If you’ve followed us for any period of time, you know we love to cook! The kitchen is one of our favorite places to be and fosters memories of good conversation, lots of dancing, amazing smells and delicious meals.
While we love cooking, we know not everyone feels the same. People who say they don’t cook as often as they’d like or “should” often cite either a lack of skill or a lack of time (or both!) as the culprit.
We can understand both of these challenges and want to help others overcome each of them. Why? Because cooking your own meals is the gateway to making healthy eating a habit.
In this post, we’ll help address the time factor.
Planning and prepping your meals takes time, but pays off in so many ways! Improved health is one of the biggest benefits. There are plenty of meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Ordering takeout or eating in a restaurant takes the same amount of time, or more! Spending some time on a weekend to make a week’s worth of lunches means you don’t have to decide what to eat later. It also means you’re more likely to eat healthier food since it’s already prepared for you. We could go on and on, but that’s for another post.
Today, we want to focus on helping you save time with your meal preparation. This is likely to make cooking an activity you enjoy and can fit into your daily life.
We thought we’d start by sharing our favorite tools, gadgets and cookware that make prepping and cooking faster or easier. We use some of these tools every single day, even multiple times a day! If we didn’t have them, we might not cook as often as we do.
With the holidays approaching, you might be considering buying some new kitchen items for yourself or others, so hopefully this post provides you with some helpful ideas for you or others!
Here are our top tools, gadgets or appliances we recommend for making meal prep easier:
1. Giant Prep or Mixing Bowl
Picture this. You decide to make a delicious kale salad recipe that you plan to portion out for the week. This means doubling the recipe to ensure there’s enough through Friday. You ambitiously chop up your kale and gather your other ingredients, only to end up with a bowl too small to toss it all together! You end up having to awkwardly mix thirds of everything in rotation, flinging kale pieces all over the table, frustratedly throwing the final bowl of ingredients on the floor in exasperation.
Can’t relate? Oh ok. Well, trust us when we say you want to have at least one extra large bowl in your kitchen that allows you to mix whatever it might be that requires more space. TRUST US ON THIS and consider something like this one. Or, do yourself a favor and buy a set of multi-sized bowls like this one. Or, be extra nice to yourself and get said set complete with LIDS, like this one, so you can prep your dishes, AND store them in the same container if you so choose.
You’ll notice that they’re all stainless steel. That’s because we try to avoid plastic as much as possible. Glass is nice, but heavy. Stainless steel is lightweight and a nontoxic material.
2. Mini Spatulas
These are one of those things where, once you have them, you wonder how you lived without them before. Mini spatulas like this one and this one are so great for scraping and wiping clean sauces, pastes and bits and pieces of things from pretty much anything! Especially those food processors or blenders where you end up leaving a third of your mixture at the bottom because the dang blades are in the way.
3. Chef’s Knife
When it comes to meal prep, it’s amazing how much more enjoyable it is when your knife works with you and not against you. Chopping veggies and slicing meats become so much easier and faster when you have a good knife. You don’t need a knife set with six different knives. All you really need is one quality, trusty knife that you take good care of and sharpen regularly (more on this next).
4. Knife Sharpener
There’s no question why takeout sounds 1,000x more appealing than attempting to saw through a hunk of raw chuck roast meat with a dull knife. When your knife no longer glides through the item you’re cutting, it’s become dull. Do yourself a favor and sharpen your knives every couple times you use them. And, please don’t go through effort and investment in a new knife without also picking up a sharpener! Treat that kitchen magic maker with the respect it deserves!
Here is a highly rated knife sharpener at a bargain price, leaving you with no excuse for using a dull knife anymore! 🙂
5. Garlic Press
We know, we know. A $50 garlic press, Irene and Brianna? Before you judge us, check out the reviews – they speak for themselves. Irene bought hers nearly 10 years ago and it’s still going strong. She gifted Brianna with one five years ago after Brianna complained about how poor of a job hers did. She’s never looked back. We use ours almost daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
If you still can’t stomach the idea of spending that much to press garlic, there are other highly rated, cheaper options like this one. We have not tried them so we can’t vouch for them. However, fresh garlic is amazing and having a tool that makes it quick and easy to use is so helpful!
6. Immersion Blender
We used to think of immersion blenders as a tool only seen in professional cooking shows or competitions on Food Network. However, this tool is so great, it could almost replace your typical standing blender. An immersion blender can turn your chunky soup or pasta sauce into smooth and creamy deliciousness in a matter of minutes, without ever having to take it out of the pot it was cooked in! It’s great for emulsifying a homemade salad dressing. It’s also the tool we love most for making our homemade mayonnaise.
We like this immersion blender.
7. Mini Food Processor or Chopper
This is so helpful for any small dicing, grating or purée job. Think grating a knob of ginger, finely chopping an onion, mincing multiple cloves of garlic or handfuls of fresh herbs, chopping whole nuts to your desired size, mixing up dressings or sauces and making our chocolate avocado pudding!
We love this mini food processor.
8. Presto Salad Shooter
If you’re like us, sometimes you want a crunchy salad but don’t feel like shaving a bunch of cabbage by hand. The salad shooter is amazing for shredding and slicing all kinds of veggies! We use it most for cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cucumber and cauliflower (to make cauliflower rice). It also shreds cheese! We like to buy the big hunks of cheese from Costco, shred it with the salad shooter and then either use it or freeze some of it for later.
