Ask A Dietitian: How Do I Spring Clean My Diet?
Our expert weighs in with 7 tips to make shaping up your eating habits as easy as a spring breeze.
Spring always motivates me to declutter, organize, and freshen things up. I don't limit that motivation to just closets and drawers, either. I like to use the change of seasons as an opportunity to clean up my eating habits from winter. This may not be your type of "cleaning," but spring cleaning my diet helps give me a fresh starting point for eating healthier and making healthier choices in general. It also helps renew my interest in meal planning, cooking, and finding new recipes to try.
Here are my favorite ways to spring clean my diet.
Purge and Organize
Check the expiration date on refrigerated items like open jars or sauces and condiments; toss what's unsafe or past its prime. Then assess your pantry staples—what's running low and what's well-stocked? Don't forget to check expiration and use-by dates on those items as well. Go ahead and wipe down shelves and organize while you're doing this, too—your seasonal allergies will thank you later. Finally, take inventory of what's on hand. Keeping a list of what you already have means you won't end up wasting money at the store on something you didn't need.
Give Your Pantry a Makeover
It's time to freshen up the pantry with nutrient-dense staples that help you pull a meal together quickly. Things like canned beans, nuts and nut butters, and canned tuna are great shelf-stable proteins, along with quick-cooking whole grains like quinoa and oats. A few other meal shortcuts that I like to keep on hand are canned tomatoes, jarred marinara sauce and pesto, and high-fiber wraps.
Try This: Cooking Light Diet's 12 Must-Have Ingredients from the Jumpstart Kit
Shop What's In-Season
Ripe fruits and vegetables have the most flavor, which makes makes eating produce regularly a lot easier to do if you're struggling to eat five or more servings in a day. What else makes seasonal produce great? Nutritionally, they're at their peak. That's because a fruit or vegetable typically contains its maximum amount of nutrients at the time it's harvested. It's also another reason to shop local, since the produce usually goes from field to market to table much faster.
Try This: Find out What's In Season
Adjust Carb Choices
Winter temperatures always make me crave carbohydrate-rich comfort foods a lot, and even though I prepare healthier versions, my intake of pasta, rice, and potato dishes ticks steadily upward. As I go into spring, I've found it helpful to rethink my go-to carb choices. I'll plan lower-carb menus where the carbohydrates primarily come from beans, sweet potatoes, and in-season fruits and vegetables to help me refocus and get in the habit of incorporating more of these carbs.
Try This: The Cooking Light Diet SmartCarb plan
Add Fresh Herbs
Incorporating a fresh herb is ony of my favorite kitchen hacks to instantly upgrade a dish with fresh, vibrant flavors. You really just can't beat the taste of fresh herbs over dried, so substitute fresh when possible. Also, look for ways to incorporate fresh herbs—like basil or cilantro—to any dish where it makes sense. Sprinkle some basil leaves over your fresh Pizza Margherita, or go cilantro-heavy for your Grilled Steak and Mexican Street Corn Tacos.
Fire Up the Grill
Pull off the cover and brush off the grates! Grilling is a great way to quickly cook proteins and vegetables, but I'd be lying iif I didn't admit that I also love the break it gives me from the kitchen. Another plus is that spending small increments of time outside offers additional health benefits—no exercise required! Research suggests that spending just 10 to 15 minutes outside helps to regulate circadian rhythm, which may improve sleep, boost clarity and ability to concentrate, and even improve mental outlook.
Start Meatless Monday
Research suggests that everyone benefits from eating more plant foods, and this includes plant-based proteins. This doesn't mean you have to write off animal proteins completely; just slowly become more plant-forward in your eating approach by incorporating more protein-rich plant foods and reducing reliance on animal proteins. Planning for Mondays to be meatless is one trick that's helped me get better about eating this way consistently.