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DIY Pantry Makeover

Holistic health coach, Tara Roscioli, explains with step by step instructions how to perform a pantry makeover so you can reorganize your kitchen into a space that even GOOP editors would swoon over.

white food products in glass containers on a counter
DIY Pantry Makeover Steps for a Fresh Start

It’s all too easy to let your health and wellness become your lowest priority. Juggling a thriving career and a growing family can be a challenge for many of us. When you try to add in a little self-care, suddenly things feel unmanageable. You may drop the ball. Oh hell, you may drop ALL the balls! So you cut corners…miss a few early morning workouts so that you can bake brownies for your child to take to school for his birthday. You sacrifice much-needed sleep so that you can glue-gun the Icelandic flag onto 2 dozen t-shirts (half of them crooked) for a school event. And dinner? Who needs it when you can just nibble on the leftover brownies you made for said school event? You tell yourself you’re making sacrifices for your family or your career. Lies! The truth is, you are doing a tremendous disservice to yourself and to those close to you. When you aren’t at your best, everyone around you suffers! When nutrition and self-care become a priority, you’re able to give more to your family, and your productivity and morale at work will improve ten-fold.

The need for a little organization and peace of mind was what prompted me to create my Pantry Makeover service. Now I’m teaching all of you how to do it for yourself. Organizing your pantry and kitchen, the nucleus of every household, is one way you can get closer to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This can be an overwhelming process for many of us, and that’s why I want to provide you with some helpful tips and tricks I learned while providing my pantry makeover service in kitchens throughout New Jersey and New York.

What is a Pantry Makeover?

When I use the word “pantry,” I’m really referring to the kitchen as a whole (including that gnarly fridge). Simply put, this makeover is designed to help you make better choices by minimizing the amount of foods that contain empty calories, artificial ingredients, and too much sugar. Instead, the focus is on stocking up on healthier options such as nutrient-dense and high fiber foods so that they are accessible for easy snacking and simple meal preparation. However, riding the “highway 2 well” is not about deprivation-it’s about living in balance. So look at a pantry makeover as an exciting opportunity to reorganize your entire kitchen by prioritizing easy access to nutritious foods, and stealthily stashing a small amount of indulgent treats in a cabinet that is out of reach.

How To Perform Your Own DIY Pantry Makeover

Although every pantry makeover is unique, all makeovers should include these three steps:

1. Assessment of Your Personal Goals & Dietary Habits

Your DIY pantry makeover should begin with answering a few simple questions. What are your goals for the makeover? What are your biggest challenges when it comes to food? What concerns do you hope to alleviate from going through this exercise? Perhaps your concern is the quality of your children’s snacks. Maybe your family eats too much sugar, or perhaps salt is your vice. Is your goal to lose weight or for your family to live a healthier lifestyle? Take pen to paper and list out your answers to these questions. By clearly identifying and articulating your goals, you will be far more successful in prioritizing what to keep and what to toss.

Remember, no one is watching you or judging you! This process should feel liberating.

2. Discover Different Food Choices and Healthy Alternatives

My goal is to help you become an informed shopper so that you can get the most out of your grocery store haul. Your DIY pantry makeover should embrace some fundamental nutrition principles and help you achieve the goals you set forth above in a healthful and palatable fashion.

Identify Healthy Alternatives You and Your Family Can Try.

man and woman cooking together in a kitchen
Try New Recipes After Your Pantry Makeover

We all have our go-to recipes, meals, and snacks, but a great starting point for your pantry makeover is to identify where you can make healthy substitutions. Do you love grilling hamburgers? Try ground turkey or bison instead of beef for a leaner, less greasy option. Pair your burger with a whole grain bun or even large pieces of Bibb lettuce for a low net carb option. Maybe Taco Tuesday includes taco salads with all of the fixings, but without the carb-heavy taco shells. Pasta lover? Swap out low fiber, high carb noodles for something like zucchini or carrot noodles (Check out Hungry Root for options or make your own), or invest in some cans of Palmini Pasta which are made from hearts of palm. Identifying healthier variations of your favorite meals is a great way to stick to your health goals.

