The Pre-op Kitchen Check-Up

Ok, so you’ve done your initial consult, your info session, your nutritional consult, psych consult, pre-op class and the other gamillionty-two things you have to do before you have your surgery.

Now it’s easy sailing, right? Well…maybe.

Those tests were meant to make sure you come through weight-loss surgery successfully. But is your kitchen set up to do the same?

If you’re not sure, start with these tips. Foodies, I know you have even more suggestions. Please make them in the comments!

The Bariatric Foodie Pre-Op Kitchen Check-Up

Food Cupboards

If you live alone, managing your kitchen cupboards could be as easy as donating or giving away food not on your post-op plan and replacing it with products that are.

For those with spouses and families, it isn’t always so easy. Remember: YOU signed up for surgery, not them. So while you should expect they’ll be supportive, they aren’t going to be eating the same things as you and you need to be prepared for that. Here are some tips:

  • Take your cue from the grocery store. They put the most desirable items at eye level so that you’ll buy them (and as crazy as it sounds…it works). You can use the same strategy. Put your good food choices at eye level. Let the fam know their food is still in the pantry but is on a higher or lower shelf and should stay there.

  • Consider giving a designated home to YOUR stuff. That way you don’t even have to look at that economy sized bag of Combos your spouse just has to have!

  • Décor Tip: One of the best things I did for myself before surgery is take a tip from HGTV. I spray painted the inside panels of my cupboards with chalkboard paint and hung a small cup for chalk. Now when we’re out of something, we simply write it on the inside of the door. That helped post-op because I did not have to rifle through food I couldn’t have to figure out what we needed. Food was just…overwhelming…back then.

Dish Cupboards

I know what you’re thinking. “I have salad plates already!” Yes, you do but even those salad plates are going to look the size of China with a teeny bit of food on them. So if you don’t have any already, you might invest in a few saucers. Yep…saucers. The kind that tea cups go on. Yep….it is like that.

You might also just do a general dish check-up. Keeping in mind that bigger plates encourage us to eat more (studies have proven it), one very covert way to get your family into healthier eating habits is to change up your dishware. But don’t get rid of dinner plates outright. Lots of places sell more reasonable sized dinner plates now. You might consider switching them out and seeing what happens. Who knows? Yours might not be the only waistline that shrinks!

Bowls are another thing that tend to just be too big. Invest in some small ramekins or infant sized bowls.

The Cutlery Drawer

Yes, we are going everywhere in the kitchen!

Did you know Ikea and other places making children’s cutlery? It’s true. The spoons and forks are smaller than their grown-up counterparts making them perfect in those first days of eating and figuring out a proper bite. I don’t want to scare you but, taking the wrong sized bite can sometimes have severe consequences. I’m just sayin’.

Your Countertops

Not much going on there, right? Wrong! There is lots!

  • Check out your spice rack. If you don’t know when you bought a spice, it’s probably time to toss it. When you’re already sensitive to extreme tastes, stale spice just makes it so much worse.

  • Label your sugar, flour, salt jars. Be sure to clearly label the container in which you keep your sugar substitute.

  • For things like sugar substitute or oatmeal, put a measuring device in there that correlates to the portion size you want to consume. For instance, I keep a tablespoon measure in my Splenda jar and a ¼ c. measure in my oatmeal jar.

  • For goodness sakes, put SALT in all caps. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve grabbed the wrong container!

The Refrigerator

I must say of all the places in the kitchen, this is the one that’s the most post-op friendly in my humble opinion. Why? Most food that has to be refrigerated is because it is made from ingredients that will spoil which means they are at least less processed than other things in your fridge. You just have to make sure you have the RIGHT stuff (that is a whole other post):

  • For RNY patients especially, if your post-op eating plan includes dairy, invest in a few types of milk (cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk). Some post-ops find themselves lactose intolerant after surgery. Having milk there already will help. You can get either the kind that needs to be refrigerated or the shelf stable variety.

