Smart investments in your kitchen make these daily tasks easier.
If you want to be healthier and save money, the best place to start is in your kitchen.
Cooking skills are more important than ever. With the cost of food skyrocketing and the quality of fast food diminishing, cooking is a skill of the future.
These days expensive food prep kits are all the rage, but with a few essential appliances, you can cook like a boxed chef for about 1/4 the price.
I spent ten years as a personal chef, but the food I cook for my family is fast, simple, and delicious. Making good food isn't difficult, and with a few essential appliances, it can be even more doable.
These items are an investment, but if you wait for a sale, use store points, or look for them at garage sales and thrift stores, you can get them without breaking the bank.
Everything I'm going to mention, I use at least twice a week. I use them for all different jobs, and I've been using them consistently for years.
These are the small appliances that I can't live without:
The actifry has a bowl and a rotating paddle inside. Its claim to fame is that you can make fries with hardly any oil, but it's so much more than that.
Yes, you can make delicious fries. Whether they're from a package or scratch, they crisp up nicely. But the actifry is actually like an electric sous chef because of that rotating paddle stirring for you.
Because you're not tied to the stove, your hands are freed up for other things. You need to keep an eye on it, but it's not as intense as having to watch and stir something constantly.
I actually have two of these.
Some meals have two items I want to cook with them (think potatoes in one and a side of peppers and zucchini the other). You just have to finesse the timing when cooking two different things for the same meal.
It works for almost anything that needs to keep moving as it cooks.
The only issue is, it gets pretty hot, so food cooks quickly. It's also convection heat, so food can dry out fast.
Adding extra moisture can alleviate this problem.
Also, sometimes food gets stuck in the paddle, but it makes a loud noise when that happens, so you'll know.
It's also good for reheating things like taco meat and chili. Again, just make sure you add extra liquid and keep an eye on it, as the air will dry out foods more than heating it in a pot.
When I first bought my actifry, I used it almost every night. It's versatile enough that you could probably find a use for it in every meal.
The bowl and paddle are removable and easy to clean.
I have a food processor that I use for basically two things.
I don't use it for many jobs, but I find it indispensable for the two things I do with it.
I use it mainly to shred cheese and make peanut butter. These two uses alone save me hundreds of dollars a year.
I hate shredding cheese. It's the one cooking job I absolutely loathe, so I use my food processor to shred whole blocks in seconds.
I shred up big bunches of cheese when I buy it on sale and then freeze it. It defrosts quickly and is usable in just the same way as cheese that hasn't been frozen.
Shredded cheese is also so much more expensive than bricks, and it has additives and preservatives.
By shredding your cheese, you can save money and have convenience without the chemicals.
I also make peanut butter.
I eat peanut butter every morning. Lots of kids love peanut butter, and although you can't send it to school anymore, you can still use it as a nutritious, protein-packed breakfast in your home.
But the problem with store-bought peanut butter is the cheap brands have a ton of sugar, and the natural brands are expensive.
I used to go to our bulk store and buy the peanut butter ground to order.
It was tasty, fresh, and healthy, but when I noticed the peanuts were about half the price, I decided to experiment and make my own.
It was so delicious and cheap that I've never looked back.
All you do is put the nuts in the food processor and let it go.
It'll go through stages, so you have to be patient, it takes a while to turn into a paste, but if you just let it go, it will happen eventually.
Doing this is a great way to have cheap healthy food on hand for your family. Peanut butter is excellent for sandwiches, but it's also delicious with crackers, apples, celery, or banana.
I also use my food processor to fine-slice, grate, and shred large quantities of vegetables when cooking in bulk.
The blades and bowls of food processors can clean up in the dishwasher.
I bought an instant pot last year on the recommendation of a friend.
I don't use it as much in the summer as I do in the winter, but it's a fantastic convenience, and because it does the job of a few different appliances, it saves space.
The instant pot is a pressure cooker with a couple of other functions. You can also sautee in it and use it as a slow cooker. The idea with the pressure cooking function is that you can cook anything faster.
I use it to make big batches of chili or curry at least once a month.
First, I brown the meat with the sautee function. Then I take out the meat and cook onions and any other vegetables I'm going to put in. Then I put it all together with the liquid, and I pressure cook it. After that, I put it back on low sautee and do the final seasoning and any late additions.
