Strategies for Creating a Healthy Kitchen for your Family

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about creating a healthy eating environment

  • Get tips on grocery shopping

  • Learn how long foods typically last and how often they may need to be purchased so you always have nutritious foods on hand

  • Tips on creating a healthy eating environment

Whether you’re trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, or chasing after a toddler, stocking up on healthy foods at home will help ensure proper nourishment and good health… not to mention help keep you energized so you can keep up with those little ones of yours!

Keeping your kitchen stocked with healthy foods means shopping, choosing the right foods, and then creating a healthy eating environment. From farmer’s markets to specialty stores, supermarkets to delivery services, the options for getting food into your house these days abound.

How often should I grocery shop?

While there is no ‘correct’ method or timing when it comes to getting groceries, many families do well with weekly grocery shopping. This allows you to meal plan for the week, have enough room to store the needed groceries, and use up fresh foods relatively quickly.

In fact, foods that are highly perishable, such as vegetables and fruit, often need to be purchased weekly or more frequently. Other foods that are moderately perishable, like bread, need to be replaced every few weeks.3 Non-perishable foods often have a long shelf-live (like nuts, grains, or canned goods) and only need to be replaced as you use them up - or if they’re long past their eat-by date.2,4

How can I create a nourishing food environment?

Food environments are the physical, economic, and cultural settings that influence how we select, prepare, and eat foods.5 What we surround ourselves with and how easy it is to access foods makes a big impact on the foods we end up eating.

Putting effort into creating a healthy eating environment will help you and your family make healthful food choices. For example, studies show that both visibility and convenience greatly influence our eating habits.6,7 We’re more likely to eat what we see, so keep healthy foods easily accessible and in plain sight.8 Keep a bowl of washed, fresh fruit on the counter or in the refrigerator for you and your family to easily grab at snack time or on the go.

It may also be helpful to keep ‘sometimes’ foods behind pantry doors, in opaque containers, and in the back of the freezer so we aren’t as tempted to eat them more often.

Tips on how to build a healthy kitchen environment

Plan ahead: Meal Plan and Grocery List

Pick a time each week to menu plan for the upcoming week. Write out all the meals you intend to cook and which ingredients you’ll need for their preparation. Don’t forget to consider the weather (is the temperature better for grilling or soup?), evening plans (do the kids have sports and a quick meal is needed?), and whether you’ll be cooking enough to have an easy night of leftovers later in the week!

Maintain a list of groceries you’ll need for the week, including perishables and other foods that need replenishing. Think about whether keeping a list on your cell phone, a notepad, or a white board in your kitchen will work best for you.

And don’t forget to keep track of recipes that sound good to you as well as ones you’ve had success cooking and serving. This will help make meal planning in the future even easier.

Meal planning and recipe ideas

Healthy in a Hurry

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Meal planning ideas for your little one

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Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas

Get foods into the house

Set aside time once a week, or whenever works best for you, to go grocery shopping, and don’t forget your grocery list (and maybe even those re-usable bags)! Remember that each time you shop, you’ll become more efficient as you become increasingly familiar with a store’s layout and offerings.

Alternatively, you can set aside time to grocery shop online if you find that fits your schedule better.

Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods

Think about the foods that your family enjoys and eats most often. Which herbs and seasonings, proteins, grains, and produce get the most use in your household. With these foods in mind, here is the general timeline of how often foods may need to be purchased, depending on how fast you go through them in your home.

Highly perishable foods, such as those below, may need to be purchased weekly (or more frequently):

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

  • Fresh and pre-cooked fish, meat, poultry, and chicken

Moderately perishable foods may need to be purchased every few weeks, or as needed:

  • Eggs

  • 100% Whole grain bread

  • Plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese (or their plant-based dairy alternatives)

  • Cheese

  • Hummus

  • Tofu and tempeh

  • Pre-peeled whole garlic cloves

  • Miso

Non-perishable, frozen, and refrigerated foods with longer shelf-lives may only need be purchased as needed every few weeks or months. (Remember to read the packages to ensure proper storage and to determine when and whether items need to be refrigerated):

  • Shelf-stable milk and plant-based milk alternatives like almondmilk or soymilk

  • Nuts and nut butters like peanut, almond or cashew

  • Dried beans. Remember that lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking.

  • Ready-to-eat canned beans. Look for BPA-free cans and “no salt added” on the label

  • Dried fruit. Stick with varieties without added sugar

  • Frozen fruits, vegetables, and grains

  • Refrigerated fermented foods such as kimchee and sauerkraut

  • Dried whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and millet

  • Whole grain pastas. For a change of pace, look for pastas made with legumes instead of grains, they’re super high in protein and fiber!

  • Whole grain flours

  • Hot cereals. Choose varieties without added sugar

  • Cold cereals. Look for varieties with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar

  • Canned fish like chunk light tuna, salmon, and sardines

  • Canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce. Choose low-sodium, low- or no-sugar varieties

  • Olive oil and any other oils you enjoy

  • Dried herbs and spices

  • Condiments like mustard, sriracha, hot sauce, and vinegars

  • Jars of minced or chopped garlic and ginger

  • Olives in the can for your pantry, or marinated varieties for your fridge

Eat slowly and mindfully

Being mindful while eating means paying full attention to your meal and experiencing all the emotions, tastes, and feelings that may come with it.9 Does the food taste good? Is it salty, sweet, sour, bitter, crunch, soft, spongy? Are you hungry in this moment or are you eating for another reason, such as sadness, boredom, happiness, or stress?

Eating slowly and with awareness can help you understand when your body is full as well as help you feel more satisfied.10 Notice how you feel: Is it time to stop eating? Have you had enough? Are you still hungry for more?

Remember not to judge yourself while eating. Food is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ – and it does not make you either ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ when you eat it. Food is only for sustenance and should not hold power over you or make you feel poorly for eating it. Try to release feelings of guilt and anxiety while you eat and about the food choices you make!

Eating a wide variety of foods in moderation will help your body get the nutrients it needs.

Learn more: Mindful Eating

Think of mealtime as quality time without distraction

Turn off the TV, put away phones, tablets, and any other distractions, and allow everyone to focus on the food and each other.11 Enjoy your time together!

Read about: Family Meals: Developing Healthy Eating Patterns

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