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Kitchen Strategies to Help You Eat More Healthily

The right kitchen planning can help banish bad food habits and introduce a happy new attitude to cooking. Here’s how to get started

Houzz New Zealand Contributor. A design addict from way back, I can’t resist looking… More

For too long now we’ve been swamped with confusing messages about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, flummoxed about nutrients and ingredients, and taught to beat ourselves up about our eating habits. Fortunately, the conversations about food are getting saner, as smart dieticians and food writers push back against fashion-craze ‘diets’, pseudo science and negativity. Health research supports – surprise, surprise – easy ways to eat well that look a lot like how our grandparents ate.

While there will always be a place in our design books for sleek, architectural kitchens that look as if nobody ever cooks in them – let alone eats standing at the sink – real kitchens are for real people to enjoy real food, happily with no use of the G-word – guilt.

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Assess what eating means to you
Before you start saving pictures or lusting after light fittings, take a step back. Start your kitchen re-think with some self-examination about what food and cooking mean to you.

Do you ‘eat to live’, where simply eating – let alone cooking – is a chore that keeps you from doing the stuff you really love? Do you love to eat, and find that making and sharing your cooking is your favourite form of relaxation? Or do you fall somewhere in-between – a weekend bliss cook, but a mid-week hurried takeaway or easy meal due to a busy life of work/commute/family service?

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Keep ‘real’ foods close at hand
The best, healthiest kitchen is one filled with healthy foods. As food writer Michael Pollan has famously neatly summarised, we simply need to do three things: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

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Start your plan, then, with a kitchen that supports storing and sharing real food. Have as much storage for real foods – fresh fruits, vegetables, root crops, wholegrain and complex carbs – as you do for packaged goods.
Create a kitchen layout where the easiest foods to get to are the best for you; where the tools you need to support healthy eating are right at your fingertips, not in a hard-to-reach cupboard.

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If eating whole fruit or raw vegies is a chore – it’s not just little ones that are put off by ploughing through one big piece of fruit – create enticing snack trays of pre-cut fresh fruit and veg to keep in the fridge for snacking.

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Make a pantry plan
Organising your pantry so the good foods you want to use most often are the ones most easily accessible, may mean a good clean-out and a fresh start. That doesn’t mean you have no crisps or biscuits, ever, it just means that the good foods, such as fruits, grains, pulses and tinned vegetables, dominate your shelves.

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A pantry that’s organised for kids to help themselves to healthy snacks means they’re less likely to sneak into the cupboard for crisps or sweets. In this crash pad for runaway teens in Venice Beach, California, designed by Charmean Neithart Interiors, even the snacks provided in the pantry help the kids restore their lives with fresh fruit and healthy snacks on hand.

How to organise the perfect pantry

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Sit down for dinner
Humans evolved to eat food together, not on their own. Even if your midweek schedule means there’s no slot for the whole household to sit together for breakfast or dinner, create a space where sitting down is encouraged. While not everyone is eating together, there’s still a social buzz, which is good for the body and soul.

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Try to create one or two times a week when phones are put to one side and people talk while eating face to face. It doesn’t have to be dinner-party formal – a comb of the fridge for a stir-fry or pasta cook-up or shared takeaway will do.

Designing a kitchen that has space to gather around the cook while everyone is sharing food and conversation will create a great, healthy environment for the family. Plus, even clean-up and dish-washing becomes a social event.

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Grow your own
Make a space in the kitchen for growing your own food. If your kitchen or nearby living space has great sun, you can even pot citrus for lemons or mandarins to add zest to any dish.

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If you’re buying supermarket herbs, go for the potted ones rather than cut and plastic-wrapped ones. Then collect some vintage jars or tins to keep them pretty on your worktop for snipping and eating.

A spare spot that gets some sun is perfect for a green wall of herbs. They may need to be rotated out to the garden when they get a bit straggly. Or grow micro-greens to snip into salads and blend into smoothies.

How to make your supermarket herbs live longer

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At the luxury end of the market, this extraordinary demonstration eco kitchen, designed by Massachusetts-based ‘g’ Green Design Center, was created for a nutrition consultant and raw foodie. It includes an urban cultivator the owner uses to grow fresh herbs – perfect for farming your wheatgrass smoothies year-round.

