The Perfect Kitchen for Weight Loss

By Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD

Even if you’re not one to make New Year’s resolutions, you may still try to shed a few excess pounds from the holidays. So set yourself up for weight loss success by surrounding yourself with nutrient-rich and weight-friendly foods. Here’s a list of my top picks for kitchen staples to keep on hand, so you are prepared to whip up a good-for-you meal or snack anytime hunger strikes.

High fiber tortillas
My favorite is La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious High Fiber Low Carb tortillas, since they have just 50 to 80 calories and 7 to 12 grams of fiber, thanks to the fact that they contain more oat fiber than whole-wheat flour. Use them for breakfast burritos, fajitas, chicken or turkey wraps and quesadillas (with reduced fat cheese), or smear a thin layer of nut butter on them for a sweet snack.

High-protein breakfast cereal
A cereal that’s simply high in fiber may not be enough to keep you feeling full for long. But a fiber-rich cereal that’s also a good source of protein can provide you with more staying power. I recommend Nutritious Living’s Hi-Lo cereal, with 90 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 12 grams of protein per half-cup serving. Kashi Go Lean is also a good option, with 140 calories, 10 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar and 13 grams protein per cup. Both are great for breakfast or a snack, or to add a crunch in plain Greek yogurt.

Beans, dried or canned
They’re truly one of nature’s most perfect foods, packed with fiber, protein and antioxidants. Add them to salads, soups or chili, or have them as a stand-alone dish. And pureed beans can be used to replace butter or oil (cup-for-cup) in baked goods.

Almond flour
It has 75 percent fewer carbs and 50 percent more protein than white or whole-wheat flour. Use it to replace up to a quarter of the flour in baked goods, or to coat chicken or pork chops for oven-fried dishes.

Pasta sauce
Sal & Judy’s Heart Smart Italian Sauce is among the lowest in calories and sodium, with 35 calories and 250 mg sodium per half-cup serving, and no added sugar. Plus it’s local. Serve it up over spaghetti squash, grilled chicken or fish, or use it to make eggplant lasagna (minus the pasta).

Soy crisps and Beanitos black bean chips
These are great nutritious chip alternatives, with 3 to 5 grams of fiber and 4 to 9 grams of protein per 140-calorie serving. (Tip: If the large bag is too tempting, single serving bags are available at and

Balsamic vinegar
With just five calories per teaspoon, it’s a fabulous way to add flavor with minimal calories. Use it for braised red cabbage, roasted cauliflower or Brussels sprouts, or drizzled over tomatoes and fresh basil.

Salt-free herbs, spices, and seasoning blends
Fresh or dried herbs and spices add taste to any dish, with zero calories. I love Chef Paul Prudhomme’s No Salt, No Sugar Magic Seasoning Blends. The five different varieties (my favorite is Sweet & Spicy) make it effortless to add variety and flavor without the salt.

Pasta swaps
Even whole-wheat pasta has 200 calories and 40 grams of carbs per cup. So keep ingredients on hand for low-carb pasta swaps. Spaghetti squash and shirataki noodles (usually located near the tofu or in the produce section) are easy stand-ins for spaghetti or angel hair pasta, while eggplant (peeled and sliced into thin medallions) can take the place of pasta in a ‘better-for-you’ lasagna. And all have less than 45 calories and 10 grams of carb per cup.

Plain lowfat Greek yogurt
Even if you’re not a fan of the tart creamy stuff straight from the carton, plain Greek yogurt can be used to make creamy dips, smoothies, salad dressings, sauces, you name it. You can lighten up favorite recipes by using plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese, or blend it with berries (fresh or frozen) and make homemade popsicles.

Laughing Cow light cheese wedges
Available in a variety of flavors or just plain creamy Swiss, these 35-calorie spreadable wedges are perfect as a sandwich spread, smeared onto whole grain crackers, or paired with sliced apples or pears. Stir a couple of Blue Cheese wedges into whipped cauliflower “potatoes,” or stir a Queso Fresco & Chipotle wedge into a cup of black bean soup for a burst of flavor with minimal calories.

