I use a simple system of red, yellow, and green lights to get our transformation started. Red light is food you’ll want to take out and not let back into your kitchen. Yellow lights are food that you might have questions on or that you know are not quite great but not quite labeled junk food – yet. Green light foods are those that you have been proven healthy for you. Green light foods don’t cause your system aggravation and unwanted side effects. They are foods that your body loves to have on your plate for health reason. Can you say zucchini and broccoli?
As each door of the cupboard, pantry, fridge, and freezer opens, take each food item out to examine under the Red, Yellow, or Green light.
Step 1: Red light = junk foods. Terminate.
Let’s start with your list of the obvious “red lights” from your fridge and pantry. This could include things like:
- Cheese crackers
- Chocolates or candy
- Soda/sweetened drinks
- Instant foods like cake mixes and mashed potatoes
- Margarine and other processed fats
- Most frozen dinners
- Most take out or restaurant leftovers
- Bowls of candy or other snacks sitting around
- Flavored nuts (i.e. beer nuts)
But please make your own list.
Step 2: Yellow light = trick foods. Triage.
Trick foods are foods that seem healthy but aren't. They’ve gone from something good (whole, minimally processed food) to something that a machine has put out, full of sugar and chemicals, and/or something that’s had all its original nutrients stripped out. It could also be items that you have in your cupboard for other family members that seem to trip you up. Consider minimizing and/or eliminating these:
- Sweetened yogurt and frozen yogurt
- Breads and bagels
- Other baked goods
- Most breakfast cereals
- Crackers, even the whole grain ones
- Granola bars
- Regular peanut butter
- Fruit juice nad sweetened dried fruits
- "Healthy" junk food (i.e. "organic" cookies, baked potato chips, etc.)
- Alcohol is negotiable - many people keep it on hand for social events but don't often drink it; other folks will drink it if it's there
This is a list you are going to work through. Right now it is giving you something to think about.
Step 3: Check for stuff you might not have thought of yet.
This is even more challenging than the so-called “healthier” foods in the “trick food” list, because you don’t think about these things being a problem… or think about them at all. (How much time do you spend thinking about BBQ sauce, anyway?) Most of these just pass under our radar, until we read the labels and discover that they’re sugar and chemical bombs. Or just not “food” at all. This includes:
- Relishes, mustards and ketchup
- Salad dressings
- Bread crumbs, croutons, and other dried bread products
- Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats
- Spreads such as cheese whiz or sweetened cream cheeses
Again, you don’t have to throw out everything. It’s not an all-or-none process. Just make sure yellow-light foods know they’re on notice and have to earn their rent.
Your red/yellow/green light items could be as simple as putting foods in these categories. For instance:
- Does this food come in a bag, box or plastic package?
- Does it have only a couple of ingredients on the label?
- Can you pronounce all of those ingredients?
- How far away is this food from what it used to be? And do you even know what it used to be?
- Is this food perishable?
Green light (just about anything good for you goes bad quickly)
Step 4: Green lighting the kitchen.
Let's work on forming the "green light/wanted foods" list to help you restock the kitchen.
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh veggies
- Canned tuna/salmon/chicken
- All the wonderful cuts of meat you buy at the meat market
Step 5: Now its time to get to work.
Option 1: Throw out (or give away) any and all red light foods.
Option 2: Take all the food that is not going to support your health and put it in ONE specific cupboard. Preferably out of the kitchen, maybe even in the basement. If you are looking in your refrigerator, move those red and yellow items into the produce drawer. Why not bring all those wonderful veggies to a fridge shelf where you can see them? Out of sight out of mind should be a slogan when you are dealing with family member’s food. Try to make it as difficult for you to see and eat.
Now you have it - a simple plan of addressing the food in your kitchen. Red lights you get rid of or make it difficult to see. Yellow lighted foods are put on stand by, maybe even taken out until you know which direction they really belong. Green light foods should be easy to see and easy to reach for. They are what stand out most when your kitchen is made over. By keeping food that will help your nutrition grow in plain sight, you are making it easier for yourself to eat in health supportive way.
To your best health,