Flex Your Moderation Muscle. One of the best ways to improve your dietary habits is to focus on living in balance. You CAN maintain a healthy lifestyle, even when eating out and drinking cocktails. Set a goal to eat nutrient dense, high fiber and low net carb foods 90% of the time, and limit mindful indulges to 10% of the time. While this may sound simple, it can be a difficult feat when the pantry is flooded with junk food.

To flex your moderation muscle, identify the high sugar and high fat snacks that you and your family love to indulge in. I recommend that you eliminate these treats from your pantry at first, and reintroduce them down the road. You may find that your taste buds change once you have cut back on sugar and salt for a period of time. Your pantry makeover is a great opportunity to discover healthier snacks that the whole family will love. Some of my family’s favorites are Raw Rev Bars in a wide array of flavors, or Chocorite candies for when we want something a bit sweet. Both are high in fiber, low in sugar and extremely satisfying.

3. Cleaning Out & Arranging Your New Pantry

One main goal for accomplishing a successful pantry makeover is identifying ways to improve both the functionality and the aesthetics of your space according to your lifestyle.

  • A Fresh Start. The first step is to strip your pantry bare, leaving nothing behind. Lay out all of your items on your kitchen counter or table so you can see what you are working with. Eliminate expired foods and perhaps donate other items to a food pantry or a family in need.

  • Sort It Out. Take your time to read labels before deciding what to keep and what to donate or toss. Look for items that have fewer than 5 ingredients, minimizing the number of additives in your food. Keep canned vegetables for when your favorite vegetables are out of season. Keep foods that are high in fiber. Eliminate items that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fats. Pay close attention to items like jarred pasta sauces, soups and mac and cheese which often contain hidden sugars and are loaded with salt.

  • Categorizing. Once you have chosen what is going back into your pantry, take the time to group similar items together so that your cabinets are well organized and meal preparation is more pleasant. Group soups and sauces together, canned legumes together, etc. Keep a shelf of dry items like grains, dried beans and the like.

  • Repackage Your Food. Changing the presentation of your food can bring a whole new appeal to your pantry. Invest in a few attractive containers that allow you to find items more easily. Introduce a few glass jars to preserve items and spare you from battling with ill-fitting boxes. Pour baking supplies like flour, cereals, and grains like rice into clear canisters to maintain freshness. Not only does this help keep your pantry organized over time but it also encourages healthier eating-if your healthy food looks appealing and is easy to access, you are far more likely to reach for it the next time you open up your cabinet door.

TIP: Most products expire-even pasta has a “best by” date, so it is useful to label the bottom of jars with expiration dates so you know when to throw things out.

  • Space Saving & Further Organizing. Maximize your space by purchasing a few inexpensive wire racks and using the space underneath to store items. My favorite stores for purchasing inexpensive organization hacks are Bed Bath & Beyond or The Container Store. Utilize your pantry to its fullest potential. Take advantage of areas such as the back of the cabinet door to create additional storage. With everything neatly in place, you can improve the visibility of items so less items go to waste, ultimately saving you money and time.

child reaching for a strawberry on a counter top
Have a Kid Friendly Food Section
  • Designate A Section Just For The Kids. Place healthy kid-friendly items in an easily accessible area in the pantry. When you include your family in the DIY pantry makeover process, you invite them to take responsibility for what they eat. Take the time to educate your kids on the importance of an organized pantry and the great benefits of eating healthy as a family. Get your kids excited about the foods they should eat to give them the energy they need for sports, dance and play. Your approach and delivery will be a game changer in getting them to adapt to a healthy lifestyle.

Off to Your Local Grocery Store

Go into the grocery store with a clear game plan. Make a specific list of everything you need, avoiding impulse purchases that typically foods we don’t need. NEVER go to the store hungry!

A few things to keep in mind when you are looking to restock your pantry:

  • Shop the perimeter. All of the whole foods like produce, animal protein, and dairy are located in the perimeter of the store. It’s the aisles that get dicey! If you shop only the perimeter, you’re off to a great start in stocking that pantry and fridge with foods to thrive on.