Reduced-fat cheese
I love really good full-fat cheeses. But as an everyday staple for meals and snacks, I use reduced-fat cheese to add a boost of protein and calcium with fewer calories and less animal-based saturated fat. My preference is block or shredded cheese, but if portion control is an issue, you’re likely better off with individually wrapped cheese sticks, slices or rounds.

Deli meats
Deli meats are super-lean and low in calories (30 to 40 calories and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per ounce) and packed with belly-filling protein. Make a wrap with a high-fiber tortilla for lunch (or even breakfast), pile atop a salad, or just roll up a few slices to tide you over between meals. Ideally look for lower-sodium varieties without added nitrites or nitrates.

Milk or milk alternative
It’s an obvious kitchen staple, good for smoothies, casseroles and sauces, or poured over cereal or oatmeal. But whatever type of milk or milk alternative you choose, check the label to be sure it doesn’t contain added sugar. Unsweetened chocolate almond milk, for example, has less than half the calories of regular fat-free milk, with 80 percent fewer carbs, and might help to satisfy a nighttime chocolate craving.

They’re rich in protein, plus egg yolks are among the top food sources of choline, a nutrient that plays a key role in our metabolism of fat. For those looking to keep calories in check, I recommend just 1 or 2 eggs at a time (adding extra egg whites for more volume), prepared in any way, or mixed with a little light mayo to make egg salad.

When it comes to fruits, berries are among the lowest in calories and sugars, the highest in fiber and in antioxidants. Add them to your breakfast cereal, plain low-fat Greek yogurt, smoothies, or just enjoy them plain as a sweet treat.

Bagged greens (e.g. kale, spinach, collard greens)
They can be the base for a salad, filler for wraps and sandwiches, tossed into omelets and casseroles, or simply steamed or sautéed.

Fresh veggies
There’s really no fresh veggie that’s off limits. The key is to incorporate variety of color (beets, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes), and only buy what you can eat before it goes bad (you can stock up on frozen veggies as a backup).

Frozen berries
They are just as nutritious as the fresh ones, and they can be much more cost effective, particularly when berries aren’t in season. Toss frozen berries into smoothies, or allow them to thaw a bit and add them to Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.

Steam-in-the-bag veggies
Granted, the texture doesn’t compare to freshly prepared vegetables, but frozen vegetables aren’t any less nutrient-rich than their fresh counterparts. Plus you don’t have to worry about spoilage, nor about chopping, slicing or dicing when you’re looking for a quick dinner. Just be sure to look for vegetables that are plain or lightly seasoned, since those in creamy, buttery or sweet teriyaki-style sauces tend to be higher in calories, not to mention sodium.

Extra-lean ground beef
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are among the first things most people think of when trying to eat more healthfully. But extra lean ground beef (e.g. 95 percent lean) can be a good option as well, with just 38 calories per ounce (compared to 31 calories per ounce of skinless chicken breast). And burgers, chili, meat sauce (over spaghetti squash) or lightened-up taco salads can feel so much less diet-like than plain old chicken breast.

Nothing beats fresh fish, but not everyone has the opportunity or the time to purchase it on a daily basis. So the next best bet are individually vacuum-sealed fish filets (e.g. salmon, tuna and halibut), which make it possible to prepare just a few servings without exposing the entire bag to freezer air.

Pork loin
It’s as lean as skinless chicken breast but adds more variety, which makes it easier to stay on track. Grill or bake it whole, or slice it into medallions first, brush with your favorite marinade, and grill.

Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a sports and lifestyle dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She manages the nutrition program at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, advising clients in weight loss, muscle building, endurance training, eating disorders and general health and wellness.

As a columnist for The Times-Picayune newspaper, Molly covers the latest trends in the nutrition and the fitness industry. She is also the nutrition and fitness expert for New Orleans’ ABC affiliate WGNO with a weekly segment on “Good Morning New Orleans, Get the Skinny with Molly.”

Serving as a spokesperson at various events of the New Orleans community, Molly is featured regularly as a nutritional expert on local and national news stories. She has appeared in numerous media outlets, including Vogue, The New York Times, Newsweek, Shape, Health, Fitness, Runner’s World, Wine Enthusiast, Cosmopolitan, WebMD and For more information, please visit

Reprinted with permission from The Times-Picayune newspaper.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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