As with any kind of work, you need the right tools to do the job well. Every kitchen and every cook needs a good set of tools. Healthy cooking is no exception; in fact, there are some tools that a health-minded cook might need that a less discerning cook would not.
Here is a list, with descriptions, of 23 tools for healthy cooking.
Good cooking starts with food preparation. The first 11 items on our list of tools are kitchen gadgets that help with meal prep.
Good Set of Knives
Every home cook needs a good set of knives, but a healthy food cook especially needs knives that are excellent for cutting vegetables and raw meats.
Instead of buying one of those blocks with various knives, some that you will never use, focus on buying three or four quality knives. We suggest following Alton Brown’s guidelines and getting a good chef’s knife, of 8-10 inches, a serrated bread knife, and a 4-6 inch utility knife. A quality paring knife is also one that you will find useful.
You’ll be using those knives to cut meats and vegetables; ideally, you should have two cutting boards, one for meats and another for vegetables. We recommend both a wooden and a plastic cutting board. You’ll want a wooden board for your vegetables and a plastic one for your meats—the plastic is easier to clean with antibacterial cleaners. Granite, glass, and marble cutting boards will dull your knives quicker than either wood or plastic.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
There are some recipes for which eye-balling the amounts of ingredients is fine, stir-fried vegetables for example. A set of measuring cups and spoons is essential for most healthy recipes, and you’ll want to follow the measurements exactly. Quality matters little for measuring cups, so that set from the dollar store will be just fine.
Along the same lines as measuring cups, food scales are essential for ensuring you have the proper quantity of food for the recipe. If you are dieting, food scales are an absolute necessity.
Food choppers differ from food processors only in the quantity of food they hold and the amount of effort you will need. Usually, food chopper refers to a hand-held, hand-operated device in which you place your vegetable and chop away with a blade attached to the lid.
Food processors are usually appliances that chop, shred, slice, or grate your vegetables while you feed said vegetable into the appliance. This appliance will do all that a food chopper will, and then some. Whether you need a chopper or a processor will depend on the amount of food you plan to prepare, the amount of time you have for hand slicing, and your personal preference.
No, not the musical instrument. The kitchen mandolin is a slicing device. Usually, handheld, you slide the vegetable across a blade that is set into the mandolin for slices, juliennes, and waffle or crinkle cuts. It got its name from the similarity of motion by the cook and the musician. Some food processors have the same functions as a mandolin. If you opt for a food chopper instead of a processor, you will want a mandolin.
There are at least two kinds of graters you will want in your healthy kitchen: a box grater, for shredding cheese, carrots, or beets, and a microplane grater for ginger, lemon, and other hard spices.
A few years ago a spiralizer referred to some hair designing tool, but no longer. In today’s healthy kitchen, a spiralizer turns vegetables into noodles. Veggie noodles are an easy way to slip healthy zucchini, sweet potatoes, or carrots into your menu. Plus, a spiralizer will also turn a boring potato into delicious curly fries—just be sure to bake those fries instead of deep-frying them.
A good blender will spin up a milkshake as easily as it grinds up toast into bread crumbs. Choose a blender with no more than 12 speeds—and most of those will rarely be used. A pulse function is a must for blending seeded berries or making bread crumbs.
Salad spinners do more than just toss your salads. Using fresh greens, like spinach and kale, requires them to be rinsed, and the salad spinner helps rid them of the excess water that would otherwise end up in your dish.
Our final food prep gadgets roll over into food cooking gadgets, so it seems appropriate to put utensils at the junction. Utensils include spatulas, whisks, ladles, slotted and non-slotted spoons, and tongs—any stirring, flipping, scraping, or serving gadget.
Now that you have all the tools for food preparation, let’s take a look at the nine most helpful cooking tools.
No healthy cooking tool list would be complete without including a vegetable steamer. While you can find an appliance for steaming vegetables, our choice is the basket steamer that fits down into your large cooking pot but keeps the vegetables up and away from the boiling water.
As you increase your grain intake and reduce your pasta, you may want to include a rice cooker in your appliance collection. A rice cooker allows you to cook perfect rice without standing over the stove waiting for that exact second that the rice is done, but not too done.
Good Set of Pots and Pans
Every cook, even those who cook only hot dogs, needs pots and pans. Most pots and pans can be purchased in sets, but you will want to shop around for the best pans to suit your needs. According to Consumer Reports, not all pots and pans are created equal. Choose your pots and pans wisely so that they will last you a good while.
Cast Iron Pans
Whichever pots and pans you choose, you will want to have at least one cast iron pan. A well cared for cast iron skillet can last a lifetime, just ask grandma. Cast iron can go from stove-top to oven for versatility. An added benefit is that cast iron, if seasoned properly, is virtually non-stick.
For ready to eat meals and easy cleanup, nothing beats a crock-pot or slow cooker. Load it up in the morning, leave it alone, and your meal will be ready to serve at dinner time. We recommend an oval crock-pot, to fit larger pieces of meat, with a glass lid so you can peek at the food without losing heat.
Indoor Electric Grill
Electric grills come in two varieties: the open top grill that mimics the backyard grilling experience and the contact grills that close over the food and can double as a sandwich press. The health benefits of either type of grill are that any fats are left behind and that vegetables retain their nutrients.
These handheld blenders are perfect for making smoothies in your glass, but they are also great for pureeing vegetables for soups, stirring gravy, making whipped cream, and even salsa. They are difficult to clean, but they make our list for their versatility and ease of use. They also take up less storage space than a traditional blender.
Every home cook should have a meat thermometer. Period. Undercooked chicken, pork, and ground beef have been linked to a variety of food-borne illnesses. Check the temps of your meat as you cook and protect your family.
Yes, we’ve already mentioned pots and pans, but a stock pot is a horse of a different color. Stock pots are larger, starting at six quarts. They are better at holding and distributing heat over the cooking surface. A stock pot can double as a soup pot. It should have a heavy, thick bottom and sturdy handles.
Our final category for healthy cooking tools is for those that come into play both before and after cooking.
One of our earlier healthy food tips is to do advance food prep. Once you have chopped those vegetables or cooked that grain, you will need containers to store them. When you choose your storage containers you should look for a good seal and durability. We like containers that are clear, so we can easily see what we’ve got. Glass containers are great, for both visibility and non-toxicity.
The good old-fashioned mason jars make great containers for cold storage of liquids and grains. They are also great for storing grains, popcorn, nuts—just about anything that goes in the cupboard. The versatility of mason jars, in their variety of sizes and shapes, makes them perfect for everything from canning to canisters.
Microwaves are good for more than just re-heating those leftovers. Use your microwave to steam vegetables, pop popcorn (in a brown paper lunch bag), or bake a potato. Your microwave may become your favorite healthy cooking tool. We found some great microwave healthy food tips from the Food Network.