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Isn’t it Time for a Kitchen Refresh?

Isn't it Time for a Kitchen Refresh?

Photo: Thinkstock/Chris Clinton

There’s something about this time of year that calls for freshness and cleanliness. It motivates us to revisit those New Year’s goals that we may be ignoring. Now is the perfect time to refresh, revamp and tidy up those health goals, and it can start with a kitchen ingredient makeover. 

Start by removing any food items from your pantry and refrigerator that are questionable, either in terms of food safety or that, nutritionally,  don’t make you feel your best. If items are still sealed and haven’t expired, you should consider donating them to a food bank rather than tossing them in the trash.

Now it’s time to restock with more healthful foods Here are my suggestions for essential ingredients to have on hand to whip up a healthy meal in no time!

Pantry Essentials

Canned beans. Easily incorporated into chilis, soups, salads or made into hummus. They make a meal hearty and add protein, iron and fiber.

Lentils. A go-to item for adding protein and fiber to your meal, they cook quickly and maintain their texture well when refrigerated.

Nut butter. Can be eaten with apple slices as a snack, spread on toast or added to smoothies for a rich, nutty flavor. A little goes a long way.

Quinoa. Prepared and ready to eat in 15 to 20 minutes, it is one of the easier grains to cook and 1 cup cooked provides protein, fiber, iron and magnesium. Cook a big batch and use it throughout the week!

Low-sodium chicken stock. For adding flavor to sauces, soups or cooking grains.

Nuts and seeds. As a crunchy salad topping, a snack or — who knows — maybe you’ll even feel like making nut milk one day.

Canned Tomatoes. A staple for sauces, soups and chili.

Whole-wheat pasta. Easily tossed with homemade marinara or pesto sauce, or a simple garlic and oil.

Olive oil. Used for roasting, sautéing, salad dressings and more.

Balsamic vinegar. Used in salad dressings, braising meats and marinades.

Honey. Drizzle onto plain Greek yogurt or use in baking and sauces.

Spices. My must-haves are oregano, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, chili powder, curry powder and turmeric. I also always have vanilla extract on hand to add into baked goods and smoothies for flavor.

Fridge Essentials

Eggs. One of the most versatile ingredients in your fridge! Use for omelets, frittatas, baked goods or hard-boil them to have for the whole week.

Hummus. Great for snacking — spread it on crackers or pita chips or use as a veggie dip.

Cut vegetables. Carrot and celery sticks and pre-sliced peppers make a great afternoon snack.

Plain Greek yogurt. For parfaits, smoothies, soups, tuna salads or used as a sour cream substitute.

Milk. Any variety can be used for smoothies, coffee or a cup in the morning with breakfast.

Low-fat string cheese. Another great snack option that can be paired with whole-grain crackers or fruit.

Cut up veggies and fruits. Keep at eye level so you’ll remember to eat them before they go bad. 

Lean protein. Chicken, turkey and fish — but store in the freezer if you know it will be hanging out for a while.

Freezer Essentials

Frozen veggies. A lifesaver to throw into anything from soups to pasta to stir-fries.

Frozen fruits. For smoothies and on yogurt, even in the winter (they are frozen at their peak).

Frozen meals. When cooking, make a big batch and freeze some for later. Soups, burgers and chili stay well in the freezer.

Bread. Defrosts well and can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months!


Take this list to the store with you to spring clean and de-clutter your kitchen. A kitchen stocked with nutritious foods makes eating healthy easier!

Joanna Li, RD, is a New York City-based community registered dietitian for the WIC program in Lower Manhattan. There, she works to improve the health status of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and their children up to 5 years old. Connect with her on her blog, Just My Cup of Jo, and on Twitter

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