  • Again, claim a space for you and your stuff. At this point it doesn’t need to be a big space. No matter what surgery you have, you can’t eat that much up front. I suggest something like the deli storage drawer or the veggie or fruit bin. These things can go back to their normal functions eventually but to avoid food stimulus overload, it’s sometimes good to keep your stuff segregated so you know where it is and can get to it fast.

  • Use the front of your fridge!!! Post anything you think will inspire you. That might be bible scripture, aspirational quotes, pictures of you from high school, your dream vacation that you want to take when you get to your goal weight…just anything. Trust me, it helps. As time wears on, this is also a good place to clip your before picture. You wouldn’t believe how many midnight snacks my picture has shut down!

The Freezer

In addition to just generally cleaning it out (trust me, you’ll be freezing a LOT of food post-op) you might also:

  • Eke out some space for a few non-ice ice cube trays. Ice cube trays make perfect, one ounce portion sizes for soups, yogurt and other things you might use a lot.

  • While you’re at it, stick a box of Arm & Hammer in there. Trust me when I say that, while it is generally unpleasant for your ice cubes to smell and taste like last week’s garlic chicken, it is exponentially MORE so when you are just out from surgery!


I was the QUEEN of them in my early post-op days. Most are not necessary. But here are a few things that REALLY helped me:

  • A Food Saver Machine (or some other form of vacuum sealer). It really does make a difference in the life of your leftovers. And until I learned to cook for one post-op and two divas (instead of a large, fundamentalist family in Arkansas) there were a LOT of leftovers.

  • A good, sturdy blender. Whether you like the Magic Bullet, the Ninja or just a regular old Hamilton Beach, make sure you have a quality blender and that you know how it works!

  • (I don’t have one but it would have helped if I did) A Keurig coffee maker, especially if you are the sole tea drinker in the family. You can brew yourself one perfectly soothing cup of tea with no fuss. In the absence of budget for such things, might I recommend a whimsical teapot? It may take a bit longer, but the things are so cute! And don’t you deserve something cute?

Your Expectations

This is the hard one. As much as you listen to post-ops talk about their first kitchen melt downs after surgery, I don’t think you can truly GET the big deal about them until it happens to you. So let’s just do a little work to get our heads on straight.

  • Since your family is still going to eat what they will eat, you will likely see and smell it. This may bother you. That is okay. It is NOT, however, okay to guilt trip people about what they are eating. So you might want to figure out how you want to deal with that ahead of time. To practice, try giving up something for a week that you and your family usually like to eat. How does it make you feel? Practice ways of dealing with it WITHOUT being grouchy.

  • Getting into any new routine or system of organization takes time. So even though you’ve done this check-up (and threatened slow death on anyone who undoes it while you’re in the hospital), expect that it will take time for changes to keep. To make things easier, involve your whole family in the changes you’re making to your kitchen. That way you are making decisions together and everyone is on the same page!

  • Take a coaching mentality. If you are the cook of the family and always have been, you might want to recruit some culinary trainees before surgery. Teach your family how to make a few of your favorite dinners and other meals. Make it fun and look at it as family time together. That way when you are fresh from surgery (and may want to avoid food like the plague) your family will know how to make food for themselves and not resent it.

  •  …Or better yet, while you’re teaching the fam to cook, make some meals to freeze so that they can warm them up themselves. And to the extent that you can make future meals for yourself, do that too. Just be sure to label clearly!

Like I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list. If I’ve left something off or you have a neat tip or trick to share, please do! Put it in the comments so your pre-op Foodies can benefit.


  1. My best investment has been new, smaller, tupperware containers. I have several 1 cup and even 3oz containers that really helped make those small portions look better than when I was putting them in normal sized containers.

  2. Thanks so much for the great tips! My dear hubby is having surgery 7/2/12 and I am in a bit of a panic that we won't have our act together in time! The saucers tip is great! I am going to find some at the Goodwill today. These ideas help me breathe a little easier that I will be able to better help my sweetie while he recovers and gets his new life started!

  3. Ok, Sparkle, you totally ROCK! Thanks for being so supportive of him.

  4. OK, so this helps so much! I will be having surgery (bypass) in about a month and i am panicking because i feel like i don't know what to expect after surgery… thanks so much for the helpful advise.

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