A list of essential (and nice to have) cookware and small appliances - cooking tools for healthy eating that will help you make good food and enjoy it more.
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In order to eat healthy on a budget you need to cook food - there's really no getting around that, is there?
Some of us enjoy cooking (though there are always those times), and some don't - but no matter what camp you fall into, having the right tools for a recipe or task makes cooking a whole lot easier.
I know this first-hand after spending years with the cheapest, dullest tools:
- An immersion blender made of plastic that melted in hot soup.
- A food processor that couldn't make bread crumbs.
- A knife that sawed through breads instead of slicing.
It's when I finally upgraded that I realized how pleasant AND quicker things were with quality tools.
BUT, I'm also here to say you do not need to spend a ton of money - "top-of-the-line" doesn't always equate to better quality than middle-of-the-line. Sometimes it does, but not as often as you might think.
With these things in mind, I've gathered up my favorite cooking tools that I use regularly, what I'm calling "essential cookware and small appliances" for healthy kitchens.
You can also find a list of essential knives and kitchen gadgets here.
Essential Cooking Tools for a Healthy Kitchen
The items on this list are things I truly use and love, some of which I couldn't imagine cooking without, but I'm listing some as truly essential and other's as "nice to have" because I definitely do not think more is better (simplicity in the kitchen is good, too).
I lean towards tools that are multi-function so they do more and take up less space than a bunch of one-use gadgets, but if you have the room, all the things on this list will make your cooking - and eating - life better.
Essential Cooking Tools: Cookware
1. Stainless steel cookware. Stainless (inside and out) is the way to go for the longest-lasting pots and pans for healthy cooking.
These are the criteria to look for in good stainless steel pots and pans:
- Made to last. They should be a heavy, quality set with an encapsulated aluminum bottom which is the best for even cooking. For years I used a set of my grandma's heavy aluminum pots, which we found out we shouldn't use anymore, but that taught me that cookware can, and should, last a long time.
- Stainless lids vs. glass lids. I prefer stainless since they won't break, but I do know the value of glass lids for seeing when rice is done and water boiling. I added a 3-quart pot and a 12-qt. stock pot with glass lids for that reason. But the choice here is up to you, really.
- Riveted, all metal handles that won't fall off and can go into the oven. Some are 'stay cool' but if not it's easy to use a pot holder if the handles get hot.
- Stainless interior. No weird surfaces, whether non-stick, anodized or whatever - just stainless. Stainless steel lasts longer, doesn't put anything into your food or the air, and is scrubbable if something does stick. (And I've discovered that using Bar Keepers Friend on them will make them look like new again.)
While the exact set I bought more than 12 years ago isn't available anymore, but this Cuisinart set includes all the pieces I use the most from my bigger set, has aluminum encapsulated bases and stay-cool handles for a great, won't-break-the-bank price.
To the above basic set, I'd add these for the most versatility:
2. 12-Inch Chef's/Everyday Pan. I had no idea I'd use this pan so much after adding it a few years ago, but it's perfect for one-pot meals - both stovetop and oven - and looks good to serve on the table without long handles in the way. The sides are a bit higher than a skillet, so it also stir-fries food nicely for curries and more. I almost use this pan more than any other - I love it!
3. 10-inch Cast Iron Skillet. My cast iron skillet a favorite kitchen item - but only since finally figuring out how to use cast iron & love it. And when I did, the naturally non-stick, seasoned surface allowed me to toss all my yucky non-stick pans. If you're lucky to inherit a set or find one at a thrift store, all the better, but Lodge's 10-inch skillet is a good option when starting new.
Nice to Have Cookware
1. 12-quart Stainless Steel Stockpot with Encapsulated Base. The thicker, encapsulated base is the key to cooking large amounts of soup, stew, or salsa without burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is an item you may not need if you're not cooking large amounts or making salsa to preserve, but if you do those things, this is a must-have pot. I find the 12-quart to be a better, more manageable size than a 16-quart pot, but larger families may need a bigger pot.
2. Enameled Cast-Iron Dutch Oven. This pot is a splurge (well, small in comparison to some!) that will pay for itself quickly if you make your own easy artisan bread instead of paying $4-$5 a loaf. It creates an amazing crust with the least effort - plus it's great for oven slow-cooking, braising, stews, and more.
3. Electric Skillet. I only started using this a few years ago, mainly because I wanted to try my hand at frying chicken and the deep sides and temperature controls made it easy, so I bought an inexpensive one to try. I found that with it's square shape, it's also great for browning meats, and making things like grilled cheese sandwiches and pancakes, too. I was able to get rid of my larger griddle as our kids left and now just use this (the best for pan frying my fav sourdough veggie fritters!)
