You’ve found your Traffic Lights list of “green, yellow, and red-light” foods. Now, it’s time to give your kitchen a makeover.

That includes getting rid of the four containers of mint chocolate chip ice cream you conveniently “forgot” you had. The caramel popcorn you got for your daughter’s sleepover — that never got eaten. The bags of chips you bought on sale. The secret stash of peanut M&M’s you hide in the back of your desk. If they’re on your “red-light” list, it’s time to say goodbye.

Getting Started

The first step to getting a handle on your kitchen is to choose a small area to start with, especially if you get easily overwhelmed. Since we’re talking about edibles rather than dishes and cutlery, perhaps a good place to start is the pantry. The freezer. The refrigerator. The Lazy Susan. A shelf.

Pull everything out of the designated space. Everything. Clean the shelf to signal to yourself that you’re starting over.

What to Look For

Foods past their expiration dates: The first time I got my daughter to help me, she found foods that had expired five or six years earlier. Eww. Food labels have expiration dates for a reason; you don’t want your food to make you sick. Toss them out.

Junk food: we all have different definitions of what is green, yellow, or red-light food, but the following foods have no place in a healthy kitchen. The more food has been processed, the fewer nutrients it has. Remember that anything you have in your house is going to get eaten by you or a loved one unless you give it away or throw it out. These include:

  • Chips and Crackers
  • Candy and Chocolate
  • Sweetened drinks, including any with artificial sweeteners
  • Alcohol and mixers
  • Instant foods
  • Processed fats
  • Frozen dinners

Labels: If any of your remaining foods contain high fructose corn syrup, any form of sugar, hydrogenated oil, fractioned oil, or preservatives you cannot pronounce as one of the first three ingredients, get rid of it. If any foods in your “toss” bag are still edible and have any redeeming nutritional value, consider donating it to a local food pantry.

Red-Light Items: Anything that leaves you feeling sick, powerless, or craving more has no business in your kitchen. This gets tricky if you have multiple members of your household who can all eat different things. If it helps, add a label for who gets what, then stick to it, so you can be sure you’re not digging into that bag of chips at oh-dark-thirty when you know it will give you heartburn in a few hours.

How to Restock Your Kitchen

Now that you have cleared your shelves, what can you eat? It’s time to make a list.

Write down the foods on your “Green-light” list.

See if you can plan three meals’ worth first so you won’t feel panicked.

Next, Precision Nutrition recommends that you start by choosing any three foods from the following categories and add them to your list – fresh or frozen doesn’t matter at this point:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Lean proteins
  • Nuts/seeds
  • Whole grains (oats, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice, sprouted grain bread, amaranth, etc.)

Keep the ingredients real. Choose whole foods over processed (an apple beats apple juice or packaged applesauce any day). Single-ingredient foods when possible. The fewer ingredients the better.

Add seasonal, organic, and local food items.

Avoid foods with “health benefits” labels like “fat-free”, “low-fat,” and “good for you.” An apple doesn’t need any such labels.

Where to Go From Here

Once you have completely restocked your kitchen with good choices, you have a few remaining responsibilities:

  1. Enjoy the choices you’ve made
  2. Be vigilant about shopping – don’t go grocery shopping when you are “hangry” as those foods you just tossed out might sneak back into your shopping cart
  3. Explore new recipes, flavors, and combinations by befriending the spice drawer
  4. Cut, dice, chop, and prepare fruits and vegetables so they truly are “ready to eat.” There’s nothing worse than setting a good intention and finding out your crisper has become a rotter.