Gadgets make healthy meal prep faster, easier

Stocking your kitchen with fresh, healthy ingredients is important, but it’s not the first step to eating better, notes ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports. You need to start with the right cooking tools.

Having the correct gadgets on hand can speed prep times and make the most of the nutrients in the foods you cook. To find out which tools are a nutrition must, ShopSmart polled health-conscious cooking pros, plus its own experts. Turns out, the same 10 items made everyone’s go-to lists. Here they are, plus some pro tricks to help you get the most use of each gadget.

Garlic press. Using this time-saver is a quick way to get heart-healthy garlic into your diet. Bonus: If you use a press, you won’t have to clean up a cutting board. Cookhealthy tip: Use a garlic press to finely mash olives for a tapenade and to press ginger to saute with chicken or season a salad instead of using salt.

Nonstick pan. These pans are a cinch to clean and make it easy to cook with little or no fat. Cook healthy tip: Even when using nonstick pans, pros rely on a few other tools for keeping added fat in check, such as using a silicone pastry brush to lightly coat food in oil before cooking.

Baking mat. Nonstick mats are handy for more than baking cookies. They save calories and fat by letting you prep meals without cooking sprays, oils or butter.

Julienne vegetable peeler. Though chefs may use a more expensive mandoline to make those paper-thin strips of veggies for salads and other dishes, you can use this peeler to make the same restaurant-style dishes at home. Cook healthy tip: Make tri-colored carb-free “noodles” from carrots, zucchini and yellow squash, and toss with fresh tomato sauce or pesto.

Coffee grinder. Think of your electric coffee grinder as a miniature food processor. Use it to finely grind whole pepper and other spices — a great flavor substitute if you’re looking to cook with less salt. Look for one that comes with settings for multiple grind sizes, such as fine, medium and coarse.

Bamboo steaming basket. Steaming is a great way to cook fat-free and retain nutrients that can leach out in cooking water. And bamboo baskets are lighter, easier to handle and less expensive than metal ones. Cook healthy tip: Instead of zapping leftovers in a microwave, steam them in a basket.

Grill pan. Using a stovetop grill is a lean way to cook burgers and other meat; the excess fat drips from the food into the grooves. Cook healthy tip: The pans aren’t just for meat — they’re ideal for grilling veggies, especially sturdier bell peppers, onions and asparagus.

Salad spinner. It’s the best and easiest way to remove grit from herbs and greens. Cook healthy tip: To avoid soggy salads, give those greens at least three whirls.

Immersion blender. “An immersion blender whips in air and blends starchy veggies like potatoes and carrots into a creamy consistency, without the need for butter or cream,” says L.A.-based dietician Ilana Muhlstein, R.D.N. Bonus: Because you use it right in the pot, there’s no need to clean another bowl or a blender. Cook healthy tip: Swap a buttery roux for a russet potato.

Slow cooker. It’s an easy way to cook nutritious meatless meals: Simply toss veggies and beans into the pot. Cook healthy tip: Swap dried beans for some or all of the meat in slow-cook recipes for chili, stew, soup or curry. For each meat serving you want to replace, swap in a quarter-cup of dried beans.

2014 Consumers Union Inc.

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