Cooking at home is a huge step toward eating healthier. You are in control of the ingredients and you choose how your food is prepared. You might be discouraged by marketing claims that you need a $500 do-it-all blender to cook healthier and to lose weight. I've been cooking for health for years and I run a natural pickling company, and I still don't have a $500 do-it-all blender in my home kitchen.
Here is a list of essential items for cooking healthy food at home. While it's fun to augment the items on this list with things like a food mill or a mortar and pestle, you can certainly get by with an uncluttered kitchen stocked with just these essentials.
Wooden Cutting Board
A healthy kitchen is nothing without a good cutting board. A large board is essential for chopping veggies and cutting fish and meat. Wood is the best because it harbors less bacteria than plastic and dulls knives slower than other materials like glass, although some people prefer plastic or glass for their ability to withstand dish washing machines. Maple is one of the best woods but can be pricey. Bamboo is common and affordable. The experts recommend applying food-grade mineral oil about once a month to keep a wood cutting board in good shape.
Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Cast iron cookware is more dynamic than pretty much every other cooking material out there (although the original miraculous CorningWare dishes are a close second). Cast iron can be used on the stove and in the oven. When properly seasoned, cast iron is just as non-stick as modern “non-stick” skillets, except without the questionable chemicals known to occasionally leach cancer-causing agents. It is heavy duty and can literally survive a lifetime of use and is often passed down through generations (or can be found at garage sales). They are very affordable (Lodge 8-inch skillets go for around $10-$20). Oh, and they're great for sauteing and stir-frying (or whatever else you want to use your skillet for).
Metal Mixing Bowls
At least one large mixing bowl is essential for the healthy home cook, although medium and small bowls definitely come in handy. Use mixing bowls for whipping up salad dressings, mixing your whole wheat dough, soaking potatoes, or many other tasks. Stainless steel makes the cut above other materials because it is lightweight, non-breakable, and easy to clean. Glass also works well. Plastic is more likely to absorb smells and flavors and deteriorate over time.
The wooden spoon is the humble servant of the kitchen. It hasn't evolved much since people learned to cook and needed to stir their pots. It still serves that purpose.
Totally essential! A good, sharp chef's knife makes cutting and chopping all that farmers market produce so much more enjoyable. And don't think you have to bust the bank buying a knife. I own Victorinox and Global chef's knives (the 8-inch Victorinox goes for about $25 on Amazon.com, the Global for about $110, and both have a lot of fans) which are both absolutely wonderful. Since every brand of knife is made differently, you should try holding a few knives in your hand before you buy to get a feel for them. A good knife should feel natural in your hand (consider factors like weight and size of handle).
A metal colander can serve multiple functions in a healthy kitchen. Use it to rinse veggies; use it as a steam basket; use it to drain pasta. I've also placed colanders over young transplants in my garden at night to protect them from slugs.
A Saucepan and a Stockpot
A saucepan with a heavy lid is a necessary kitchen item, period, whether you're cooking for health or not. But it definitely facilitates the cooking of whole grains. The larger stockpot is necessary for making excellent stocks and stews. A large stock pot is also useful for canning or beer brewing, if your cooking escapades ever get to that point.
Mason jars are excellent for storage of all kinds of food. They can be used for brewing kefir or kombucha, for making pickles and jams, or for storing beans or noodles or spices. They are affordable, usually less than a dollar each for quart jars, and are easy to clean. I suggest wide-mouth mason jars since it's easier to work with the contents. I also suggest investing in plastic caps if you're working with acidic foods like kefir or pickles—otherwise, the acids will wear down the tin lid pretty quickly.
One good glass measuring cup is essential if you're following any kind of recipes or keeping track of your portions. The four-cup size is probably most useful, but a combination of a four-cup and one-cup capacity is best.
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