After my last post, in which I cleaned out my cupboards, I was inspired to keep going in my kitchen. I do keep my refrigerator and freezer pretty sparse, because I tend to buy fresh, but I saw that I was keeping some items probably way longer than I should.  The last time I used syrup? Can’t remember, probably since my 24-year-old stepdaughter Chloe was young and occasionally ate waffles. Horseradish? I think since a year ago Passover, or was it the year before? The quarter stick of butter—how long has that been there? Last time I baked a potato for Chloe?

I was on a roll, getting toss-happy, wishing I could eject old clothing from my closet so easily. Anyway, I found a website that helps with the is-it-safe? judgment process:  It tells you how long your favorite foods and beverages—from alfalfa sprouts to squash; fresh, canned, or frozen; open or unopened—will stay safe and tasty.  It also tells you what foods are in season, how to store each item, and what foods you shouldn’t freeze.

The 100 percent orange juice I had was still safe; same with my olives—but my yogurt needed to go.  I always follow the “when it doubt, throw it out,” policy rather than venturing the sniff test, but honestly, I rarely keep leftovers or foods long past their expiration date, so there was no need for either test.

After my final toss, I decided to focus on the positive (as I usually do) and create a list of the foods I think every refrigerator and freezer should contain. If you don’t have healthy foods easily available, it is hard to stay on track with your health and weight goals. One of my many mottos with my patients is, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

My Top Five Picks for Your Refrigerator 

  1. Vegetables. At dinner, half your plate should be filled with veggies. The fiber in them helps fill you up, and you will be less likely to overeat. If time is an issue, there’s nothing wrong with buying veggies already cut up, since they can be quicker to prepare. However, keep in mind that their nutritional value will drop a rank lower. I admit I love when my patients complain that veggies go bad too quickly: I then get to remind them that vegetables wouldn’t go bad if they ate them.
  2. Fruit.  Another no-brainer—yet I find that many of my patients tend to omit this one. Fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals; every refrigerator everywhere should contain an assortment. If you crave something sweet at the end of a meal, fruit is the perfect dessert.  A cup of strawberries can taste as sweet as that cookie. To remind yourself that you’ve got ‘em, keep fruits higher up in the refrigerator.
  3. Low-fat dairy. For me, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt are definitely fridge essentials. All of them can be part of a healthy breakfast, a lunch, or a satiating snack. Rich in protein, they are perfect in conjunction with high-fiber carbohydrates  (like fruit) to keep you fuller longer. Buy these foods in single-serve containers/portions so you can bring them to work and keep track of their calorie count. If you find you cannot tolerate lactose after having tried to consume it in small amounts, I suggest replacing dairy products with soy-based products.
  4. Eggs. An egg is one of the most versatile foods I know. Eggs work for breakfast scrambled, with whole-wheat toast; they work for lunch (an omelet with lots of veggies), and in a frittata with roasted potatoes for dinner. A hard-boiled egg is a perfect snack, eaten with a small banana. For a calorie-controlled meal, have one yolk and two or three whites for volume.
  5. Pickles. You may think this is a rather strange choice, since pickles have a high sodium content. But honestly, I love pickles. For me they are the perfect go-to munch when I have already munched enough. Pickles contain practically no calories; they can sometimes be a lifesaver after my midday snack has been eaten and it’s too early for dinner.

My Top Five Picks for Your Freezer (with Praise for Frozen Vegetables)

  1. Vegetables. I choose them for basically the same reasons listed above. And for those who are intent on giving me the “they go bad” excuse, hear this: Frozen veggies are frozen at their nutritional peak, and unless you buy them smothered in a sauce, which I don’t recommend, they are just as good for you as fresh vegetables! Now that they come in ready-to-microwave bags, there is really nothing easier to make.
  2. Fruit.  Berries, especially, are great to have in the freezer, since when they are not in season the price can get steep. Do not scorn them because they are frozen: Just like frozen veggies, frozen fruits are still nutrient-dense and a healthy option. Frozen fruit is great in smoothies, mixed into plain low-fat yogurt or ricotta, or as topping for hot oatmeal. I recommend microwaving frozen fruit (except for smoothies) for around 5 to 10 seconds before use.
  3. Chicken, meat, or fish. Individually wrapping single portions of lean protein—around four ounces—makes them so useful to have for last-minute dinners or when you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. Defrost either overnight in your refrigerator or in your microwave immediately before use. Just make sure to label the package, so you know what it is and when you placed it in the freezer. The StillTasty website will tell you how long it can stay there.
  4. Whole Wheat Bread. Since I buy my bread without preservatives, it doesn’t last long in the pantry.  It’s always good to have on hand because I could use it with eggs or nut butter for breakfast, or as a sandwich for lunch or dinner. Combine it with the frozen veggies and create a well-balanced meal.
  5. Vodka.  I couldn’t write this piece unless I confessed to having Ketel One always on hand.  Obviously this is not a must-have, like all the others, but rather a personal preference. And, thank god, I didn’t have to toss those olives.


Happy food shopping!

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