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Wise up to accessible appliances
There’s nothing more frustrating than a kitchen that resembles an appliance store – but many of them barely make it out of the box. This can be fixed. Step one – organise your appliances into one central spot. That way, when the urge takes you to make sorbet, or juice that bag of citrus, you’re not wasting time trying to find the right tool.

Keep the appliances you use most closest to hand. Some people don’t mind an array lined up on the worktop, others prefer them neatly out of sight (and dust-free) in a cupboard. Rotate them: in winter, keep the slow cooker out for warming casseroles; in summer, have the ice-cream maker at your fingertips. Challenge yourself to find recipes that make the most of an appliance – pilaus in the rice cooker or quesadillas in the panini press. We’ve all heard the de-cluttering rule: if you haven’t used something in a year, find it a new owner.

Sneaky storage ideas for small appliances

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Keep tools at hand
The same rule applies to low-tech tools, too. Healthy cooking doesn’t require much: a good knife, a whisk, ladles and strainers, plus flavoursome additives, from spices to vinegars and sauces that add umami punch without the calories.

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An organised utensil drawer keeps tools that support healthy cooking to hand: baking paper for non-stick baking without fat, measuring cups for portion control, a degreaser for skimming fat off pan juices before you make gravy, a zester for adding citrus punch to cooking, and a spiralizer or serrated peeler for making vegetable ‘spaghetti’.

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Make your own
Baking your own cakes, loaves and flans means you know exactly what goes into your food: no additives with weird numbers, no extra sugars or fats. Plus, you get the great therapy of baking (especially if you do it with family) and the delicious flavour of homemade, and it’s a lot healthier.

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Juicing your own fruit and vegetables means you know exactly what you’re getting, and you’re not paying crazy café prices. A blender or food processor makes whipping up your own pesto, sauces or hummus, or smoothing roasted or steamed veggies into soups, quick and easy.

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A low-tech solution also gives you a great workout – toned arms, as well as a happy digestive system. Bonus.

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Making your own snacks means you control exactly how much salt and fat you’re adding. Popcorn makers are a fun gift, or look out for slicers and racks that let you make crisps in the microwave.

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Upgrade to grills and steamers
If you’re about to upgrade your major appliances in the kitchen, look for cooking alternatives that promote flavourful, healthy cooking. An egg barbecue, or in-worktop grill, encourages you to get a smoky barbecue flavour all year around.

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Add a teppanyaki grill or in-worktop hotplate for fast stir-fry tossing of vegetables, meat and seafood. The clever part of tossing knives and spinning the pepper grinder may come later…

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An in-worktop steamer is a fast way of cooking vegetables to retain their goodness. Can’t afford the fancy end? A wok with a bamboo basket does the same job.

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Don’t ignore raw
Serious raw foodies do more than just grate a carrot or two: there’s actually a lot of time and preparation that goes into keeping food flavoursome without cooking it. There are heavy-duty juicers and blenders for making soups, sauces and nut milks, but the biggie is a dehydrator that allows you to make your own raw fruit and veggie leathers and crisps, dry fresh herbs and more.

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Raw foodie blogs are full of ideas for using dehydrators, too. With useful tips for things such as making vegetable and seed crackers, preparing warm food, and getting a crunchy texture on raw biscuits, as well as recipes for dishes such as raw stuffed peppers or mushrooms.

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Waste not
Finally, one of the biggest trends in healthy eating is eliminating kitchen waste. The Love Food, Hate Waste organisation estimates UK households throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink a year. That’s not healthy for the planet – food waste fills landfills – or your budget.

Challenge yourself to make your healthy kitchen non-wasteful, too: create dishes that empty the fridge, fruit bowl or pantry before you buy more. Turn veggie scraps you can’t freeze into soups and stocks, or put the leftovers into a compost or bokashi bucket. Most importantly, shop thoughtfully.

Have you organised your kitchen to make healthy eating easier? Share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments below.

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