We like to think of our kitchen as a warm, inviting hearthstone the center of good feelings, good smells, good tastes and, best of all, good health.
The secret of it all, of course, is in the food the food that conjures up thoughts of memorable meals and happy times. Good food means good home cooking. And that starts with your kitchen tools.
Today’s tools have come a long way from the iron and stainless steel your mother and grandmother used when they cooked for you. A lot of modern gadgets are designed to cut down on fats and calories, which contributes to a healthy body. Others are made to cut down on time, which contributes to a healthy mind, as in: “Hey, I don’t mind cooking!”
Equipment for a healthy kitchen can be as minimal as a steam basket, a wok and two or three heavy pans (preferably nonstick for fat-free cooking). But with space, budget and taste allowing, your kitchen collection can expand to include those simplistic to high-tech items designed (sometimes unintentionally) to make your food preparation more nutritious.
Here’s the best in healthy cookware, recommended by the experts.
- Blende: Its multiple functions make it practical to have on hand, especially for pureeing vegetables or soups or for whipping up low-calorie drinks.
- Cast-iron pans: Everyone needs iron in their diets, and using cast-iron pans is one easy way to help you get a little extra. Make sure you have at least one ridged pan that allows accumulated fat to collect in its grooves instead of in the food’s fibers.
- Coffee grinder: Sure it grinds coffee beans, but it can also chop fresh spices, garlic and shallots.
- Double boiler: Yes, this utensil is good for more than melting chocolate. It helps warm up leftovers, like potatoes, vegetables or meat casseroles, without using butter or oil. It is also handy in making the lighter sauces that are part of the healthy cook’s repertoire.
- Electric juicer: Anyone who’s ever tasted freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice knows what a wonderful device this can be. But its importance to the healthy cook goes beyond good taste. By squeezing your own juice, you’ll retain some of the all-important fiber that is strained out of commercial brands. There are some Juicers made to handle heavier tasks, like turning such things as apples and carrots and other vegetables into drinkable health.
- Fat skimmer: This handy little gadget, which somewhat resembles a miniature mop, lifts the fat from soups and stews as they cook, making for leaner meals.
- Fish poacher: This piece of cookware might seem a bit extravagant for anyone but the true fish-lover. But buying fish fresh and cooking it whole in an aromatic poaching liquid just might be the key to turning finicky eaters into fish fanciers. Poaching needs no fat and keeps fish moist. And anyone tuned into nutrition doesn’t need to be told the healthful potential of adding fish to your diet at least three times a week.
- Food processor: It cuts food preparation time by more than half! It is especially good for slicing, chopping and shredding such things as cabbage, carrots, onions, mushrooms and the numerous assorted vegetables you’ll want to use to add fiber and nutrition to meals and to cut down on the need for meat in stir-fries and stews. When possible, process vegetables after they’re blanched to minimize vitamin loss.
- Food scale: Is that 3 ounces of meat you’re adding to that stir-fry, or is it more like 10 ounces? Looks can be deceiving, especially for those whose stomachs are bigger than their eyes. A food scale measures exactly how closely you’re sticking to your food plan.
- Gravy skimmer: An essential measuring cup that separates fat from the natural juices emitted during long roasting. It leaves you with a healthier, fat-free base for gravies and sauces.
- Hot-air popcorn popper: No oil goes in this electric popcorn maker, which can turn out a hot, wholesome and low-calorie snack in a matter of minutes. And it takes up less room than a can of pretzels or a bag of potato chips.
- Immersion blender: It’s a hand-held blender/beater/whipper. This new-age appliance will puree vegetables into an instant sauce or dressing right in the bottom of the salad bowl; make low-cholesterol mayonnaise right in the jar; whip low-fat, creamy sauces right in the sauce boat; beat up low-calorie, high-calcium yogurt shakes right in the glass; puree soups right in the pot or make baby foods right in the jar.
- Meat loaf pan: We don’t “mean the one passed down to you from Grandma. The modern version has an inner pan that is ridged and perforated to let fat drain into an outer pan as it cooks. What you get is a meat loaf with less fat and fewer calories.
- Microwave oven: It’s almost a health necessity! Used properly, it goes a long way to preserve nutrients and cut back on fat in cooking.
- Nonstick pans: You should have at least two. These pans allow you to sauté without the addition of any fat.
- Pastry brush: It’s good for much more than pastry. Use it to spread a thin coating of unsaturated fat on breads and muffins for browning or for dabbing meats and fish with no-fat marinades to add moisture and flavor.
- Peanut butter machine: If you have children who seem to live on peanut butter, this is the machine that will help ease the guilt of spreading out that creamy (and fatty) richness. By making your own, you can avoid the sugars and hydrogenated fats that are often added to commercial brands.
- Polyethylene cutting board: This surface is nonabsorbent, odorless and will not blunt knives or chip or crack. It can be sterilized in the dishwasher and will not hold bacteria as wooden cutting boards do.
- Pressure cooker: Pressure cookers have been around for a long time, and for good reason. Pressure cooking is healthy because it retains more nutrients than conventional cooking. It’s fast because it can cook soups, stews, pot roasts and potatoes in half the time of conventional cooking. The state-of-the-art version offers even more its quiet and has built-in safety mechanisms.
- Refrigerator thermometer: Protect your foods from spoilage by keeping the freezer temperature at 0°F and the refrigerator at about 40°F.
- Roasting rack: If you’re a meat-lover, you shouldn’t be without one. Placing your meat on a rack in the roasting pan allows the meat to sit above rather than in the fat that’s seeping from the meat. For chicken, there is a vertical roaster that permits heat to penetrate from all sides for a crisper, moister, lower-fat bird.
- Rolling mincer: For those little jobs. The five sharp, circular blades in this hand tool quickly mince fresh herbs and parsley.
- Salad spinner: There’ll be no more soggy salads when you use this. The salad spinner dries your greens with centrifugal force without bruising. It might even encourage you to start your own spinach patch!
- Steam basket: A great way to keep vegetables at their healthiest. Steaming helps keep nutrients in; boiling allows the nutrients to leach into the water.
- Tender Cooker: This is a small pressure cooker that fits into your microwave. Whereas the microwave tends to rob moisture, the Tender Cooker seals it in, making roasts and whole chickens a natural for fast and healthy microwave cooking.
- Toaster oven: This is important to those who use a microwave heavily. It helps in last-minute browning (a shortcoming of most microwaves). Get one with a warming feature to help those hectic near-meal moments when you’re getting together a multiple-course meal.
- Vegetable brush: No smart cook would be without at least two. Use them to scrub such things as carrots so you can cook them in their skin. Peeling only scrapes away vitamins.
- Wok: The authentic and still the best tool for stir-fry cooking. The real Chinese woks are made of tempered steel, and age like fine wines. With proper care, the more you use them, the less fat you will need. For the wok works, buy a bamboo steamer basket insert. It’ll make your wokery more versatile than ever.
- Yogurt maker: Why buy yogurt when you can make it, especially when you can make it better and with fewer calories?