9 Healthy Kitchen Habits That Are Easy, Expert-Approved, and Guaranteed to Stick

published Feb 3, 2021
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Credit: Lana Kenney

Raise your hand if you’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days. Yep, me, too. While crafting your own meals can feel like a big accomplishment and a great way to feed your body, it can also be draining, and result in some less-than-healthy habits (it happens, and it’s normal!). 

What defines a “less-than-healthy” habit? That depends on your idea of what healthy is to begin with. There is no one way to be “healthy,” and what you do to feel your best might change from day to day.

Whether you’re trying to follow a doctor-prescribed meal plan, or one that aligns with your religious, environmental, and/or personal beliefs; are focusing on eating healthfully, whatever that means to you; or want to make more time to cook, if the process is good for your mental health, there are plenty of ways to prep your kitchen with convenience and your priorities in mind. Making sure to have meals and foods on hand that feel good and bring you joy also counts as being healthy in our book! These easy, accessible tips from kitchen experts will help you set new habits that stick.

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Spend some time thinking about what “healthy” means to you.

Living a healthy lifestyle is all about balance. For Aakanksha Sinha and Uttam Mukherjee, founders of Spice Waala restaurant in Seattle, “Eating healthfully means eating food that is good for your physical and mental health. We try to ensure that even in our busy lives we are eating a healthy and balanced diet, and also enjoying the occasional desserts.” 

Yep, take it from the pros: Dessert can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. If you’re looking to revamp your relationship to healthy foods in a formal manner, you can schedule a meeting with a registered dietician or mental health expert who specializes in clients’ relationships with food.

Love the daily habit of cooking, but none of the chopping? Prep your ingredients in advance.

After a long day at work, the last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen. Andrea Gharritt, a functional nutrition and lifestyle design coach, recommends getting in the habit of not only meal-prepping on weekends, but prepping your ingredients so they’re good to go. “Don’t worry about prepping entire meals. Simply chop up veggies and lettuce for quick and easy snacks, salad stuff, or to add to recipes,” she says. She also recommends buying pre-chopped produce and steamer bags of frozen veggies to throw together at a moment’s notice. 

Leave room in your meal prep calendar for a few surprises. 

One of Gharritt’s best tips is to map out your meals for a few weeks and rotate them with a handful of new recipes to keep things from feeling routine. This helps eliminate the dreaded question: “What should we eat tonight?” 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Rearrange your refrigerator.

When you open your fridge, what do you see first? Keep the items you want to eat top of mind by placing them where you’ll see them right away. “Simply make the foods you want to eat more of front and center: a fruit bowl on the counter, easily accessible veggies in the fridge, high protein snack items in the front of the cupboard or pantry,” Gharritt explains.

Grocery shop with purpose.

It’s time to rethink your typical grocery-aisle pathway — instead of making a beeline to the center of the store, Quinton Stewart, executive chef at Ben Paris in the State Hotel in Seattle recommends trying to fill your cart in the produce section first. (Just be careful not to squish berries or any other delicate foods as you shop!) He then uses that mentality to inform his cooking habits: “I love to substitute starches with carrots, cauliflower and zucchini,” he says.

Take advantage of technology.

If the grocery store is the opposite of your happy place, don’t stress — there’s an app for that. “Lean on resources to help you outsource your least favorite part of the process when needed,” Gharritt says. “If you have a hard time swallowing this pill or feel like you are ‘being lazy,’ just remind yourself that your time has value.” She suggests either getting your groceries delivered, or signing up for a meal delivery kit if you’re stumped on what to order altogether. And don’t forget: Tip both your grocer and your delivery person well if you can, and wear a mask when you accept your delivery.

Save your scraps.

“I started saving scraps after reading about how much food is wasted globally each year,” says Katie King, a culinary researcher in Atlanta. “Early in the pandemic, this impulse was bolstered by my hesitance to make trips to the grocery store, but I realized it made healthy habits easier.” 

There are plenty of ways she’s begun repurposing her scraps, including freezing kale stems and spinach to add to green smoothies later in the week, and doing the same thing to celery, carrots, and leftover onion and garlic for an easy stock. “Not only is stock-making the coziest winter activity, you’ll control how much salt the stock has in it, unlike store-bought,” King says.

Make a “Top 10 Ingredients” pantry list.

“This is your list of ingredients that when you have them on hand, you can make at least five to ten different meals that can be rotated,” Gharritt explains. “You can always incorporate new ingredients or recipes into the equation, but on those busy weeks, if you have your ‘Top 10’ ingredients, you know you have plenty of good meals to fall back on.”

For Sinha and Mukherjee, those ingredients take center stage in their pantry. “We try to keep our pantry stocked with things like canned chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans to help us prepare quick meals,” they said.

Order online in bulk, for extra savings and easy shopping.

King is a big fan of eating more fish and less meat, and she’s been ordering it in bulk online, which ensures both freshness and a bunch of savings. “I’ve started buying fish in bulk and stocking the freezer with it. Not only will you eat more if you have it around, it thaws (and cooks) quickly, making it an excellent weeknight dinner,” she says.

For their part, Sinha and Mukherjee buy chicken in bulk and get creative by submerging the parts in different marinades before freezing them. “When you need it, you can defrost and pop it in the oven with some vegetables,” they recommend.