Pantry and Fridge Spring Cleaning: Ticket to Weight Loss

by Amy Hendel, P.A. Health Writer

There are two times a year when weight loss is more easily inspired – New Year’s which is like a fresh start for everyone (gym membership rates soar), and springtime, which seems to inspire major clean out efforts in our home and even work spaces. As we move into springtime it seems a perfect opportunity to focus on the fridge and pantry as major areas where a clean out can inspire some weight loss. Consider applying these tips to your workplace kitchen and snack drawer and car glove box too.

Woman checking what's in refrigerator.

Open the fridge and observe

Is your fridge in chaos? Are there all kinds of foods mixed together on all the shelves so there’s no real sense of order? Can you tell which foods are several weeks old and which were just purchased? Are there lots of leftovers? Is the fruit and vegetable bin full, empty, or filled with processed foods? Your fridge represents your buying and eating patterns. Be aware of consuming too many refined foods, which is linked to obesity and food cravings.

Woman pulling something stinky from refrigerator.

Read expiration dates and labels and “toss”

Empty your fridge and clean the interior. Check expiration dates and read labels for hidden sugars and salt and purge accordingly. Understand your fridge “zones” so that foods are returned to appropriate shelves and drawers where temperatures may differ. The fruit and vegetable drawer usually offers a crisper feature, limiting moisture. The door of the fridge should house less perishable items like condiments. Before returning foods to the fridge, separate them into the six food groups.

Drawing six food group food pyramid.

Fruits, veggies, carbs, and protein

The six food groups are fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates (grains), proteins (meat and non-meat based), fats, and dairy products. Fruits and vegetables are superstars (diet foundation) - peas, corn and potatoes should be categorized as “starches.” Fish, eggs and plant-based proteins (beans, seeds, legumes, and nuts) are the superstars, though skinless poultry and lean red meats can be part of a healthy diet. Consider processed carbohydrates as “treats” - emphasize high fiber whole grains.

Man shopping for milk check label for fat content.

Fats and dairy products

Eperts still feel that the saturated fat in whole fat dairy products is not healthy, despite helping to fill you up. Mostly choose low fat and fat free minimally processed yogurts, cheeses and milk. If you shun cow’s milk in favor of soy or nut milks, then make sure the milk is fortified with vitamin D and calcium for bone health. Choose monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocadoes. Nuts, (less processed) nut butters, and seeds also have heart-healthy fats. Fats need strict portion control.

Well organized refrigerator in kitchen.

Create a filing system in the fridge

We organize our finances and file our paperwork, so why wouldn’t we add a bit of “law and order” to our food storage areas? It’s harder to diet or manage your eating and weight if you don’t add a filing system to your food storage areas. Step one is to always put the newest purchases behind opened containers. Label leftovers or prepared foods with the date you cooked it and stored it. Keep foods from each food group together in a designated section of your fridge. Understand portion sizes.

Fruits and vegetables in crisper.

Designate sections in the fridge

Keep fruits and vegetables in the crisper drawers and be clear on which do and don’t require refrigeration. Relish, condiments, and dressings go in the door of the fridge where temperature fluctuates. Keep milk on the top shelf along with waters so you “see it and drink it.” Have healthy dips (bean and hummus) in small containers for easy grab. Create a healthy treat section with hard-boiled eggs and yogurt parfaits. Same rules for the freezer – clean out, label and create sections.

Cleaned out empty pantry ready to be filled.

Healthy pantry makeover

Create order out of chaos so similar rules apply. A clean out is likely in order and helps you to identify expired foods and will help you to find some buried, forgotten foods. Read cereal labels – notorious for hidden sugars, sodium and even fats (especially true of granola). Create sectors and always have on hand basic healthy staples – extra virgin olive oil and spray, lentils, beans (canned and dried), seeds and nuts, tomato paste, and canned fish in water.

Woman shopping for wholesome ingredients.

More basics to have on hand

Flavored vinegars, vegetable broth, unsweetened apple butter, non-fat evaporated milk are ingredients that can add flavor and creaminess sans extra calories to basic dishes. Protein-rich pasta (chickpea based), unsweetened oatmeal and whole grain cereals, dried herbs and spices are some key ingredients. New green banana flour is trending as low in sugar, high in resistant starch. The key to weight loss is wholesome ingredients on hand for quick-to-prepare recipes.

Couple planning meals together.

Menu planning and tools for the kitchen

Weight loss requires planning. Build a menu plan for the week and create a corresponding shopping list. Apps like cooksmarts and pepperplate can help, or you can simply keep a running list of ingredients you need for the meals planned. Using online recipe finders can help you to find tasty, healthy lower calorie recipes. Batch cooking can offer prepared foods in bulk. Invest in a slow cooker or crock pot to make healthy soups, stews, and chili. Freeze portioned amounts for convenience.

Writing shopping list while looking in pantry.

Shop with a list and prep immediately

Part of spring cleaning your diet requires an attitude adjustment. Eat before you shop to avoid impulse purchases. Shop mostly the perimeter of the supermarket where mostly “whole foods” are found – produce, milks, meats, and fish. Shop with a list based on your menu plans. This habit will also help to cut down on impulse shopping. Once home, prep ingredients so they’re readily available. Chop veggies, make bags of cereal topping for yogurt, and nuts for snacks, and marinate fish and meats.

Woman deep cleaning refrigerator.

Spring cleaning will help with weight loss

Creating order in your kitchen will help you to cook healthier food faster. Prepping and pre-cooking healthy main dishes will help you to meet daily calorie goals. Batch cooking will keep you from noshing when you come home ravenous since your meal is essentially waiting for you. Organizing your fridge and pantry will inspire more home cooking, awareness of ingredients, and portion size. Also apply these same cleaning and filing rules to your car food stash and workplace snack stash.

Woman finishing up organizing kitchen.

Pace spring cleaning to your personality

Some people like to tackle these types of changes with immediacy and set aside a day or two to do clean out and changeover completely. These “all or nothing people” may indeed benefit from a major spring cleaning of their fridge, pantry, and diet done fully and rapidly. Other people need to pace their spring cleaning and changes. They may prefer to take a week and pace fridge, pantry, menu planning, shopping, and prep. Match spring cleaning efforts to your personality. The key is just to do it!!

Amy Hendel, P.A.
Meet Our Writer
Amy Hendel, P.A.

Known as "The HealthGal", Amy Hendel P.A. is a medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, health coach and brand ambassador. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, find her on Twitter @Healthgal1103 and on Facebook @TheHealthGal. Check “Daily Health News” at Her personal mantra? “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”