  • Check the label. Marketers are smart. Many foods are marked ‘healthy,” or “natural,” but this label means absolutely nothing according to the Food and Drug Administration. Even the term “organic” can be deceptive…let’s just break this down into some SIMPLE key rules:

  • "Organic," as a term, can be deceptive. When shopping for organic produce, look for a sticker with a 5 digit code that starts with the number “9” to ensure you are purchasing produce grown without the use of chemicals. I personally look for products that are labeled USDA Organic. I also try to purchase produce that is grown close to home to support my local farmers and CSA and reduce my carbon footprint. Keep in mind that if you live on the east coast and purchase produce grown on the west coast, that produce is often picked before it is ripe to ensure it isn’t bad before it hits our grocery store. Finally, I avoid purchasing organic produce from other countries because other countries don’t have the same standards for organic farming. Additionally, when buy boxed or bag foods that are labeled organic, keep the following in mind: A label can include the word "organic" if the product contains a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients. This means that up to 5 percent of the ingredients may be nonorganic agricultural products that are not commercially available as organic or nonagricultural products on a list approved by the USDA. Foods with the "Made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. 

For a product to be labeled "100 percent organic," the USDA states that it must meet these criteria:

  1. All ingredients must be certified organic.

  2. Any processing aids must be organic.

  3. Product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.

  • No dairy is “hormone free.” Dairy comes from cows, and organic dairy often comes from pregnant cows. Organic dairy may not have growth hormones or antibiotics, but all cows have hormones. Nuff said.

  • Avoid overly processed foods: technically, all foods are processed to some extent unless you are picking fruit off of a tree and eating it on the spot. But look for foods that are as close to whole foods as possible. Fruits, vegetables, lean animal proteins and nuts are a great place to start. Make your own salsas and guacamole with fresh ingredients rather than prepackaged items loaded with preservatives. If the items you buy have a long shelf life due to preservatives, imagine how those preservatives affect your body’s ability to metabolize that food.

  • When buying packaged foods, try to stick with items that have 5 ingredients or less, and preferably choose items with ingredients you can pronounce.

Stick to your guns and you’ll come home fully restocked with savory foods that also enhance your nutrition.

Some Important Notes about Food Safety and Storage

When I perform a Pantry Makeover, I love to provide my clients with some tips on food safety. Rather than shoving all of your groceries into any refrigerator space you can find (trust me, I’ve done that), take a few extra moments to find the right place for them with food safety in mind. ⠀

Here are some food safety tips I share with my clients.

  • Store items like eggs and milk on refrigerator shelves or drawers rather than the door which is more susceptible to temperature fluctuations (particularly if little hands are opening and closing the door all day long).

  • Make sure to store raw meats, poultry and fish in plastic bags in a bowl on the lowest refrigerator shelf so that juices don’t drip onto other foods.⠀

milk and eggs on a yellow background
Extra Food Safety Tips
  • Ripen avocados, bananas and peaches on a countertop and then they can be refrigerated.

  • Store onions, potatoes and winter squash in a cool dark cabinet.

  • Store whole grain foods like brown rice in the refrigerator or freezer as they turn rancid faster than refined-grain products.

  • Keep frozen foods stored in their original packaging which should be airtight. You can add a layer of plastic wrap or tin foil if you plan to freeze that item long term.

  • Thaw frozen meat, chicken or fish in the refrigerator or submerged in cold water. Place it in a plastic ziplock bag and change out the cold water every 30 minutes. You want the surface to remain chilled while thawing occurs.

  • If thawing in the refrigerator, place it in a plastic bag or on a plate to collect juice and prevent drippings.

  • PLEASE do not thaw meat, poultry or fish on a countertop or outdoors- you are just inviting bacteria to wreak havoc on your family’s dinner.

Kick Start Your Healthy Lifestyle with an Accountability Health Coach

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Tara Roscioli - Health Coach in NJ

If you’re performing your DIY pantry makeover to help start a healthy lifestyle and perhaps lose some extra weight, please consider my Six Weeks to Sleek weight loss program. As part of my 6-week program, I personally customize meal plans, menus and grocery lists to suit your individualized needs, ensuring that your new healthy lifestyle is sustainable. This program includes one-on-one nutritional counseling sessions (in person or virtual), and round the clock support via telephone or text to address any questions or concerns. Check out my Testimonials to see what clients are saying about working with me. Contact me, Tara Roscioli, today to get started!

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