There is no denying that cooking meals at home is one of the most impactful steps that you can take towards improved health. According to a 2017 study published in Public Health Nutrition, people who regularly cook meals at home have healthier overall diets and consume fewer calories than people who eat most of their meals at restaurants. When you cook at home, you have complete control over the ingredients in your food and can be confident that there are no harmful or unnecessary additives.
Many people find at-home cooking to be overwhelming and I can understand why. With everything else going on between work, family life, and other responsibilities, creating meals from scratch in your own kitchen can seem like a daunting task. I have found that one of the keys to success for making cooking at home easier is having an array of basic cooking tools on hand. But many people lack some of the most basic equipment that is essential for cooking healthy meals at home.
Today’s home kitchens look much different from those of past generations. Tools that were once ubiquitous, often given as wedding and housewarming gifts, are no longer staples in every household. People own many kitchen-cluttering gadgets inspired by infomercials and Instagram ads, and, sure, air fryers and instapots can be fun additions to your kitchen’s toolbox, but many home kitchens are missing the essential basics. Here are 15 of my top basic kitchen tools to make cooking healthy meals at home easier.
1. Quality knives
Specifically, I recommend purchasing an eight-inch chef’s knife and a paring knife. Stainless steel or ceramic knives will give you cutting performance and durability, they can be used to cut most common foods, and they are easy to clean.
2. Metal tongs
It always surprises me how often I attend a dinner party with friends only to learn that they do not own a pair of metal tongs. I use metal tongs for everything – tossing salads, transferring veggies from pots to plates, serving protein, and moving hot foods around while cooking.
3. Metal colander
Colanders can come in handy for more than simply draining pasta (though that is an effective use for them). I often use my metal colander for quickly washing vegetables and rinsing fruit.
4. High-quality pans and a cast-iron skillet
The pans should be ceramic coated or stainless steel. They should contain no plastic so that they can be placed on the stovetop and into the oven without concern. I also caution against using non-stick pans when possible since there is research to suggest that compounds in the coating can be harmful to your health.
5. Stockpot with lid
This tool is ideal for making stock and soups. I encourage all of my loved ones to make stock and soups whenever possible because they are so easy and a fantastic way to get in extra nutrient-dense vegetables and herbs.
6. Cast-iron Dutch oven or casserole dish with lid
This is another piece of equipment that is perfect for simmering stews in the oven. Cast-iron is always a win in my book since it is tough, absorbs seasoning over time and adds to your food’s flavor, and it provides a small amount of beneficial iron to whatever you are cooking.
7. Glass or ceramic baking dishes
It is so important to find tools like these ones that can help you prepare vegetables and other health foods with as little effort as possible so that you are encouraged to cook them as much as possible. Baking dishes are great for roasting vegetables, seafood, and poultry.
8. Bamboo steamer
This tool is one that I definitely do not see in the majority of home kitchens and I highly recommend it because it is easy to clean, lightweight, and cooks food quickly without the need for oil.
I recommend getting a cast iron or carbon steel wok and be sure to buy one with an all-metal handle (no plastic). Woks are essential for whipping up healthy and delicious stir-fries, which are perfect for quick and easy nutritious lunches and dinners.
10. Rice cooker
Sure, you could cook rice in a pot, but a rice maker saves time and energy. All you have to do is push down the button and it will let you know automatically when the rice is finished cooking. There is no need to monitor the stove or worry about burning the rice and having it stick to the bottom of the pan. I am all for finding shortcuts that make cooking at home easier and this is one of my no-brainers.
11. Food mill
This tool is used to mash and sieve foods to remove seeds, skin, and large chinks. Be sure to get one that is stainless steel with multiple blades.
12. Toaster oven
Toaster ovens are a wonderful alternative to the microwave for quickly heating food. I avoid microwaves whenever possible since the high heat can transform certain foods, like starches, into harmful polymers that can build up in your body and cause damage to your organs.
13. Automatic hot water dispenser
This may seem like a gratuitous piece of equipment but having an automatic hot water dispenser makes it convenient to prepare tea simply by pushing a button. Eliminating extra preparation steps makes it more likely that you will drink tea more often, and tea is a fantastic health food.
14. Food storage containers
Storage containers are on my must-have list for kitchen tools. When cooking, I always try to make more than one serving of every nutritious meal so I can be sure to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the following day. Opt for glass over plastic food storage containers whenever possible.
15. French press coffeemaker
This is another tool that some people may think is superfluous at first. However, French presses allow coffee bioactives to seep into your water and not get trapped in a paper filter. If you want to get the most nutrients out of your coffee, be sure to add this item to your must-have kitchen tools list.
If you are interested in more recommendations for essential cooking tools, check out my book Eat to Beat Disease. In it, I include a long list of my favorite equipment for making cooking nutritious meals at home easier. I also detail products that may not be considered essential, but certainly make at-home cooking more fun.