The right kitchen tools can make home cooking so much easier. The more you prepare your own meals instead of eating out, the healthier your diet will be. While you don’t need to go out and buy the most expensive versions of these items, it’s worth investing a little in kitchen tools where higher quality will result in saved time (e.g., knives, pans). Below is a summary of basic kitchen tools to get you started meal prepping or just making healthier meals.
Having quality knives makes meal prepping, and cooking in general, so much easier because you can more efficiently chop fruits, vegetables, meat or other protein. This is a tool worth investing a little bit of money.
- 8-inch chef’s knife. If you only have one good knife, this is the one to get. This versatile knife can be used for chopping, slicing, dicing, or mincing meat and vegetables. Knives made of stainless steel (best at resisting rust) or high-carbon steel are the best quality.
- Paring knife. A pairing knife is smaller and good for peeling or chopping smaller fruits and vegetables.
- You’ll also want a knife sharpener. You can use high-quality knives for years if you care for them and sharpen them regularly.
- Don’t forget cutting boards. Ideally, use wood rather than plastic cutting boards. If wood boards are too expensive, bamboo is another good option. You also want to have at least two different size cutting boards (one large and one small). That way you don’t need to pull out a large board to chop up something small like a clove of garlic.
- 12-inch stainless steel sauté pan with high sides and a lid. Saute pans differ from skillets in their shape. The sides of a skillet are sloped, whereas the sides of a saute pan are straight which provides more surface area on the bottom for cooking and allows the pan to hold more liquid. Due to the high sides, a saute pan is great for cooking food in liquid, such as braising meat or vegetables or making dishes with a lot of sauce, like a curry. Stainless steel saute pans are the best quality. They are a little expensive but can last for many years and are another tool worth the investment if you cook a lot.
- 10- to 12-inch skillet that is oven-safe. An oven-safe skillet can be used to start cooking something on the stove top and then finish it off in the oven to bake or broil, like a frittata. It can also be used to sear meat, saute vegetables, or make a pan sauce. A pre-seasoned cast iron skillet is a perfect oven-safe skillet. Cast-iron skillets are also inexpensive and can last for decades.
- 10- to 12-inch nonstick skillet. A nonstick skillet is good for foods that are more likely to stick to the pan and tear when you remove them. This includes foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes, crepes, or delicate fish. Don’t use these pans in the oven, the nonstick coating can’t withstand the high heat.
- 2-quart stainless steel saucepan with a lid. Use this to make sauces or reheat soup.
- 4-quart stainless steel saucepan with a lid. Good for blanching or steaming vegetables or making soup.
- 5- to 6-quart enameled Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is a heavy bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid made of enameled cast iron. It’s very versatile and one of the kitchen tools that I use the most. It can be used for braising or to make soups, stews, chilis, or even homemade bread.
- 8- to 10-quart stockpot. This is not essential, but if you’re cooking for a family and want to boil a lot of pasta or make huge batches of soup or chili, you probably need a stockpot.
A 13” by 9” baking dish. Use this dish to make casseroles (lasagna, enchiladas, etc.), baked pasta dishes, mac and cheese, or desserts (brownies, apple crisp, etc.). Buy one that is made of ceramic or tempered glass (the cheaper option).
This is another versatile tool. Use it to roast vegetables, fish, or meat, make sheet pan meals, or bake cookies.
Ideally, you want to use an aluminum half sheet pan (18” by 13”) with a 1” rim around the sides. They’re very cheap, last forever, and can withstand high heat.
I like to line my baking sheets with a silicone baking mat to minimize the amount of oil I need to use to prevent sticking.
A blender is another kitchen tool that you will get a lot of use out of. There are several types of blenders, ideal for different uses.
- Full-size blender. Conventional cheaper models can be used to make smoothies and blend things like sauces, salad dressings, or pancake batter. This type of blender is sufficient for most people. However, if you want your blender to have more capabilities, a premium high-speed blender is a better option. These are the most expensive blenders, but they will produce a much creamier texture. Because they are more powerful, they can also be used for additional things like making nut butter.
- Single-serve blender. These are smaller than high-speed blenders and are good for smoothies or small batches of a sauce or dressing. I use my Nutribulet almost every day to make a green smoothie.
- Immersion blender. This blender is great to purée all or some of your soup to create a creamy texture. You can blend directly in the soup pot and avoid the mess of transferring soup to a regular high-speed blender.
A food processor is a multi-use item that can chop, shred, or mix solid ingredients. It’s different from a blender in that it does not require any added liquid.
Use it to quickly slice or dice vegetables or shred cheese. It’s also good for making dips or sauces like hummus or pesto.
A mini-food processor is good if you want these functions, but are only making or prepping small amounts of food.
A slow cooker, also called a crock-pot, uses a moist, low heat to cook food over a long duration of time. Slow cooker meals are fantastic when you are short on time because you can dump everything in the slow cooker and walk away for 4-8 hours until it’s done. It’s especially useful in the colder months when you want to make a big batch of soup or chili or a pot roast.
Other Kitchen Tools and Utensils
- Colander. Use to drain pasta or wash fruits and veggies.
- Mixing bowls. Have a set of mixing bowls in a variety of sizes. Stainless steel is long-lasting and cheap. You can even turn them into a double boiler.
- Measuring cups. You need two kinds of measuring cups: one set for dry ingredients and one for liquid, including least one glass measuring cup with a pour spout for liquids.
- Measuring spoons. To measure out teaspoons and tablespoons of dried herbs or spices.
- Vegetable peeler. Y shaped peelers are the easiest and most comfortable to use.
- Microplane grater. For zesting citrus or grating nutmeg or Parmesan cheese.
- Box grater. A 4-sided stainless steel box grater is most versatile. Three of the sides are for grating various textures (coarse, medium, and fine), and the fourth side is for slicing. Use it to grate a block of cheese or shred carrots.
- Wooden spoon. Good for stirring soups or sauces because it has a high heat tolerance and won’t melt (unlike plastic) and it’s soft so it won’t scratch the bottom of your pot.
- Tongs. Use to flip meat, toss and serve a salad, or stir pasta
- Spatulas. These are used to flip items you’re cooking, such as pancakes or a veggie burger. You can buy metal spatulas, but use a hard plastic one for nonstick pans.
- Whisk. To blend ingredients.
Food Storage Containers
Proper storage of leftovers or food that you meal prepped will help make healthy eating easier. Glass storage containers with tight-fitting lids are best for storing food in the fridge or freezer.
Mason jars work well for overnight oats or storing grains, nuts, seeds, or dried beans bought in bulk.