Regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced cook, we all want to save time in the kitchen, right? After all, less time cooking means more time spent with friends and family and doing other things. When it comes to saving time, many people think about methods such as how to make thirty minute meals or use minimal ingredients. However, something that often times people DON’T think about is their kitchen appliances! When it comes to food prep, having the right kitchen tools can actually make all the difference in your efficiency and help shave down that total time spent making food.
Below is a list of Tim’s and my go to gadgets that help make our meal prepping process more efficient. It was actually really hard for us to narrow these down!
The Twelve Time-Saving Kitchen Tools Everyone Needs
Baking sheets are very versatile and can be used for soooo many different things from baking cookies to roasting veggies to making homemade granola or pizzas. Same with baking dishes! They can be used to bake chicken or fish, throw together an egg bake for the week, and they are perfect for casseroles. I recommend owning more than one of each so you can easily tackle multiple items at the same time. For example, if you have room in your oven, you can roast a spaghetti squash at the same time you are roasting other chopped veggies for the week.
Baking sheets and dishes are also really conducive for laying things out on during the food prep process as well as easily moving between rooms and different surfaces. For example, when Tim grills up a bunch of meat for the week, he prefers to spread the meat out on a baking sheet first as opposed to squishing it all on a plate so he can season everything evenly. He then finds it easier to carry the baking sheet of meat to and from the grill as well as transfer the food on and off.
For another example, one of my friends often makes a batch of healthier chicken fingers and keeps them in the freezer for her kids when she’s in a pinch. If she were to cook them, put them in a freezer bag, and dump them in the freezer before they completely cooled, they will all stick together as one big chicken finger. However, letting them completely cool on a baking sheet first will help them freeze better and make the reheating process much easier. My friend will just carry the baking sheet into her dining room and let them cool there so she has enough kitchen counter space to prep other items. I do the same thing with meatballs! These are just a couple of ways baking sheets and dishes can simply help make things easier in general.
Most people use a box grater for cheese, but we actually use our box greater for multiple other things such as grating carrots for salads or zucchini for muffins or bread. Box graters can also double as a zester, and we’ll often use ours for lemon zest or orange zest to enhance the flavor of dressings or sauces with a little acidity. Think about how much time it would take you to shred up carrots for a salad with a knife as opposed to quickly putting the carrots through the box grater!
Oh yes, the good old crock pot. This is one of the most important items for simple and easy meal prep because you can literally just throw the ingredients you need into your crock pot and let them sit there to cook while you go do everything else you need to do in your busy life. Our crock pot is five quarts, and I recommend getting one at least this size because no matter what you are making, you’ll be able to get at least four meals out of it, if not more. Crock pots are also not only good for cooking something with almost no effort at all (one of my friends says crock pots don’t count as cooking, but I don’t agree lol), and they can also be used to simply heat up items that were previously frozen.
I recommend getting one, if not two, really good cutting boards. I remember a time when I only had one of those small cheap plastic ones, and it was the worst! It was such a pain to use because the surface was never large enough to allow me to be efficient, and I’d get frustrated I didn’t have enough room for all the things I’d want to chop up at once. Large plastic boards are better for just throwing in the dishwasher, whereas wooden ones are better for retaining the quality of your knives. Plastic ones aren’t necessarily bad for your knives, but they do tend to wear out more easily and end up with big cutting marks on them, which is where bacteria can get trapped. Although the wooden ones take longer to wash by hand, they will generally last longer and be more sanitary overall. I don’t recommend glass cutting boards because they are the worst of all three for your knives and tend to dull them pretty quickly.
Our food processor is hands down our most utilized kitchen appliance. I seriously don’t know how people live without one! I have friends who received food processors for their wedding showers, and it still shocks me to learn that some of them have never taken it out of the box. We use ours so much and find it so helpful that I will gladly take any extras that people don’t ever use. The food processor is just SO versatile, and we use it for things like pesto, sauces, no bake energy balls, homemade flours, homemade nut butters, pizza dough, bread crumbs, salsa, guacamole, the list goes on. Nobody’s hands are ever going to be able to move as quickly as the food processor does to chop up and combine ingredients. End of story.
Glass storage containers
I find that having glass storage containers help me both during and after the food prepping process. I recommend getting a variety of sizes: some small, some medium, and some large. The small and medium ones are good for portioning out your meals and snacks after they’ve been prepped (mason jars work too!). Having your food ready to go in the containers is super helpful if you are always go, go, go and in and out of your house. It sounds silly, but not having to scoop yogurt into a bowl with fruit in the morning can save a few minutes of my precious time in the morning, and that’s important to me! The large storage containers are great for housing meals that you don’t necessarily need for on the go.
Another reason that glass storage containers make food prepping more efficient is that you don’t ever want to put really hot food, especially things like soups and sauces, directly in a plastic storage container because they will melt! If you have glass containers, you don’t have to wait for your food to cool completely first, and you also won’t get those red rings at the bottom of your containers like you might see on your plastic ones. In general, glass containers are just safer and BPA free!