9. Full Size Food Processor
If you’re willing to make an investment, a full-size powerhouse food processor will be able to chop, dice, shred, pulse and blend large amounts of food, quickly, consistently and evenly. Neither of us own one at this time, but Brianna has her eyes set on this one. She’s done a lot of research and it consistently seems to come out on top as a winner.
10. Stand Mixer
Stand mixers are awesome, but they’re more of a “nice-to-have.” Brianna has one and loves it. Irene does not have one. Of course it’s useful for baking, but Brianna also uses it for tasks like mixing meat and spices for meatballs, shredding chicken or other meats hands-free and making whipped cream. All of these things can be done using a hand mixer, and also just some good ol elbow grease! Since this article is focused on making meal prep easier, we wanted to include it because it certainly helps with the aforementioned tasks, among others.
If you’re looking to invest in a stand mixer, we recommend this one.
11. Dutch Oven
When you hear “Dutch oven,” you may picture the classic camping food accessory. However, it’s one of our favorite kitchen items! A Dutch oven is a pot that is safe for cooking both on the stovetop and in the oven. That means that browning some chicken thighs and then braising or roasting them in the oven can all be done in the same pot! It also means you can save space in your kitchen because you can do two different cooking methods with the same pot.
If you’re able to make the investment, our top recommendation is Le Creuset’s line like this one or this larger size. Le Creuset’s quality is superb and they are a breeze to clean, on top of being beautiful!
If Le Creuset isn’t within your budget, this Lodge one is our next favorite.
12. Stainless Steel Fry or Saute Pans
A key component of most meal preparation involves a pan or pot on the stovetop. In the future, we’ll go into detail about why you should avoid most, if not all, nonstick cookware and aluminum cookware. Most nonstick cookware is made with toxic materials that can leach into your food. In addition, there is substantial evidence about the effects that aluminum exposure has on our bodies. Unfortunately, aluminum and nonstick surfaces are widely used in cookware and it takes some time to find nontoxic options. Stoneware (like Le Creuset products), stainless steel and cast iron (used periodically) are all great nontoxic options.
Here is a nice 12” fry pan that we like from All-Clad. This is an all-purpose pan that will allow you to cook many different meals or sides and comes from a high quality manufacturer.
13. Stainless Steel Sheet Pans
Similar to stovetop cookware, many sheet pans are made with toxic materials that can leach into the food you’re cooking on them. One of the healthier materials to cook with is stainless steel. These are some great options:
- TeamFar Set of 4 Baking Sheets, Multiple Sizes
- TeamFar Set of 3 Baking Sheets, Same Size
- NorPro Cookie Sheets
- All-Clad Cookie Sheet
- TeamFar Baking Sheets with Cooling Racks
We love these stainless steel pans! Brianna has both the set of three large pans and the combo set with multiple sizes. The combo set is great because sometimes you might want to heat or bake a small amount of food and you can choose the size that best fits your needs. Having multiple large pans is also really nice. It makes it easy to roast a lot of veggies while still allowing enough surface area for cooking. It’s also great for baking cookies – you can bake two pans at once and have your next pan prepped and ready to pop in the oven!
14. Instant Pot
When many people think of the Instant Pot, they think of making full meals in it. We use ours for meal prep and making bone broth! It’s fantastic for cooking dried beans. Without going into too much detail, pressure cooking dried beans that have been soaked reduces the lectin content (which is a good thing). If dried beans aren’t really your thing, the IP is great for a lot of other meal prep tasks:
- Making perfectly peeled hard-boiled eggs
- Cooking potatoes to mash, for use in a potato salad or before roasting in an oven to achieve the most amazing crispy roasted potatoes you could imagine
- Cooking incredibly tender meats, like chicken, pork butt and roasts that can be shredded with a fork and used in various meals
- Making bone broth, which traditionally would take days but only requires a few hours with the IP (check out our bone broth recipe)
We should clarify that the actual time it takes to do these tasks may not always be faster (like in the instance of boiling eggs or potatoes) than the traditional method. However, it feels more hands off because you don’t have to worry about monitoring a boiling pot of water on your stove. You also avoid steaming up your kitchen too badly and you’ll use less water. In the case of cooking super tender meats, the IP cuts the time required considerably from traditional cooking methods. A roast that might normally take 4-6 hours in the oven can be done in 2 hours start to finish in the IP.
We both have the standard 8-qt size. There are times when we wish we had more room, so we definitely wouldn’t size down (if you’re not sure what size to get).
Check out the Instant Pot here.
15. Souper Cubes
Souper Cubes are super cool! They are like giant ice cube trays for freezing larger quantities of liquid. You can buy them in 2-cup, 1-cup, 1/2-cup and even 2-tablespoon sizes. We like to use them for freezing soup, bone broth and even things like pesto from our summer abundance of basil. This makes it easy to thaw one serving or portion at a time as needed.
Where Should You Start?
We know this is a long list of recommendations. If you feel overwhelmed on where to start, ask yourself these questions:
- What do you already have that’s similar? If you already have a knife set, perhaps getting a sharpener would make a big difference for your prep.
- What do you dislike most about meal prep? If the idea of chopping up veggies is a drag, one of the processors or the salad shooter would be a huge help for you!
- What would make the most difference for you in saving time for meal prep? If you dislike boiling a pot of water to boil eggs, or babysitting a roast in the oven for six hours until it’s tender, the Instant Pot would likely be a great addition to your kitchen.
If there are other cooking topics you’d like us to write about, feel free to contact us or reach out to us in social media! Happy cooking!
Irene and Brianna
This post contains affiliate links and we may earn a small commission when you click on the links, at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Each of these items we’ve recommended are products we use and love, and want to share them with you!