You want your meals made efficiently and fast. But you've had it with whatever is handy in the kitchen with little regard for nutrition and nourishment. No more mac-and-cheese dinners. No more stops at the fast food joint for a burger and fries. And pancake breakfasts are destined for extinction.
We checked in with culinary professionals to see what two or three essential pieces of equipment they'd recommend. There was some overlap in the tools they say you'll need, but there was also a good deal of diversity, particularly when it comes to cost. While all the tools the chefs we spoke with were geared toward helping the healthy home cook become more efficient, the price tags on the equipment they recommend range from just a few dollars to several thousand.
A juicer allows you to make juice from fresh fruits and vegetables, such as kale, beets and carrots. An electric juicer is designed for juicing limes, lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus.
Several chefs interviewed recommend a piece of equipment—a blender, if it's high-end—typically associated with smoothies but used for a wide variety of jobs, including chopping, and a diverse range of foods, including nut butters and milk, as well as juice, ice cream and sorbet. Many chefs like blenders with versatility and power, such as the Vitamix and Blendtec brands, for their strong performance. A powerful blender can produce a great texture, pulverizing and emulsifying the foods.
3. Pots and Pans
A high-end, sturdy set of pots and pans is also a kitchen must-have. A couple of good saute pans of different sizes are helpful.
The conventional wisdom that a knife is also an essential kitchen tool holds true for the healthy kitchen as well. The important accessory for a strong, sharp knife—such as a 10-inch chef's knife—is a strong cutting board, about the size of a legal pad. Some chefs favor Wusthof knives, while others prefer products from J.A. Henckels International. Some also recommend Japanese-style knives, such as a Santoku or Usuba. A good knife makes it easy to prep vegetables and fruits.
5. Pressure Cooker
Among the more affordable pieces of equipment is a pressure cooker. The device dramatically cuts cooking time, enhancing the cooking experience and making it more likely that you'll enjoy time in the kitchen. Andy Yang, executive chef of Sachi Asian Bistro in New York, is a pressure cooker fan. “Let's say you want to braise something or cook something to a very soft point where it will melt in your mouth. You can braise beef in 30 minutes instead of a day or two,” Yang explains. “It's a must-have piece of equipment. You only use a dash of oil, a little vegetable stock and flavor will go into the meat for a perfect meal.”
In addition to portion control, knowing where your food comes from is an important tenet of a healthy kitchen. And it doesn't get healthier than if you make much of your food yourself. That's why a KitchenAid stand mixer, and its various attachments, is among the top three essential healthy kitchen items for Canyon Ranch's Chef Scott Uehlein. “If you're going to buy only grass-fed beef, you can grind your own,” he says. “It comes with a grain attachment, and there's a pasta attachment if you want to make your own pasta.”
The biggest item among those recommended by the chefs interviewed is a refrigerator. One with big drawers to hold more fruits and vegetables is recommended, simply because many refrigerators lack the space to store those healthful items.
8. Parchment Paper
Camilla Saulsbury, author of 5 Easy Steps to Healthy Cooking (Robert Rose), recommends parchment paper—for lining cookie sheets and baking pans, and roasting vegetables—as a kitchen staple. “You get all the wonderful bits and pieces of the roasted vegetables, and it's very easy cleanup,” Saulsbury says. Cooking in parchment paper, or cooking papillote, lets you cook, say, fish with vegetables at once. Wrap the ingredients in the paper, set the oven to 350 degrees, and “in 20 minutes you've got a great meal,” she says. “You don't have to use much or even any oil. If you're doing a piece of fish and put vegetables in there, it steams it as it's cooking.”
9. Handheld Chopper
Rounding out Saulsbury's list of essential tools are a simple handheld chopper, the kind where the blade comes down in a plunger, and a basic steamer basket that's either metal or silicone. She likes these tools for their versatility and ubiquitous uses.
A saucepan is deeper than a frying pan and is essential for cooking soups, stews, corn on the cob, pasta and many other favorites. You can invest in a larger saucepan if you only have one. However, smaller saucepans are handy for preparing dishes like oatmeal, rice and hard-cooked eggs.
11. Metal Spatula
A sturdy spatula is a must-have when you're tossing, flipping and mixing items in your set of pans. If you have nonstick cookware, opt for a heavy-duty plastic option to avoid scratching the coating. A metal spatula is a great option if your cookware won't scratch, as it's a more durable material.
When mixing together ingredients that need to incorporate, a whisk is your best tool. A metal whisk can stand up well to all different types of food preparation, whether you're blending dry ingredients or mixing up wet ingredients. Whisks come in a wide range of sizes.
It's amazing just how many uses tongs have in the kitchen. Grillmasters love being able to turn meat and vegetables without having to get too close to the heat, while those who prefer to cook indoors can easily use a set of long-handled tongs to check the progress on something in the oven. Choose from silicone-coated or metal tongs, depending on your cookware and how you plan to use this handy tool.
14. Instant-Read Thermometer
When cooking meat, you simply can't take a chance on whether it's completely done and ready to eat. Undercooked meat can pose a risk to your health and safety, especially if you or anyone you're cooking for is pregnant. Feel confident in what you serve by investing in an instant-read thermometer, which will tell you the exact internal temperature of all types of meats. You can also review the meat temperature safety guide to ensure that everything you prepare meets safety standards.
15. Dutch Oven
If you've ever enjoyed Dutch oven cooking during a campout, you can attest to why this addition is worthwhile for any kitchen. However, Dutch ovens aren't just for outdoor cooking. In fact, you can prepare all types of tasty foods in this cookware piece, and you'll be impressed with the results. Since the material can handle the heat of the oven or sit on your stovetop, it's a versatile piece that allows you to cook soup, stew, meat and even bread with a deliciously crispy crust.
16. Sheet Pan
A sheet pan, also known as a baking sheet or baking tray, is a flat, rectangular pan that is used to bake or roast food in your oven. Even in the most minimalist kitchen, a sheet pan is essential because of its many uses. You can bake cookies, whip up a sheet cake or roast your favorite vegetables on it.
17. Immersion Blender
You might not realize just how functional an immersion blender can be, especially if you haven't used one for soups, sauces and other hearty recipes. This appliance, also called a stick blender, can puree or blend food within the container you prepared it in, such as the pot used to cook the soup or the bowl in which the sauce was mixed. Immersion blenders are affordable and can also be used to whip cream, make your own mayonnaise, and evenly blend sauces to perfection.
A colander is a bowl with holes, allowing you to drain liquid from the food you are using to prepare a recipe. It's an essential tool that you'll use every time you make pasta, wash leafy vegetables or even drain a can of beans. Colanders come in various sizes and styles, including collapsible options that work well in kitchens without much storage space.
19. Box Grater
A box grater is a multifunctional tool that you can use to zest, grate and even chiffonade all the ingredients in your recipe. The open center allows the food items to fall onto a plate or bowl that you have placed inside, making it easy to get every speck of what you are grating, zesting or shredding.
Microplane is actually the best-known brand name of mini-graters; it features a shaft of surgical stainless steel. The steel is photo-etched to create razor-sharp, fine edges, which allow you to dig into the food without worrying about rusting or dulling the material. You can use this to zest citrus fruit, soften and grate butter, mince fresh garlic, grate chocolate, shred hard cheeses and handle other precise tasks.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.