After that, I put the lid back on and change the setting to warm, and it keeps until I'm ready to serve.
By doing this, I save myself from having to wash extra pots and pans.
It's nice to be able to do these different jobs in one pot.
It's also great as a slow cooker for roasts or to put a pre-prepared chili or soup into to have warm and waiting after work.
There's also a delayed start function and an automatic warm function for even more convenience.
I have the Turbowave, but there are plenty of little convection ovens and air fryers out there.
I just love mine because I can cook just about anything in it.
It's especially great for cooking a few things without having to heat the whole oven.
Meat and vegetables cook up nicely, and if you put it on a little tray instead of directly on the racks, it stays clean.
Convection heat is good for anything crispy.
We have tacos once a week, and I use it for crisping up the shells. It's much faster because the air circulates in a smaller area.
It also turns itself off with a timer so you can walk away, but if you want something to stay crispy, you need to take the lid off right away before the steam starts to settle.
I use mine mainly for cooking meat, vegetables, and heating bread items like buns, Naan bread, or tortillas.
But for just those functions, I use it at least twice a week, often more. It's nice not to turn on the oven for small jobs and have cooking times sped up.
George Foreman grill
This is something I use more than I thought I would.
I love it so much I bought a second one, and I often use them both simultaneously.
It's also something that I've tried using non-name brand versions, and the original George Forman brand seems to work best, in my experience.
I got one at a garage sale for $2.00 and the other at a second-hand store. It's an item that always seems to be there.
Some weeks I use them daily.
I use them for grilled cheese sandwiches for the daycare kids and hamburgers for the family, especially in winter when I don't want to go outside to grill.
They heat up fast and stay at the perfect temperature.
They also speed up the cooking time because there are two cooking surfaces when you put the lid down.
You can cook up a bunch of hamburgers or sandwiches so quickly that the last ones are finished before the first ones cool down.
Even if I only used it for these two things, I'd consider my GF Grill essential.
I also use it for cooking vegetables. You can cut zucchini or peppers into strips that fit nicely or whole skewers to brown quickly (just remember to finish them in the oven because a skewer needs to cook right through to the center of the stick).
It is also suitable for heating bread. Think flatbread for lovely Greek pita sandwiches or garlic bread with your pasta.
Anything you grill, you can make in the Foreman grill.
You can also crisp up bacon for a BLT or grill tomatoes to go with your cooked breakfast. (But be careful not to leave it beside your bed — A Michael Scott reference for you Office fans)
It is easy to clean, especially if you only use it primarily for dry things.
Mine is similar to the Excalibur brand found at Walmart.
It's something I bought on a whim from the shopping channel, but it's become one of my favorite gadgets.
I don't use it every day, but when I do, it's indispensable.
I use it mainly to chop vegetables when I'm making a pot of chili or a big stew.
It wasn't expensive, so I'd consider this the best bang for my buck addition to my kitchen arsenal.
It cuts nice uniform, pieces quickly.
All you have to do is cut pieces small enough to fit the chopping surface. You can do things like mushrooms whole.
It's that easy.
Hard vegetables are trickier, but if you slice them thin enough, they slide right through.
I used to avoid making big batches of chili and stews because I hated the chopping. But those are the dishes that feed big families cheaply and make for loads of leftovers to freeze.
Having the ability to prep lots of veggies also opens doors for more variety by giving you a base for your flavors.
Creating many different meals from the same ingredients is doable when you can prep lots beforehand.
You can make chili, stew, soup, curry, or Asian hot pot-style dishes with the same meat and veg.
You can add any combination of spices to make these ingredients fit any flavor profile or ethnic taste.
So combining the chopper with the instant pot is a winning combination.
If you have a special diet, picky eaters in the house, or if you just want to know what's in your food, cooking for yourself is always your best option.
Cooking isn't that difficult if you have the right appliances.
When you invest in tools to make this job easier, you're more likely to do what you need to do to feed your family healthily and cheaply.
Some of these small appliances aren't necessarily cheap to buy.
But if you can find them on sale or second-hand, or online they save you money, time, and aggravation in the long run.
All you need to do is learn how to use them and incorporate them into your kitchen.