Health Beat: Start your year with a kitchen makeover

Published 10:47 pm Saturday, January 24, 2015

Deciding to make some healthier changes in your home is a great way to help prevent disease and improve your family’s quality of life.  Start the year off by assessing the foods in your kitchen and making changes where needed.  Filling your kitchen with good-for-you foods creates an environment that makes it easier to make healthy choices and sets your family up for success.  A few swaps in your fridge and pantry can be all that is needed to make a difference.

Drink to Your Health:  Drinks are a great place to start, as changing this one thing can make a big difference in the health of your family.  Sugar-sweetened drinks quickly add up to a lot of calories without any nutrients.  Replace fruit-flavored drinks, sweet tea, soda and sports drinks with more nutritious options ­—water, skim or 1-percent milk (low-fat) and 100-percent juice.  Keep in mind juice isn’t necessary, and it is important to choose whole fruit most of the time.  One fun way to use 100-percent juice on occasion is by mixing it with seltzer water (club soda, sparkling water) to make your own healthy soda.

Make Snacks Count:  Good snack choices fill nutrient gaps that you and your family might have otherwise.  Keep healthy snacks in reach of your kids by creating an area or plastic container in the fridge to fill with foods such as fruit, fat-free yogurt and light cheese.  Clementines (Cuties), grapes, strawberries, bananas and bagged apple slices are frequently mentioned by kids as favorites and need only minimal preparation, if any.  A bowl of fruit on the counter keeps it in sight of hungry family members.  Cut-up vegetables with dip can serve as an appetizer for your family while dinner is being prepared or supplement as an easy side dish if you get take-out.  Instead of chips, cookies and fruit snacks in the pantry, stock up on light popcorn, nuts and sunflower seeds, low-sugar granola bars, whole-grain crackers and goldfish, applesauce cups, nut trail mix and dried fruit.  Remember if it is not in the house, it can’t be eaten, and this can be a great way to avoid multiple requests for sweets from your kids.

Choose Whole Grains:  Make at least half your grains whole grains to decrease risk of diabetes and heart disease and help manage weight.  Whole grains keep you satisfied longer, help you eat less, and are filled with nutrients and fiber.  So swap out the white bread, white rice and pasta and refined flour crackers, and replace them with whole grain options.  Try quinoa, which is high in fiber and protein, and cooks up fluffy and light but still satisfies with its whole grain qualities.

Cupboard Meal-Helpers:  Stock your cupboard with canned beans, tuna, chicken, broth-based soups, tomatoes and tomato sauce, and vegetables to replace instant noodles, alfredo sauce and cream-based soups.  Add sauces, such as teriyaki, a sweet kid-friendly favorite, that can be added in small amounts to vegetables to make a stir fry or fish or chicken for a quick meal.

Better Proteins and Freezer Fillers:  Replace hot dogs, bologna, sausage, and bacon with turkey, skinless chicken slices, veggie or fat-free hot dogs and low-fat ham.  Fill the freezer with frozen vegetables without sauces, grilled chicken strips and patties, grilled nuggets, turkey or veggie burgers and unbreaded seafood or fish.  You can quickly use these options to help put together a meal.  Also, don’t forget beans as a powerful protein and arguably one of the most health-beneficial, least expensive and versatile options.

As you make these changes, shopping with your kids can be a great benefit.  Empower them to help choose healthier foods by comparing labels with your help.  The cereal aisle is a good one for this by showing them how to look on the nutrition label for cereals with six grams of sugar or less.  Struggles might arise when shopping with kids, as it can be difficult to stand firm on your list of healthier options with requests for nutrient-poor foods.  Try making a list of the top foods your kids want, and then, at the end, talking through the list with them and choosing one that is a better option or a smaller sized package of an occasional treat.

Make small changes and know that just by making these switches you can make a huge difference on the health of your family.

Andrea Nikolai is a registered dietitian at Washington Pediatrics located at 1206 Brown Street in Washington and can be reached at 252-946-4134.