Hand held juicer
I love our hand-held juicer. Like I mentioned above, since we make a lot of homemade salad dressings and sauces, we often use lemon or orange to add a citrus component. The hand-held juicer (sometimes called a citrus squeezer) is a great tool for making the juicing process a lot easier and faster! It not only saves time from having to squeeze the juice by hand, but it also reduces the mess that juicing by hand can make. Plus, with the hand held juicer I never have to worry about any stray seeds going into my food. Pain.
In general, the quality of your knives is important because surprisingly more people tend to cut themselves with dull knives than sharp ones. When you have sharp knives, the cuts go faster, and you are just less likely to slip with the blade. We own a whole butcher block of knives because Tim is obsessed with them, but if you have to pick just one, I recommend getting a good quality chef’s knife. This will be the most versatile for everyday use, and you’ll use it for the majority of your chopping and slicing. Think about how long it would take you to cut up a head of kale with a regular old steak knife as opposed to a really good chef’s knife – that’s at least five minutes right there. If you can afford any additional knives, I recommend a paring knife for smaller and more petite cuts (such as getting the seeds of a jalapeno, de-pitting cherries, or slicing the tops of strawberries) and a serrated knife for soft flesh produce such as tomatoes that are hard to cut without the serrated blade.
Measuring cups and spoons
First, measuring cups and spoons are good for people who like to follow recipes and aren’t as comfortable just eyeballing ingredients on their own yet. Second, measuring cups and spoons are key for getting more than one thing ready to go at the same time, and this is why I recommend having multiple sets of them! For example, if you only have one measuring cup and you just used it but need it to measure out a few more things, now you have to clean it that many extra times. It makes things more efficient to have multiple sets so you can quickly move through what you need to measure out and get ready and then throw them all in the dishwasher once you are done. They are super cheap, so grab yourself a couple of sets!
Having multiple mixing bowls is necessary for the same reasons as owning multiple baking sheets/dishes and multiple sets of measuring cups/spoons. You’ll want to use multiple bowls at the same time without needing to wash the same one over and over again. We have about 4-5, and I feel like no matter how many you have you’ll underestimate how often you actually use them. We use our mixing bowls to marinate chicken in the fridge, mix salads together, and more. Since they get used so frequently, the more you have, the faster you’ll be able to bust through the cooking process.
Pots and pans
This one is definitely both about the quality of your food and about the ease of your food prep. If you can afford a nice set of pots and pans, get them. They’ll last longer for sure! Anthony Bourdain used to say that your pots and pans should be able to hurt someone who is trying to break into your house. Basically, cheap pans tend to lend themselves to burning whatever is on the bottom because there isn’t as much metal between the flame on your stove and your food. For example, when cooking meatballs in a cheap pan, you are more apt to cook them unevenly. Or when cooking rice or farro, the bottom layer is more likely to burn and get stuck to the bottom of the pan. I think having a good set of pots and pans helps to save time because then you don’t have to spend as much time hovering over the stove watching your food.
Finally, get a salad spinner because it is life changing for washing and drying greens more efficiently. When you rinse greens the faucet and let them dry by air, it can take up to twenty minutes for them to fully dry! I found that I was always too impatient to wait, so I’d chop up the wet greens too quickly, and then they’d just wilt. Also, leaving your greens out to dry simply takes up a lot of counter space! A couple of other benefits to using a salad spinner to dry greens: 1) it increases the longevity of the greens so they last longer, and 2) it is way more effective at actually cleaning your greens. A lot of people who have always rinsed greens under cold water and then try washing their greens in the salad spinner for the first time are usually pretty shocked at how much dirt they notice in the salad spinner the first time trying it!
Those are the dozen I recommend, but I do have a few runner-up appliances worth mentioning as well:
- Pressure cooker: I don’t have one yet, but I have many blog followers and clients who do and have nothing but great things to say about them! Might need to be my next kitchen investment.
- Blender: I didn’t include any kind of blender in my main list because I mainly use our regular blender for smoothies, and I don’t necessarily prep my smoothies ahead of time. Also, most of the time a food processor can do many of the same functions. A lot of people I know also swear by their Vitamix blenders (basically a regular blender on steroids), but I don’t have one of those yet either, so I can’t comment!
- Kitchen Aid mixer: Love ours! It can definitely save you time because it helps combine ingredients more efficiently than if combining by hand, but they are expensive and definitely not an essential.
- Spiralizer: Helpful for making veggies more fun and having another preparation method up your sleeve.
- Vegetable peeler: Using a paring knife to get the skin off of produce such as carrots, sweet potatoes, radishes, turnips, and apples takes FOREVER. The vegetable peeler just makes the whole peeling process more efficient.
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I totally agree with you on the pots and pans. David and I have All Clad, and we wouldn’t want any other brand. They’re not marketed as non stick, but the way they are manufactured, it’s such a breeze to clean. And yes, we could probably hurt someone if they tried to break in. 😉
Great article Athena! I can’t live without my trusted food processor and juicer. I also just got a nice bread maker, i can program it to have freshly baked bread in the morning when i wake up!! how awesome is that??