Monday, December 31, 2012

It's Almost 2013: Looking for a Resolution?

The ball drops in less than 24 hours... are you looking for a resolution or project to kick off the new year? How about resolving to stock better foods in your kitchen?

Full disclosure: I started this project before New Years. If I hadn't then I'd have nothing to show you today. Nevertheless, this is a good project for the season if you're the resolution-making type, or for any other time of year if you're not.

Reimagining Your Pantry

When I recently started making more deliberate choices about the way I cook and eat, I realized that an overhaul on what I stock in my fridge and pantry was becoming increasingly necessary. So, being an artist, I began with the question: What does a healthy pantry look like?

Step 1. My first task wasn't making a list of foods to buy or toss. It was looking online for photographs of other peoples' whole food pantries. Specifically, I looked for photos where people had their ingredients organized in pretty jars or cans, or colorful veggies laid out on their counters, even store displays- anything I might want to see in my own kitchen. I created a folder full of Kitchen Inspiration, and distilled that down into what a designer would call a Mood Board:

Even if you're not an artist by trade, try starting there. Having a visual understanding of what other healthy kitchens look like might give you a sort of blueprint to work from.

Next comes the dirtier work:

Step 2. Remove all the "empty" stuff from the pantry. In my case, I didn't throw any of this stuff out. I hate wasting food, even if it is just empty calories. Instead, I put it all in one place; two of my good friends just moved to Germany and left behind a metal basket, which I filled with items like white bleached flour, refined sugar, fake sweeteners, Kraft mac & cheese, Ramen noodles, etc. I let it live on top of the fridge so we can see it get used up and actively watch new food items take its place.

Food prison

Step 3. After making room in step 2, I made a list of Kitchen Essentials- these are healthy (mostly) whole foods I want on hand, some of which will specifically replace their emptier counterparts (replacing white flour with whole wheat, for example). The list was built on the premise that whole food is always preferable to processed, and that it's good to keep a variety of plant-based foods in one's diet. Here's the first second draft of my list, which is affixed to the side of my fridge as a reminder for grocery store visits:

[download as printable pdf]

To preemptively answer a couple of questions or comments you might have after reading the list: yes, I do currently eat meat and fish (hence the chicken stock and sardines), although I'm increasingly trying to make plants the focus of my diet for reasons I'll unpack later. And yes, my list still contains some nutritionally-lacking offenders like rice and pasta. I'm trying to make the transition to healthier eating more of a gradual change than a jarring restrictive punishment, especially for my husband's sake, and those were some foods we felt we weren't quite ready to do away with yet.

From there, just keep going. At some point, you'll realize your pantry and fridge look completely different than they used to, and you're unconsciously choosing to use more nutritious ingredients in your cooking. This is what one of my own cupboards looked like as of a week ago:

Things are much improved, but I'm excited to do this again in a month and see an even bigger difference. Note: Since I can't really justify the cost of buying a lot of mason jars, I've been saving glass and plastic containers and re-purposing them; that almond container up there is about 4 bites away from becoming a vessel for hummus. I'll post more updates in the future on the pantry progress.

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