Essential Cooking Tools: Small Appliances
1. Toaster Oven. You need either this or a regular toaster and for years thought a toaster was fine. Oh how wrong I was. A toaster oven is one of those multi-function appliances I love - it toasts bread for breakfast plus lots of bread for dinner (no need for the oven), makes toasted cheese, cinnamon toast, and reheats leftovers like pizza and nachos to perfection. You can bake potatoes and small breads in it, too. I vote for this over a toaster any day.
NEW: we've now replaced this with a toaster oven-air fryer combo, which we LOVE. All the benefits of the toaster oven plus crispy fries and veggies.
2. Handheld Mixer. For mixing basic doughs with regular beaters and dough hook beaters as well a a single balloon whisk beater for whipped cream. Even if you have the nice-to-have Kitchenaid mixer listed below, keeping a hand-held mixer on hand is nice for smaller jobs. Oh, and the mixer linked comes in a case that keeps all the beaters together with the mixer - no random beaters in your kitchen drawers. Genius.
3. Immersion blender with steel base. Cheap plastic base immersion blenders will melt in hot soups (which is one of my favorite ways to use one), so spend a little more and get one with a steel base. I've used a handheld blender like the one linked for years now - it isn't expensive and it works like a charm.
It's perfect for blending soups and sauces right in the pot (less clean-up and easier) and for making smoothies. Here are just a few of the things I use it for:
- slow cooker maple apple butter
- easy homemade refried beans
- tomato soup
- rhubarb butter
- cranberry sauce
- cauliflower-cheese soup
- white bean puree for this delicious shrimp dish
- and much more
It doesn't take up much room and it really is a workhorse.
4. Food processor. I've been using this middle-of-the-price-range 7-cup Cuisinart Pro Classic for years and it helps me to make these healthy foods (some that I no longer need to buy premade):
- homemade bread crumbs
- easy baguettes
- It chops tomatoes and vegetables for homemade salsa, tomato chutney, or roasted tomato sauce
- grates carrots for this salad
- and zucchini for any of these recipes.
The list goes on and on - see? Essential.
5. Slow Cooker and/or Instant Pot. One of the ways to cook when there's not time or you're tired is to use a slow cooker with a dump it-and-forget-it recipe, like this, this, and this.
Both of these are also a way to cook tender meats and even side dishes like scalloped potatoes when your oven is full of other foods (think: holidays).
Nice to Have Small Appliances
1. Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Used for everything from cakes to stirring large amounts of natural peanut butter! It’s probably the one thing in my kitchen I love more than anything else.
2. Keurig coffee maker with refillable baskets. We ditched our 10-cup coffee maker for this since using the refillable cups is economical and we can choose our own coffee. We appreciate that each cup is hot and fresh every time! If you're a coffee person, this may just make your "essential" list. Update: we've since moved to this narrower version which fits in our kitchen better now.
3. Panini maker. This always seemed like a one-hit wonder, so I resisted until I found one at a thrift store. Then I started making sandwiches with it and, wow, does it make them taste amazing! You can squish anything between two pieces of bread (or even tortillas like I did for these aamaaazing breakfast wraps) and it’s like you’ve ordered something at a fancy restaurant.
4. Blender. This may be on many people's "essential" list, but I find between the food processor (that also shreds cheese and chops onions) and the immersion blender (soups & smoothies), I don't really use a blender much - it's just nice to have sometimes.
5. Air popcorn maker. This is the easiest way to make popcorn - it's faster than a microwave or stovetop and doesn't have anything added, so you can add real butter. We have popcorn weekly, so I'd miss this if it weren't around. TIP: make sure to get one with an on/off button! It's surprising that many don't have this and they're much easier to use with one.
6. Electric kettle (stainless). If you are a tea drinker (which is one of my weight loss tips), this is the fastest way (other than a microwave) to get boiling water. There are different syles of electric kettles, depending on what you'd like - here is an all-glass kettle if you'd like to see when it boils, but ceramic tea kettles are my favorite if it's on the counter - so pretty!
What are some of your favorite cookware & small appliances?
READ ALL OF THE HEALTHY EATING SERIES:
- What Is Healthy Eating
- Healthy Eating Tips: Making Time to Cook
- Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips: Shop Smart & Stay On Budget
- 17 Essential Cooking Tools for Healthy Eating: Cookware & Small Appliances
- 18 Essential Tools, Knives & Gadgets for Healthy Kitchens
- 25 Healthy Family Favorite Main Dishes
- 19 Healthy Soups, Stews & Slow Cooker Dishes
- 22 Healthy Bread and Breakfast Recipes
- 19 Healthy Snacks and Desserts
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Lora Bowman says
.y favorite tool is our 6 qt. Pro Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.
I have serious arthritis and a bone on bone basel thumb joint. The other has been repaired, 🤪
If you have the electric coffee pot pictured, I wondered where I could find it.
