Let’s be real: Who isn’t tempted by every kitchen contraption at Sur La Table and Bed Bath & Beyond? Butter cutters and avocado slicers and "chorks" all serve their purpose…right?
“It’s so easy to go overboard and want it all!” says Isabel Maples, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Whether you’re building up your chef’s arsenal to start a healthy cooking habit or just want to perfect your game, you definitely don’t want things falling on your feet every time you open your cupboard.
So what tools do you really need to avoid kitchen overload? We talked with eight nutritionists and healthy chefs to get the lowdown on the 13 kitchen essentials they absolutely can’t cook without.
1. Electric tea kettle
A watched (tea)pot never boils...so set your electric tea kettle and forget it. Plant-based, whole-foods chef Katie Simmons says she uses her kettle to boil water for stewing quick oats or soaking grains like couscous and bulgur. Or make her quick miso soup by using your kettle to boil a quart of water. Pour into a pot, add 2 tablespoons miso, grated ginger, and a dash of red chili pepper, and bring back to a boil. Let it steep for about 10 to 15 minutes, and enjoy!
Buy it: AmazonBasics Stainless Steel Porrtable Electric Hot Water Kettle ($21); Cosori Electric Kettle ($31)
2. Immersion blender
Stick this handheld gadget directly into your cooking pot to blend up creamy sauces, milkshakes, batter for muffins, or spreads like hummus. Because you don’t have to transfer your ingredients to a food processor, it saves time and dishes (the blender attachment itself even pops off and can go in the dishwasher, says Maples). Another big plus: it takes a lot less space than a blender or food processor. Simmons recommends the Breville and Cuisinart blenders; get one with a warranty of at least two years.
3. Reusable silicone bags
Do the environment (and your health) a favor by skipping the single-use plastic Ziplock bags for reusable silicone bags. “These are brand-new, and totally worth seeking out,” says Torey Armul, R.D., spokesperson for AND.
A clear panel allows you to see inside, and an airtight seal ensures nothing spills. Use them for on-the-go snacks and meals or to freeze, steam, and microwave foods. Because they're soft and flexible, they take up less space in your bag than glass or plastic containers.
Buy it: Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag ($12); rezip Lay-Flat Lunch Leakproof Reusable Storage Bag ($20 for 5)
4. Food processor
Chopping is the bane of every home cook’s existence. Enter the food processor: Simmons uses her Breville at least five times a week. “It's worth the extra cost to get a brand that lasts for a long time,” she says.
Make hummus and other dips from scratch as well as no-bake treats like trail mix bars and walnut brownies. Or use a food processor to puree veggies for burgers, chickpeas for falafel, macadamia nuts for vegan "cheese," and sun-dried tomatoes for pesto sauce.
Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, founder and CEO of Nutritious Life, says she uses her blender almost every morning to make smoothies for herself and her kids. “It’s the one gadget I always keep out on my counter. It’s so versatile!” she says.
Other than making smoothies, blenders prep ingredients and add the finishing touches to a meal. Use your blender to whip up a quick sauce or salsa, puree cooked veggies to make soup, or blitz a pile of nuts and seeds for bread that would take a lot longer to chop by hand.
6. Rasp grater
The rasp grater sort of looks like a giant nail file. “The long and soft handle makes it so much easier to use than a traditional grater. No worries about cutting your knuckles!” says Lindsey Pine, RDN, owner of TastyBalance Nutrition.
A rasp grater is the secret to finely-grated citrus zest, which adds a bright flavor to many recipes. You can also use it to finely grate ginger, garlic, nutmeg, chocolate, and hard cheeses. Pine uses hers to make gremolata, or a combination of lemon zest, chopped parsley, and garlic (check out her Green Beans Gremolata recipe).
7. Silicone baking mat
Hate scrubbing pans? Get yourself a silicone baking mat. Since it’s reusable and dishwasher-safe, it’s more environmentally-sustainable than parchment paper or foil—and it comes in a variety of sizes to fit your sheet pans. Use the non-stick surface to roll dough, bake cookies and pastries, and roast veggies and fish (try Pine’s roasted red cabbage and shallots with hard apple cider glaze or walnut meringue cookies). It’s also freezer-safe for making yogurt or chocolate bark.
8. Air fryer
Just because “fryer” is in the name doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Instead of using oil to cook foods, like a deep fryer, air fryers circulate hot air for a crispy, delish texture. Because you can use basically any veggies in your fridge—even the super limp ones—it helps reduce food waste. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, says her Philips Air Fryer saves her time, money, and unnecessary calories.
“My kids love ‘fried’ potatoes, chicken fingers and fish sticks, but you can also think outside the meal menu and create delicious snacks like kale chips or mushroom chips,” says Taub-Dix. Just add your favorite seasonings and a spritz of oil.
9. High-quality chef’s knife
Don’t even think about chopping foods with a small paring knife! Waste of time!
“The right knife can save so much time during meal prep,” says chef and dietitian Allison Schaaf, founder of PrepDish.com. “A good-quality, sharp chef's knife ensures speedy and more precise chopping.” She recommends the 7-inch Shun Santuko knife and Wusthoff knifes. Just be sure to sharpen your knives every few months.
10. Glass storage containers
Containers might not come to mind as a kitchen gadget—but Schaaf says they’re essential for meal prep (she likes Glasslock containers). Chop your veggies and cook your grains ahead of time and store them in the fridge to keep them fresh for longer and use in recipes later. They’re also great for sauces, soups, and stews. Get the most out of your leftovers by transferring the containers from fridge to freezer.
11. Handheld milk frother
Here’s an easy way to save yourself $4 (or more) every day: Make your morning caffeine at home. Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, registered dietitian and owner of BZ Nutrition in NYC, says her Aerolatte milk frother is the single most-used item in her kitchen. It’s obviously ideal for frothing the milk in lattes and cappuccinos—but it’s also perfect for matcha tea or lattes. “The electric whisk blends the matcha powder so perfectly that I never have any clumps. Using the traditional wooden whisk took more time and was less consistent with its blend-ability,” she says.
Love veggie noodles? A spiralizer is an easy way to make them at home—ensuring a lower price and fresh vegetables of your choice. Zeitlin preps zucchini and sweet potato noodles on Sunday night to use as high-fiber bases for protein mains like grilled chicken, salmon, or turkey meatballs with tomato sauce. With a little prep work, dinner’s ready in 10 minutes or less during the work week.
13. Instant Pot
If you don’t love to cook (or don’t have the time) and still want to eat healthy, homemade meals, get yourself an Instant Pot—the speedy version of the crock pot. “The time saver isn’t just the cooking time but also the time you save with meal prep, defrosting time, and clean up. Just toss the pot in the dishwasher and its ready to go again tomorrow!” says Zeitlin.
Instant Pots can cook almost anything: fish, meat, sauce, soups, chilis, hardboiled eggs. (And there are tons of recipes for various different eating plans, including the Mediterranean diet and the keto diet.) Add frozen chicken breasts with some spices and broth to the pot, and 12 minutes later you have perfectly-cooked chicken to pair with veggies for dinner. Shred leftovers to toss onto your salad the next day.
Ready to start cooking? Here's what a serving size of your favorite foods actually looks like. And have you joined our "Cook With Us" Facebook group yet?
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