The peach drops, confetti flies and resolution-makers vow to be healthier this year.
Eat better, exercise more, the same old drill. But when hunger comes calling, all bets are off. Unless, of course, you've planned ahead and filled the kitchen shelves with healthful foods.
"It's up to you to make good choices when it comes to food. You are the gatekeeper for your family's nutritional choices," said Rachel Brandeis, a private practice dietitian in Gwinnett. "It's really not hard to keep it healthy."
A nutritionally savvy pantry doesn't mean a boring one, though. Dieters can still indulge in carbs and cooks can easily create five-star meals with high fat, high calorie ingredients.
"Having a well-stocked pantry means having nutritious snacks on hand and having foods that can easily go into quick meal preparation," Brandeis said. "You need to have a variety of choices and easy to prepare, but nutritious, foods."
Whole grains, whole wheat
Start with the most basic of ingredients: flour. Instead of sacks of enriched white flour, use whole wheat flour. Unlike enriched flour, which has been processed and refined, whole wheat flour isn't stripped of essential nutrients such as fiber. In fact, whole-grain anything is a better alternative to flour-rich foods, such as breads, rice and pasta, Brandeis said.
Fiber is a key ingredient to healthful living, as it moves easily through the digestive tract and helps it function properly. A high-fiber diet may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
"Higher fiber usually means less sugar, and fiber-rich foods are a pretty safe bet to be healthy," Brandeis said.
The recommended fiber intake is 21 to 25 grams a day for women and 30 to 38 grams a day for men. Oatmeal, couscous, barley and lentils are some good high-fiber foods to start out with.
Aiding in the growth of healthy nails, shiny hair and a clear complexion, protein is a vital nutrient to consider when filling kitchen shelves. While there isn't an exact dietary guideline set for protein consumption, the USDA recommends eating lean proteins, and eating them in moderation.
"Protein is very important to a balanced diet," Brandeis said. "A well-stocked pantry needs to have quick and easy sources of protein."
Meats, poultry and fish are full of protein. Pantry standards canned salmon and tuna, packed in water, deliver a hard protein punch but with a low calorie count. Lentils and beans, too, are protein powerhouses and can be used in a variety of recipes.
For a quick snack, grab a handful of seeds or nuts, such as almonds, pine nuts and pecans. Be mindful of serving sizes with nuts, though, as they are a high-fat food, Brandeis said.
Cut through fats when cooking by skipping butter or margarine and using cooking spray to coat pots and pans instead. In recipes, rather than peanut, vegetable or corn oil, use canola or extra-virgin olive oil, as they contain mono-unsaturated fats (the good kind), which can help to guard against high cholesterol.
Substituting vegetable or chicken broth can also slash the fat and calorie contents in recipes. When baking, using applesauce rather than oil or butter can take cookies and cakes into a healthy category.
Pour on the ketchup and the marinara sauce. Beyond adding flavor and color to a dish, tomatoes may help save lives. Tomatoes and tomato-based products are packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that is shown to prevent heart disease, osteoporosis and some forms of cancer.
"I keep salsa and chopped tomatoes in my cabinets at all times," Brandeis said. "They add flavor to a lot of recipes, plus they are very beneficial to your health. Canned vegetables in general are very versatile and should always be kept on hand."
Soups, when based in a broth rather than a cream, are low-fat, low-cal options for winter meals or side dishes.
"Having low-sodium soups on hand is a great idea," Brandeis said. "It's quick and tasty, and plus, everyone loves soup."
However, she adds, canned soups can pack a serious serving of sodium. As a remedy, several soup outfitters have introduced low-sodium versions. Campbell's, for instance, offers anything from chicken noodle to Italian wedding, while the Amy's Organic Soup line has an equally wide selection, with light-sodium option ranging from lentil and split pea soups to spicy chili.
Sometimes, you just need chocolate. But rather than reaching for the calorie-laden cake or cookie, opt instead for No-Pudge Brownies. A brownie mix that tastes almost identical to the real thing, these fat-free, low-cal treats are a nice - and not naughty - treat.
Some studies have shown dark chocolate, which is full of antioxidants, to fight heart disease and lower blood pressure, making it a healthy way to end a meal.
"For me, a bag of dark chocolate is a staple at my house," Brandeis said. "Of course, if you have met your calorie intake for the day, then adding on a few pieces of dark chocolate may not be a good idea. But if you need to indulge, dark chocolate is a good choice."
Ultra-healthy pantry essentials:
A healthy pantry needs to be stocked with items that can be made into quick meals or curb hunger in a nutritious snack. Here, dietitian Rachel Brandeis offers suggestions:
•Applesauce. Look for unsweetened, such as Mott's Healthy Harvest.
•Broth. Chicken or vegetable work with most soups.
•Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce
•Canned tuna. Chicken of the Sea and Starkist offer portion-controlled servings and flavored, packaged fillets.
•Couscous. Found in the rice aisle. Marrakesh Express and Near East are readily available brands; some grocery stores have pre-made options, as well.
•Canned vegetables. Del Monte's low-fat, canned Savory Sides make for easy meal add-ons.
•Flavored vinegars. Herbed wine or balsamic vinegar make for quick salad, low-fat salad dressing.
•Lentils. The most common four varieties are: black, brown, green and red. Lentils can be bought in cans, bags or in bulk.
•Light salad dressings. Newman's Own offers low-fat, low-cal options, or make your own with oil and vinegar.
•Low-sodium soups. Try Amy's or Campbell's
•Nutritious indulgences. Think No-Pudge brownies and dark chocolate pieces.
•Oatmeal. Beyond oatmeal, Quaker Oats offers oatmeal cookies for a quick breakfast.
•Olive or canola oil
•On-the-go snacks. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds, jerky and low-sugar granola bars are good options.
•Popcorn. Try Newman's Own Trans-Fat Free Popcorn or Orville Redenbacher's mini bags for portion control
•Salsa. Newman's Own makes organic salsa in an array of flavors, such as pineapple, mango peach and lime.
•Whole wheat crackers. Health Valley, Triscuit and Wheat Thins come in a variety of flavors.
•Whole wheat and whole grain pasta, rice and bread