused.” Terry finds this tactic to be an excellent rut-buster. “It keeps me trying new things and thinking on my feet.”
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While spring cleaning your diet is a wonderful intention, Terry insists that it’s only a starting point. “Make gradual swaps as you’re able,” she says. “Allow everything to transition: your taste buds, your digestion, your budget, your habits, your lifestyle.”
Terry suggests trying one new food each week. “Pick up an unfamiliar grain or an interesting piece of produce. Learn what to do with it and how to store it,” she says. “If you like it, buy a whole mason jar’s worth. In a year, you’ll have tried 52 new foods. Add variety and excitement to your table -- don’t just take things away.”