We have a pretty teal Haden plug in but its more the mr coffee type. Mostly plastic....YUCK!
TY, LOVE your emails. ☮
That's one of the reasons I love the Kitchenaid, too - easier on the joints 🙂
Here's a link to a kettle like the stainless one pictured (affiliate link): https://rstyle.me/+NlxZxwURtP-GfX1VkrEVQQ
I actually have a ceramic one now because it is SO pretty - go the link above and search ceramic electric kettles and you will see what I mean💜
Sharon McRoy says
Hi, Jami. My #1 must have appliance is a roaster oven. Originally purchased for use during holiday cooking (the turkey, to free up the oven for rolls and casseroles), it quickly became my go-to because it doesn't heat up the kitchen. I have even baked biscuits, cobblers, and cakes in it when my oven went on the fritz. And soups, stews, and 2 small turkeys at once for our church's community Thanksgiving dinner. The #2 favorite is a convection toaster oven. The #3 (and latest toy) that has made cooking faster and more versatile, is a Ninja Foodi air-fryer-slow cooker-pressure cooker, with saute and stew features. Love it! I have yet to acquire my dream stand mixer - a Kitchenaid. Since I am the dishwasher, my must-have small accessory is a small nail brush (purchased new!) for cleaning the recesses on storage lid tops and my 6-sided box grater and does well at removing cheese residue from the bottom rolled edges; it is also efficient at cleaning food residue from slotted cooking spoons, especially the wooden ones.
Oh, these are great Sharon! We have an air-fryer/toaster oven that's now essential to us kind of for the same reason as your roaster - to not have to use the oven as much.
I've wondered about those Ninja multi-cookers - now I will start looking at them with new eyes if you like yours so much!
Nancy Dmytro says
To make real ice tea quickly, use a Mr. Coffee ice tea maker. It makes three (3) quarts in less than ten (10) minutes.
Faster than an electric kettle.
Good tip for people who drink a lot of ice tea!
Carol L says
I actually used nothing but a smaller countertop oven for several years as my only oven. Along with a two burner cooktop as my stove wasn't working. I love it so much, that even new when I have a new stove, I usually use my countertop oven. It uses less energy, and unless I'm cooking large or cookies or something that needs to make a huge amount (fritattas for the week)will not 'fire up' the huge oven . I found one of those "whirly" popcorn
makers, like they do in theatres, made out of stainless steel instead of aluminum, which I LOVE! I can use any oil I want, making it healthy . I would LOVE to have a "Hot Pot"! (Electric Kettle) but since they are SO SPENDY, I now use a whistling teakettle on my LP range: it heats 1.5 qts in under 5 minutes!
I do have a kitchenaid mixer, and a food processor, but maybe I'm dong it wrong, since I rarely use either.....but then, not doing much baking because it was hard to actually bake large amounts in my 'toaster' oven....Oh, and don't even get me started on my "collection" of cast iron!!!! I have over 30 cast iron pieces!!! including 2 10" skillets and both an enameled Dutch Oven and one that isn't.
This is a great list! I have many of these myself, and also consider them to be invaluable for making my own homemade meals easily and healthy.
Thanks for one or two ideas, too!
Wonderful thoughts, Carol - I'm impressed with your cast iron collection (and the sturdy shelves you must have to hold it all, lol!). It's true that the Kitchenaid is mainly for baking (though I do whip cream, mix peanut butter, and stir everything with it), but the food processor is used for so much more: shredding cheese, carrots, etc., slicing cabbage & onions for slaws, making pesto, chopping ingredients for salsa…on and on. It really does take a lot less time than chopping. 🙂
Nancy Dmytro says
Is "spendy" a new word for "expensive"?
Do people over 16 use that word?
Carol L says
Yup. Spendy is another word for expensive, and yes, people over 16 use it. I'm 67. Fewer letters to type!
And now, I DO have a hot pot! three actually (one is none and two is one theory)
I also have several slow cookers and an instant pot.
My cast iron collection just keeps getting bigger and bigger! I really love the stuff! Most of it is kept in a lower cabinet, but some are hung up, the ones I use daily.
This is still a GREAT list of items to have on hand, and I even added to my wish list the stainless steel pots and pans, and the immersion blender that is stainless steel. I already have several but thought stainless steel would be good so it doesn't melt as you mention!. My mom had a similar sauce pan from Martha Stewart that I just loved, and when she went into Foster care, I took it home for myself!I have several very large stock pots, and an outdoor LP two burner for using to cook/preserve in the summer so as not to heat up my kitchen.
Sue R. says
My favorite nice-to-have small appliance is definitely an electric kettle! Ours gets turned on many times a day! You've made me wonder about a toaster oven...
The electric kettle is SO fast, isn't it?