The right tools in the kitchen can make it faster and easier for you to eat healthy.
Eating healthier is a lot easier when you have the right tools in your kitchen. There’s a reason you turn to the same kitchen tools again and again–or me, it’s primarily because these tools save me time in preparation and/or cleanup. But I also rely on tools that utilize healthy cooking methods (like steaming, slow cooking or microwaving), and those that make it easier for me to work more healthy foods into my daily meals.
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I also prefer kitchen tools that are versatile–I don’t have much storage space in my kitchen, so I simply don’t have a lot of room for single-purpose gadgets like strawberry slicers or flower-shaped ring molds for my fried eggs. But that’s just me–everyone is different, and you may find that the more specialty tools you have, the healthier your meals tend to be.
My list of must-have kitchen tools might not be the same as yours, but these are seven of the most useful tools I have–and they’re the workhorses I turn to day after day to help me prepare healthier meals quickly and easily.
The 7 Best Kitchen Tools For Healthier Eating
Your blender is a real multi-tasker. I use mine every morning to make my protein shakes–its powerful motor works its magic on the frozen fruits or vegetables that I add, pumping up the volume and creating a wonderfully smooth texture. Blenders are also great for making soups (one of my favorites: cooked veggies in broth and blended with soft tofu). I also use my blender to make hummus–it gives a smoother result than the food processor does–and for all sorts of sauces. You can blend up herbs with a little olive oil and garlic into a pesto, make a quick mango-chili salsa for fish or chicken, or buzz some canned tomatoes with a little garlic and basil into a sauce to toss with shrimp, poultry or pasta.
Blender Benefits: healthy breakfast smoothies; more fruits, veggies and beans; flavorful sauces.
If you’re not familiar with it, a mandoline slicer is a tool that allows you to quickly cut foods into uniform slices, strips and other shapes. I used to think a mandoline was an indulgence–until I bought one. Now, I have two: a large, heavy duty tabletop model that I use when I have a lot of slicing to do, and a smaller hand-held mandoline that I use all the time. A mandoline makes very quick work out of slicing vegetables, and since I like to prep a lot of my vegetables ahead of time this gadget has become one of my kitchen favorites. I use my mandoline to prepare salad veggies–like red onions, peppers and cucumbers that I can store for a few days–and I also love it for shredding cabbage for slaw. Cutting raw pears or apples into paper-thin slices takes a lot of patience (and good knife skills), but it’s a snap with a mandoline. Try shaving both apples and fennel (anise) bulbs–then toss together with a little lemon, olive oil and mustard for a beautiful, delicious and healthy salad.
Mandoline Slicer Benefits: more fruits, veggies; time saver.
Steaming is a preferred method for cooking vegetables because it helps retain nutrients, and it’s a no-fat cooking method, too. The simplest steamers are designed like baskets – usually a collapsible metal insert or silicone basket that snuggles into your saucepan. Steamers are great for all kinds of vegetables – from leafy greens to broccoli florets to whole artichokes – but you can also steam other parts of your meal, too. Steamed fish, shrimp or poultry is incredibly moist and especially tasty if you brine or marinate it first. If you experiment a bit with timing, you can actually steam your whole dinner in one pot. If you’ve got some cooked brown rice or other grain stashed away in your freezer you can start with that first, then add your fish or poultry, and after a few minutes, add your veggies. Healthy, delicious and easy cleanup–what more could you want?
Steamer Basket Benefits: more veggies, less fat, retains vitamins; time saver.
A daily salad is a healthy habit and a great way to work more veggies into your day, but washing leafy greens can be a real chore. Having a salad spinner can help–it gets your greens really, really dry which means you can process a lot at one time and they’ll stay fresh and crisp in the refrigerator for days. And, extra-dry greens won’t dilute your salad dressing, so you can use less and save some fat calories. Salad spinners are also great for washing greens that you’re planning to cook–like spinach or kale–or for washing and drying firm veggies like broccoli or cauliflower florets.
Salad Spinner Benefits: more veggies, less fat; time saver.
Slow cookers address several hurdles to healthy eating–they save you preparation time, they save you clean up time, and the recipes tend towards flexible, all-in-one dishes that allow you to pile in additional healthy ingredients (like extra vegetables), and ingredients that require longer cooking times (like beans). And, with a good-sized slow cooker, you can probably make enough for several meals–another huge time-saver. Main dishes like soups, stews, curries, or chili are naturals for your slow cooker, but it’s also great for making foods that take long cooking times like steel-cut oats, beans, or even a whole turkey breast.
Slow Cooker Benefits: more veggies, whole grains and beans; time saver.
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I have several different graters at home, but the one I use the most is the standard four-sided box grater with different-sized holes on each side. I use the smallest holes for citrus zest, which I like to add to salads or steamed veggies. The small holes are also perfect for grating fresh ginger root and garlic (so much faster and easier to clean than most garlic presses), or for a light sprinkle of hard cheese on salad, vegetables or grain dishes. Or try this quick fresh tomato sauce: simply grate the cut side of fresh tomato halves over the large holes of your grater directly into a sauté pan with a little olive oil and cook for a few minutes and then grate in some garlic, too! Other vegetables to grate: raw root vegetables (like carrots, beets or turnips)–which make delicious salads drizzled with a little citrus and olive oil–or zucchini (courgette) which makes a nice finishing touch of flavor and color to soups or other one-pot dishes. I also use my grater to make egg salad–I rub the hard cooked eggs over the large holes of the grater, grate in some fresh onion and then mix with mashed avocado or mustard. Some box graters also have a side for slicing which can be used to make uniform, thin slices of firm fruits and veggies, like apples or cucumbers.
Grater Benefits: more veggies, more seasoning; time saver.
A standard muffin tin is a fantastic tool for portion control–and not just for baked goods. Muffin tins can be used to make individual, portion-controlled servings of all kinds of foods like meat loaf, lasagna or other pasta dishes, and casseroles. I like to make eggs in a muffin tin–lightly oil the muffin cups, pour beaten eggs into the muffin cups (one egg each or three egg whites), top with chopped veggies, and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes until puffed and brown. Store any leftovers in the freezer and you’ve got them handy for a quick breakfast or snack. Or, ladle soup into the muffin tins and freeze, then pop them out and store in a freezer bag – the snack-sized portions will heat up quickly in the microwave.
Muffin Tin Benefits: Perfect portion control.
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Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.