Having these tools in your kitchen will help you keep your resolution to eat nutritious, whole foods for a healthy lifestyle—even if you have a small space.
Congratulations! You have made the decision for you and your family to eat healthier, more nutritious meals together. You want less processed food, less takeaway and more shared home cooking.
Healthy meals start with healthy ingredients, and having the right equipment in your kitchen can help you prepare them with little fuss. Look around your kitchen. Do you have the right tools to take on this task? Is not having the proper kitchen tools tempting your family into consuming more convenience foods? Are you avoiding adding more veggies and whole grains to your family’s diet because you cannot prepare them quickly and efficiently?
It sure is a possibility. Without a good, sharp knife, cutting veggies is a time-consuming chore. Even washing lettuce for a simple salad is a messy proposition without a salad spinner. If you are steadfastly avoiding these simple preparation tasks, you may want to reassess your kitchen tools.
This shouldn’t require a costly kitchen equipment makeover. Many of these healthy-kitchen essentials you probably already have on hand, and you can buy those you don’t have at very little expense at big-box stores or online.
You also don’t need to sacrifice precious counter or storage space for these valuable tools. You will be surprised at how a few simple items can take on the lion’s share of healthy food prep and presentation.
Here are the tools that the family home chef should have in his or her arsenal.
10-inch chef’s knife
This is your go-to tool when preparing any healthy meal. A good, sharp knife makes all your cutting, slicing and chopping much easier. You will immediately notice the difference using a good knife when chopping a bunch of carrots: with a high-quality, sharp knife, your hand and arm will not feel fatigued, while a cheap knife (I’m not talking price here) will make you want to take a rest halfway through your task.
Since eating well includes cooking with lots of fresh vegetables, a good knife is essential. Look for a gently curved blade with good balance. The best knives have a solid forged blade that continues into the handle, which is attached with rivets or bonding. Avoid handles with ergonomic bumps and finishes. Keep your knife sharp by honing it after every use with a steel—a sharp knife will not only make your vegetable chopping a breeze, it is also much safer than using a dull blade!
Some cooks will also want to add a paring knife and a utility knife to their toolkit, but I would argue that a good chef’s knife can handle delicate cutting tasks, too. So if you are aiming toward a minimal investment of money and space, you only need one knife.
Half of your prep time composing a healthy salad is cleaning the greens—a wet, messy chore that may make you want to throw in the towel (literally and figuratively). As more families shop local farmer’s markets and join farm shares, having a salad spinner is essential to cleaning your greens. The best part is that you conserve water by using less and don’t waste paper towels or your time. Talk about setting a good example for your kids!
Involve your kids in washing lettuces—salad spinners are simple and really fun to use. Most salad spinners feature a clear bowl so kids can watch the water spin out of the greens. The faster the basket spins, the drier the leaves, so you can make it a dry-leaf challenge.
One of the best features of a spinner is that you can use it as a storage container after you have taken out the amount of leaves you need for a meal. It keeps your washed greens dry and fresh for days in your refrigerator.
Solid plastic cutting board
Even if you have granite or marble countertops, it is a good idea to have an all-purpose cutting board around, if only to keep produce separated from uncooked meats and fish. Most professional kitchens use solid plastic cutting boards because they are easy to sanitize and remove strong odors, like garlic and onions. A more porous wood cutting board can hold onto their essential oils, giving your pineapple chunks an onion-y tang even after scrubbing.
Choose the largest board you can that will still fit in your dishwasher. If you have the space, your child can even help you buy color-coded plastic boards for produce, meats, and fish. Older children can even choose their own designated cutting board for when they help you out in the kitchen.
Blender or food processor
The sheer number of heart-healthy soups, snacks, smoothies, and desserts you can make in a blender or food processor make this appliance a kitchen essential. It’s just so simple for you and your kids to throw in sweet seasonal fruits and berries, a little yogurt and honey, and a few ice cubes to blend into a tasty and nutritious smoothie. Some steamed sweet potatoes, chicken broth, and tangy low-fat yogurt given a spin in the blender create a velvety, satisfying soup for all ages. And if an after-school snack attack hits, prepare a protein-rich hummus or bean dip with cooked chickpeas or your favorite white beans, garlic, and olive oil. Serve with carrot and celery sticks for a tasty appetizer that won’t spoil kids’ dinners. Homemade peanut or almond butter, pesto, and mayonnaise can all be easily made—and serve as an educational tool for your kids. Compare the taste (and the ingredients list) of their homemade peanut butter to a store-bought brand, and they will truly appreciate how tasty nutritious home-cooked staples can be.
Ovenproof 12-inch skillet and lid
You can use a strong, solid skillet (also known as a sauté pan) for almost all your daily cooking needs: sautéing, browning, braising, frying—you name it. Adding a lid can create a small Dutch oven for red beans and rice or paella.
There are two ways you can go on your skillet: either stainless steel or cast iron. I cannot recommend nonstick Teflon, even with all the technological advances to postpone/prevent flaking. A Teflon pan will eventually flake, rendering the pan useless, becoming an eventual addition to the landfill.
For a stainless steel skillet, look for a pan with an aluminum core (to quickly and evenly conduct heat). Make sure the handle is also metal so you can transfer your pan to the oven or broiler. Look for flared sides, which will speed evaporation and encourage better browning. Specialty pans may be anodized or have a copper core, which can increase price dramatically. All I have to say is that you don’t find such frilly cookware in a professional kitchen.
I love a good cast-iron pan for its wonderful browning ability, its incredible versatility, and the little added bonus of adding a bit of iron to your foods! It is heavier than most pans and requires a little extra care. Do not wash your pan with soap and a scrubber—sponge-wash with warm water. Buy a pre-seasoned pan to make your life a little easier. Once seasoned, a cast-iron pan requires little or no added oil to prevent sticking while cooking.
The last healthy kitchen essential on my list is a wonderful, convenient way to throw together a healthy, energy-enhancing meal first thing in the morning, and then get on with your busy day. Dinner is ready when you walk in the door—you can actually spend time with you kids helping with homework or having them help you with a quick salad and some instant couscous to accompany your meal.
You can put veggies that usually require long cook times into the crock-pot and walk away—hello, fussy mustard greens! Throw in beans or meat for a protein with the veg, some broth or wine, herbs and spices, and maybe even some barley grains for starch. The enticing smell of a homemade nutritious stew is guaranteed to make your family healthy food enthusiasts.
With these tools on hand, your healthy homemade meals will be delicious, nutritious, and convenient. Happy cooking!
Tools you DON’T need
I am a big believer in Good Eats chef Alton Brown’s philosophy of banishing single-use tools that clog up your kitchen drawers. If a tool is only good for one small, specific chore, like a citrus juicer or nutmeg grater, it is not a useful tool. Multi-taskers are the more efficient—and less costly—way to go.
Nutmeg grater; cheese grater; citrus zester: All these tasks can be handled with one simple five-dollar box grater.
Apple corer, slicer, or peeler; citrus peeler; French-fry slicer or potato-peel curler: A simple vegetable peeler and chef’s knife will do all those jobs.
Potato ricer; food mill; garlic press: Use your chef’s knife.
Specialty, single-usage knives, such as a de-boning knife or fish scaler: Just how often do you butcher your own meat or catch whole fish? Exactly. Use your chef’s knife.