Preparing food at home is one of the key skills you will need to maintain your healthy lifestyle for the long run. I find the following kitchen essentials critical for daily cooking – and they’re affordable, easily accessible, and quickly cleaned. Before you load your kitchen down with “healthy” gadgets, check out these ten simple, multi-tasking tools and see if they fill the gap!
1. Olive Oil Pour Spout
My pour spout isn’t as fancy as this one – and I got mine at Central Market for about $3. I love this pour spout because I use my (organic) olive oil for everything in the kitchen and this spout lets me drizzle the perfect amount for any application with no accidental sudden “glugs”. Scrambling eggs? Roasting veggies? Greasing a baking dish? Topping a soup or salad? The perfect drizzle, every time.
This isn’t like a liquor pour spout – it doesn’t measure for you. But the lid (or flip-top) does keep your oil from oxidizing or being otherwise colonized.
2. Cast Iron Skillet (and grill pan)
This cast iron skillet is available everywhere – Wal-Mart has great prices! – and it’s my go-to pan for everything. (Don’t let a designer store fool you – the 10″ size is $15-$20.) I cook my veggies, my tofu, my pancakes, and anything else skillet-able in this pan, and I’ve been using the exact same pan for over 10 years now but it still looks brand new. (Perhaps you’ve inherited one – they can last far, far longer than the 10 years I’ve had mine!) I also have the grill pan version, which I use for prepping my chicken each week.
Very important pro-tip: no soap on cast iron. Wipe it out, rinse it, use salt or a mesh scrubber to scrub off anything that’s stubborn (although it’s naturally non-stick and will remain that way with the tiniest bit of care), but no soap. If you pick up a used cast iron pan and have to clean it with soap, make sure you season the pan before using it.
3. This Exact Spatula
I paid $20 for this spatula at a local store that no longer sells it, but you can get it from Amazon for under $7. This is the ONLY spatula, turner, and serving tool I use. I barely ever put it down. I love this spatula because:
It’s strong, thin, and flexible all at once, so it can turn heavy things, delicate things, or stuck-on things equally well.
It’s metal, so the edge can cut as well as turn, it’s easy to clean, and it will not melt while you’re using it like cheap nylon tools do. (Also, it’s metal, so it works great on the cast iron pan that I use, but if you’re a non-stick user it might not be for you. Let’s not talk about non-stick cookware.)
The handle is wood, so if you lean the spatula against something hot, it will not cruelly burn you (except those metal rivets) when you go to retrieve it.
4. Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and Spoons
How do you control your portions without measuring tools? Exactly. These aren’t just good for cooking – they’re a must-have for serving, too. You’ve already noticed that I love metal tools for their durability and ease of cleaning, so the fact that I like these stainless steel measuring tools is probably not a surprise! I use them for dry and liquid measures – for sticky stuff, check out the next item on the list.
5. A Push-Up Measuring Cup
If you’re measuring softened butter, packed brown sugar, applesauce, peanut butter, honey, or anything else that has a gooier, messier texture, this push-up measuring cup might change your life.
If you put it through the dishwasher, you might find that the measurement markings don’t last as long. (Alas, there’s no stainless steel version 🙂 )
6. A Mini-Chopper
You do not need a fancy version of this tool – I lucked out and got mine on sale at a kitchen store, but the generic one is just fine if you come across one at your favorite store!
I use my mini-chopper daily to:
- make almond and other nut butters
- chop veggies and fruit for for soups, salsa, sauces, fillings, and even applesauce
- make pastry (like pie crust) and other doughs
- make oat flour (constantly)
I used to have a 12-cup industrial food processor with attachments for 5 kinds of slicing, grating, and many other tasks, but I only ever used it at Thanksgiving because I don’t need to cut 12 cups of vegetables at a time and because it was wayyyy harder to clean than this tool.
Pro tip: don’t hold the button down, pulse it like the manual says! This will give you an even chop/mince/puree.
7. One Decent Chef’s Knife
Get all the knives you want if you will use them. I use my 7″ chef’s knife for everything that the mini-chopper doesn’t do – I even use it for peeling/paring. I paid $8 for mine in a big discount store about 16 years ago and it’s still awesome because I never put it in the dishwasher (flying food particles can damage your blade) and I get it professionally sharpened every year or so (for about $4 at the farmer’s market). When picking a knife, aim for one that is one solid piece of stainless steel (through the handle) and feels moderately heavy. No joke – this is the only knife I own.
8. One Decent Cutting Board
OK, I’ll be honest – I have two of these cutting boards so I can prep meat and veggies at the same time without having to wash the cutting board (I just cut the veggies first so I don’t have to wash the knife, either). They come in a variety of colors and they are very durable (and you can get one that’s the “meat” color and one that’s the “veggie” color so you don’t cross-contaminate) – my older board is 7 years old and it barely shows any use.
Having a cutting board that’s big enough to complete your prep tasks and durable enough to be worth cutting on really upgraded my prep happiness!
9. Parchment Paper and/or Silicone Baking Mats
I line my baking sheets with parchment or a baking mat and never have to grease anything. This also enables me to make things like rolled omelets and other unusual treats without ever having to worry about cleanup. If you buy the mats, make sure you buy the correct size for your baking sheets! (And if you need new half sheet pans, consider checking out the many restaurant supply stores in Houston – they have fab deals on stainless pans.)
10. These Glass Storage Containers
These storage containers come in a variety of sets – choose a set that serves your needs.
I LOVE them because they are measured and the measurements are engraved on them! You know that info-mercial that wants to sell you plastic tubs with specific measurements to help with portion control? Upgrade your thinking (and probably your health) by using these glass ones instead! I rely on them for packing lunches and other to-go meals daily. They make it so easy to eyeball serving sizes, and since they’re glass they are…you guessed it…easy to clean. The lids will crack over time if you put them in the dishwasher.
Those are the 10 tools that have gotten constant use in my kitchen for the last 10+ years of healthy cooking! I have more faves for things like omelets, making veggie noodles, and making cold brew coffee, but these essentials are the ones in daily circulation.
What are your healthy cooking must-haves?