You don't need fancy gadgets and expensive appliances to make healthy meals, but you will need to make sure you've got all the essentials.
If you're eating healthily and preparing a lot of your own food, you need to have the right equipment. This doesn't mean you have to deck your kitchen out with fancy gadgets and expensive appliances- in fact, you probably have most of what you need in your kitchen already.
Yes, we will begin by stating the obvious! In any kitchen, you'll need a few knives to get you started. It's good to have a large-ish chef's knife, a bread knife (also great for tomatoes!) and a smaller paring knife, which will come in handy for peeling and slicing fruits and veggies. It's also a good idea to have a sharpening stone to prevent your knives from becoming dull, which can make it more difficult to chop, and result in accidents.
Another necessary item is a chopping board (or two). Large boards are great for big cook ups, while smaller boards are ideal for those times when you only need to dice some garlic or slice a lemon. Bamboo, wooden and plastic boards are all great- they do have their positive and negative qualities, however. Plastic can go straight in the dishwasher, which is convenient, but surface cuts can harbor a lot of nasties. Wooden boards need to be hand cleaned and are susceptible to mildew if not looked after properly, but don't have the potential chemical contaminants that many plastic boards do. Do what is best and easiest for you, but avoid glass, as it will ruin your knives.
Pots and Pans
It's good to have a few different pots and pans, particularly if you're cooking for more than one person. It's usually good to have the following: a large pot for soups and stews, a medium pot for pasta and grains, a small pot for sauces, and a large and small frying pan for large and small culinary endeavors (ie. pancakes for the family vs. grilled onions for a sandwich.) Non-stick stoneware pans are especially great to have when you're cooking without oil.
Mixing bowls are great for, well, mixing things. They're especially useful for baking and salad making, though you're sure to find at least 10 other uses for them at one point or another. It's handy to have a couple of different sizes too - large bowls for salads, medium for baking batters, and smaller bowls for whisking dressings or blending spices.
Some important kitchen utensils to have are tongs, a spatula, a ladle, wooden spoons, a slotted spoon, and a balloon whisk. A set of salad servers can also come in handy if you're having family-style meals.
Scissors will allow you to neatly open packages, so you can easily re-seal them with clips. They're also fantastic for chopping herbs directly into dishes or over salads - no chopping board required!
Graters and Peelers
There are a variety of graters and peelers that can serve different purposes. Regular graters are perfect for shaving carrots and beets, while fine graters are ideal for ginger and citrus peels. A standard veggie peeler is also good to have. Not only will it remove peel quickly and easily, you can use it to slice vegetables into long thin ribbons for salads and stir-fries.
Fresh citrus juices are used frequently in plant-based staples like salad dressing and dips, and you'll get the most out of the fruit with a good citrus press. Manual or electric presses both work well.
Sieves and Colanders
You may be surprised to discover how much action your colander gets when you're cooking plant-based meals. Even if you're not straining the liquid from tinned legumes twice a day, you'll need it to drain boiled potatoes and pasta, and possibly for rinsing your veggies. A fine mesh sieve also comes in handy for baking and straining finer foods.
Non-stick baking sheets are great for pizzas, roasting vegetables, and toasting nuts and seeds; alternatively you can line your oven trays with a bit of baking paper. You'll probably want to have a couple of Pyrex or ceramic oven dishes for bakes and casseroles, or for keeping dishes warm when there's no more room on the stove. Non-stick muffin trays and cake tins are also a must-have if you're a baking fanatic like me.
Perfect for making dips and soups, a good quality blender can really make a difference in your kitchen. With so many different brands on the market these days, it's easier than ever to get a quality model at a reasonable price.
In addition to a blender, a food processor is a very useful appliance to have. So many staples can be made effortlessly in a food processor; from dips and purees, to veggie burgers and bread dough. Nowadays, most come equipped with additional blades for slicing and grating, which can save you a lot of time and effort as well.
This is not a necessity, but it will come in handy if you're preparing a lot of grains. Brown rice, quinoa and millet require little to no attention when prepared in a rice cooker, leaving you free to tend to other things, like prepping vegetables (or just putting your feet up!). Many rice cookers now come with timers, so you can set them before you leave for work, and have perfect rice ready and waiting for you when you get home.
Again, not a necessity, but a great addition to your kitchen- especially if you enjoy Asian cuisine. Quickly stir-frying vegetables allows them to hold their color, texture and nutrient value. Both electric and traditional woks are widely available, and they don't have to set you back much either.
Article photo courtesy of Slightly Everything via Flickr