When your kitchen contains the necessary tools for cooking, it’s easier, faster and less frustrating to get meals on the table and enjoy cooking. And by eating at home, you’ll save time and money, and you can prepare healthier meals.
One big mistake in preparing meals at home is trying to make do with inadequate cooking equipment. There are many ways to pick up basic kitchen tools inexpensively: Try yard sales, thrift stores, family donations or even castoffs when neighbors move. Consider borrowing an item from a friend first to see if you like it before you buy your own.
For roughly $200–$300, you can purchase ALL the basics. This might seem like a lot of money, but the average American spends more than $1,200 each year on fast food! Consider eating out less often and using the money you save to stock your kitchen. Your pieces don’t need to be lavish or color-coordinated, only functional. Keep in mind that each cook and kitchen are different, so make decisions based on your habits, needs and space.
Items for Food Preparation
- Plastic cutting boards (2).To prevent cross-contamination, use one for bread, fruits and vegetables and the second for meats, poultry and seafood. Choose boards that can be cleaned easily. (I)
- Colander. For draining pasta or rinsing vegetables. (B)
- Mixing bowls. Three sizes should be plenty. (G)
- Measuring cups & spoons. One 4-cup liquid measure (glass) and one set each of measuring spoons and measuring cups for dry ingredients. (D&E)
- Fruit & vegetable peeler. Healthy meals include many fruits and veggies; this item will make peeling them quick and easy. (H)
- Box grater. It’s fast and easy to grate carrots or cabbage for a salad, or cheese for your favorite dish, with a box grater. It also can be used to grate chocolate and spices (such as nutmeg). (A)
- Sharp knives. Most professional cooks agree that you need only 3 basic knives: A chef’s knife (C) (the workhorse used for slicing and dicing fruits, vegetables, meat and fish; 8–14 inches in length), a utility knife (E) (for small tasks; usually 6–8 inches in length; may or may not have a serrated blade) and a serrated slicing knife (D) (for cutting bread and tomatoes). Don’t go overboard on price, but do choose good quality. Handle it before buying to make sure it feels balanced in your hand and has a comfortable grip. Keep knives sharp and store them safely. You should also invest in a knife sharpener. (B)
- Kitchen scissors. These have numerous uses, including cutting poultry into pieces and cutting fresh spices, pizza, tortillas, etc. Look for a pair that can be taken apart for cleaning. (F)
- Utensils. Choose a wooden or metal spoon for stirring — whichever you like best. (B&C) Choose a metal spatula for flipping eggs and pancakes, as well as a rubber spatula for scraping bowls. (F) Pick up a wire whisk for beating eggs, mixing dry ingredients together or making gravies. (E) Tongs are useful for serving salads, turning foods in a pan and grilling. (D)
- Can opener. Many cans now have pull tabs, but occasionally, you’ll need this tool. (G)
- Cooking thermometer. This is necessary to ensure your food has reached the proper temperature. An instant-read thermometer is easy to use, but don’t leave it in the oven.
Cooking & Baking
- Cooking pans. Basic pans include sauce, sauté and stock pots, plus one universal lid and a hot pad. Pans don’t need to match. Flimsy cookware can warp and develop hot spots, so get the best you can afford; otherwise, your food might burn. (A-G)
- Baking sheets. A 17 × 14-inch aluminum sheet is best for cookies, breads and pizza. (A) You should also have a cooling rack; it’s a safe and quick way to cool your food. (B)
- Baking dishes. Basics include a 9 × 13- and 9 × 9-inch baking dishes, as well as a bread pan, which also can be used to bake meatloaf. Also, get 1- and 3-quart microwave-safe casseroles with lids. (C-F)
- Electric or hand blender. These tools make smoothies, soups and sauces a snap to prepare. (B)
- Slow cooker. This item can save you a bundle of time, as well as money. Choose a size to fit your family. (A)
- Toaster or toaster oven. A basic toaster oven can be inexpensive and is always useful for making a fast meal.
- A salad spinner dries greens super fast and can save you money over pre-cleaned, bagged veggies.
Shopping Lists for Your Kitchen Essentials
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Measuring cups for dry ingredients
- Measuring spoons
- Spatula, rubber
- Mixing bowls (several sizes)
- Box grater
- Plastic cutting boards (2)
- Chef’s knife
- Paring or utility knife
- Serrated slicing knife
- Knife sharpener
- Kitchen scissors
- Wooden and/or metal stirring spoons
- Spatula, metal
- Can opener
- Food thermometer (instant-read)
Cooking & Baking
- Frying pan
- Stock pot
- Sauté pan
- Universal lid
- Hot pads (2)
- Baking dish, 9” × 13”
- Baking dish, 9” × 9”
- Casserole with lid (1- or 3-quart)
- Loaf pan
- Pie pan
- Pizza pan
- Baking sheet, 17” × 14”
- Wire cooling rack
- Slow cooker
- Electric or hand blender
- Toaster or toaster oven
Commissaries currently offer kitchen centers, which carry all of the products listed in this post, except for cooking pots. Now that you know the essential pieces to have in your kitchen and that you can save on many of them at Your Commissary, check out Fueling at Home in the Warfighter Nutrition Guide to learn many tips for cooking in your home.
- Sheryl Hoehner is a senior nutritionist with the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP).