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Fill Your Kitchen with Healthier Choices
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Filling your kitchen with good-for-you food is one of the most important things you can do if you're trying to live healthier. The secret is having a plan. Follow these simple instructions and it won't be such a daunting task.

Make a menu of what you plan on eating for the next week. Don't limit it to dinner; put breakfast, lunch and snacks on it too. Then when you head to the grocery store, you'll know exactly what you need to stock up on.

Look over your spices first. Salt (or a no-salt alternative), pepper, basil, bay leaves, chili powder, cumin, curry powder, ginger, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, red pepper flakes and thyme are all called for frequently in recipes. If you haven't got them, you might want to put them on your list.

A lower fat peanut butter, sugar-free jellies and fat-free mayo are some of the condiments I use to get flavoring without guilt. Mustard is naturally fat-free and they even make lower-sodium versions of ketchup if you're really watching your salt.

Start replacing any full-fat foods with lower fat or fat free options. I love low-fat sour cream, fat-free cottage cheese, thousand island and ranch dressing. Ditch whole or 2% milk for 1% or fat-free milk. If you don't drink much, choose Lactaid Free milk and you'll double the shelf life. Taste test a few until you find the ones you enjoy.

Don't just think about cutting fat; you want to increase fiber as well. Toss the white bread and replace it with whole wheat. Dump regular pasta and get whole-wheat varieties. Trade white potatoes for sweet potatoes. Buy cereals and oatmeal that have less sugar and more fiber.

Speaking of sugar, find ways to cut back. Eat fresh whole fruits instead of drinking juice and if you like soda, replace the regular with diet versions. Now there are even great tasting sugar-free pancake syrups and honey.

If you plan to bake, you'll want to have whole-wheat flour (instead of white), a sugar alternative (I like Splenda), brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch and vanilla extract. I also get a vanilla protein powder I can mix in with baked goods for a little extra bonus.

When I cook, I tend to use either olive oil, vegetable oil or a spray butter like Pam. It's also nice to have vinegar handy like balsamic, red wine or white wine. They're not just for salads; several meat dishes and soup recipes require the acidity for balance.

To calm your cravings between meals, get convenient snacks that won't trash your figure. There are some incredible lower sugar and calorie ice cream bars, higher fiber pretzels, baked chips and even a few lower-calorie frozen meals that taste great. Nuts can be good too, but choose ones with no salt added that aren't covered in sugar. Freeze a few pieces of whole fruit like banana or pears for an extra special afternoon pick-me-up.

Remember to separate any snacks into small bags or containers of individual servings. If you eat them right out of the bag or can, it's easy to take in 2, 3, or more servings without even thinking.

When buying vegetables, garlic and onions are two things always on my list. Then get any vegetables you plan on cooking that week in your menu. (Anytime I'm making a meal, I like to see if I can add a vegetable to it.) I also like to grab a few I can eat when hungry. Baby carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes are all convenient and guilt-free snacks.

Put the menu on your refrigerator and mark off each meal as you eat it. I make stars beside the ones I like, so I remember to put them on my list again. At the end of the week, restock the things you like, replace the stuff you don't and stick to the healthier choices.

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