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How to Stock Your Fridge to be Happy and Healthy-ish

My relationship with healthy eating used to be the same as my relationship with the gym. It kind of sucks, I kind of feel better afterwards, I kind of would rather be eating chicken fingers on the couch. And for someone who likes food as much as I do, that’s pretty sad, because no meal should go wasted as bland and boring. Now, I live that healthy-ish lifestyle, and the only real difference is that flavor comes relatively fat-free. Here is my star squad, the kitchen lineup that makes it possible for me love what I cook—and not feel guilty about those emergency chicken nuggets I had last night.

1. Mustard

I love mustard. I will dip soft pretzels in literal globs of mustard. A friend from Chile used to eat a snack of baby carrots dipped in spicy mustard, and you know what? That’s not bad either! Mustard is the key to a quick homemade salad dressing and an easy marinade. Stir it into some potatoes for a lighter, and dare I say better, potato salad. Whole grain or Dijon, mustard is here for you. You just need to let her in.

2. Hot Sauce

For many, your favorite hot sauce is deeply personal and fiercely defended—unless you’re like me and you’re kind of a loose lover of all things spicy. In any case, hot sauce lives beyond a couple splashes on scrambled eggs and hash browns. I put heaping spoonfuls of Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce on cold noodles, stir in Tapatio to black beans and add a dash of Cholula to perk up a big bowl of greens. Make it your own, but make it spicy. A motto to live by.

3. Fresh Herbs

I dare not say cilantro outright, lest the soapy-cilantro sufferers attack my credibility, but for me, it usually is cilantro. Chopped finely in lovely, herbaceous salads or stirred into a steaming bowl of quinoa, cilantro just makes home-cooked healthy eating brighter and happier. What I once thought was frivolous and unnecessary has now become part of my weekly grocery shop, as I make pseudo-tabbouleh and happier homemade meatballs. My favorites are leafy and fresh and easily incorporated raw (parsley, cilantro or basil), but there are no wrong answers here. Go wild.

4. Lemon

I put lemon in everything. Actually, I put too much lemon in everything. Have lemons been getting stronger? In any case, I will always have a lemon in my fridge that I continually hack away at until it’s gone. Add it to that aforementioned salad dressing, squeeze it over hearty greens or bake it in slices over fish. Make a really delicious Arnold Palmer with some crunchy turbinado sugar. And do yourself a favor: squeeze it over sliced avocados and top it with crunchy salt. Yes, avocados are a lovely sight all on their own. And yes, the lemon makes a difference.

5. Scallions

They’re also known as green onions. Actually, the more important question is, are these an herb? It doesn’t really matter, though, because my love for scallions needs a heading of its own. Supple and fresh and less onion-y than real onions, I grew up eating scallions in almost everything. I love them tossed over hot soup, chopped finely into a soy marinade, even roasted whole to a slightly blackened char. I feel like they are the little black dress of aromatics: appropriate in almost anything, in almost any form. Plus, I just found this really delicious, green onion-filled noodle recipe that is pretty much my perfect lunch. So go buy some! Go make some! Go have yourself a non-onion breath onion-filled day!

6. Cherry Tomatoes

I never actually considered myself a tomato-lover until I started cooking. I actually didn’t like tomatoes very much at all before. My sister would eat huge slices sprinkled with sugar, and I would give them a shuddering, resounding “no.” But now, I get it. Fresh tomatoes add a wonderful savoriness to your soup bases and make your chili happier. But I specifically love teeny tiny tomatoes for that extra bit of firm tomato skin that makes all the difference when you’re blistering them in a pan for the easiest tomato sauce you ever did see. All hail the tomato! It’s small but mighty.

A happy fridge is like a happy closet. Full, fresh and endlessly inspiring. Happy cooking!

Victoria is a Nor-Cal transplant and fourth-year Biochemistry major at UCLA. She hopes to one day have marble kitchen countertops, own the perfect slouchy sweater, and be the kind of doctor who handpicks ornaments when she decorates her office for Christmas. 
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