Kitchen Gadgets to Help You Save Money and Eat Healthier
With today’s household budgets on a tight leash, people are looking for any way they can to save money. One way to do this is in the kitchen, by eating out less and cutting out expensive processed and prepackaged foods. Even better, these methods also help you eat healthier. Cooking for yourself lets you more easily control your portion size and ingredients, and cuts out a lot of the salts, sugars and preservatives that are often found in processed foods.
But anyone will tell you that cooking for yourself can be time consuming, and certainly a lot harder than popping a frozen pizza into the microwave. Even though cooking from scratch can benefit your health and your bank account, for someone juggling work, school, and myriad other responsibilities, adding one more to the list starts looking less and less appealing.
To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 kitchen gadgets that not only provide the most bang for their buck, but also help you eat better in the process.
#5 - Ice Cream Maker
An ice cream maker isn’t the first think you think of when it comes to eating healthy, but these do a lot more than just make ice cream. Sorbets, smoothies, and other frozen drinks are all possibilities, with a variety of flavors as large as your grocer’s fruit section. If you do get a craving for something a little more sweet and creamy, you can try your hand at frozen yogurt, milkshakes, or, of course, ice cream. And instead of being filled with strange sounding ingredients and artificial favors (as many discount ice creams are unless you’re willing to shell out a few extra dollars), all you need is some milk, sugar, cream and flavor (which can cost a fraction of the price of that quart of Häagen-Dazs).
#4 - Bread Maker
Like with home made ice cream, the benefit of home made bread comes from knowing what’s in it. Just because a package of bread says “wheat” or even “whole wheat” or “multi-grain” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you. Whole wheat and multi-grain are healthier than plain white bread, but you still have to be on the look out for artificial colors and other additives. In addition, buying a loaf of bread every week adds up, especially if you’re making an effort to get the better quality stuff. I’ve found a bag of flour (which can costs about the same as one loaf of bread) will easily give me four loaves of bread. The other important ingredient is yeast, and that little jar lasts a lot longer than you might think.
The magic of a bread maker is that it takes all the work out of making bread. Toss in your ingredients, press a button, and the bread maker goes through a pre-programmed kneading and rising cycle. It will even bake the bread for you. Or, if you’re feeling creative, you can take the dough out when it’s done kneading and use your own bread pan, or twist pretzels, or braid challah… the list goes on. If your feeling indulgent, it makes great pizza dough (for a fraction of the cost of ordering out, or even those pre-made crusts from the store), awesome cinnamon roll dough (for a few cents each instead of $5 from Cinnabon or Starbucks)… and again the list goes on.
#3 - Steaming Basket
Steaming is another easy and healthy cooking method because there is no need to add extra oil or fats for cooking. While wester culture mainly uses steaming for vegetables or seafood, Asian cultures often use steaming to cook meats. With steaming, vegetables maintain vibrant colors and meats stay moist and tender since their natural juices don’t evaporate. In addition, a lot of steamers out there can serve double duty, such as steamer-strainers, or double-decker steaming baskets which give you three steamers in one (a small one, a big one, and a two-level one).
#2 - Contact Grill
Probably the most famous of these is the George Forman grill, but there many other models available. Add some seasonings to steak, fish, veggies, or anything in between, toss them on the grill. Or let your meat or veggies soak in a marinade while your at work. In either case, dinner is ready in just a few minutes; since the grill cooks on both sides, it cuts cooking time in half. And with the non-stick surface, clean up is just as easy. In addition, excess fat from steaks, burgers, and the like is drained away as it cooks, making your meal that much healthier.
#1 - Crockpot or Slow Cooker
Perhaps the most valuable kitchen gadget I’ve found is the crockpot. Some people may balk at taking 10 hours to cook something, but when you’re at work for those 10 hours and come home to dinner that is ready and waiting for you, it suddenly becomes obvious why crockpots are such popular items. Toss in your ingredients in the morning, set the temperature to either high or low, and your dinner is ready 6-10 hours later. What’s more, crockpots do wonders on frozen foods so you don’t even have to remember to take something out to defrost--I’ve even cooked a whole frozen chicken in my crockpot and it came out great. Even better, crockpots can make a lot of food, so one day of cooking can give you meals for the rest of the week. And if you get tired of the standard crockpot fare, you can try our hand at any of the numerous crockpot soups, stews, or even desserts.
Of course there are a lot of other gadgets and appliances out there, so keep an eye out for those gems that will make your life easier and pay for themselves at the same time. However with all the egg separators and hotdog bun toasters out there it can be hard to sort through the useless gadgets to find the good ones. Here are some things I think about when looking for appliances:
How will I use this?
If you can think of more than three or four things you can make with the appliance, it’s probably a good one. The key for getting your money’s worth is finding things that are multi-purpose, instead of buying a bunch of one-use items. Rice cookers are popular, but I personally put them in the “useless” category. All they really do is make rice, which is easy enough on the stove with a timer. Some of them steam veggies too, but a steamer basket can do that and a lot more.
When will I use this?
If the gadget in question can do a thousand things, but will end up collecting dust in the corner, it’s probably best to pass it by. Mandolin slicers and pasta makers are in this category for me. I’d love to have them and can think of a thousand uses for them, but aren’t something I see my self using very often. They’re on the list for when I can build my dream kitchen.
Will it save me money?
Many gadgets and appliances can be on the expensive side, so when deciding on a purchase ask yourself if it will save you money in the long run. If crockpots, grills, and steamers will save you from eating out or buying expensive prepackaged foods, then they’re doing their job. Ice cream and bread makers save you money the same way if you eat a lot of ice cream and bread. Things like those vacuum powered food packagers may claim to save you money by keeping food fresher longer, but often they require expensive packaging refills that can add up even more than the food it is saving.
Another trick I’ve learned is that appliances don’t have to be brand new to be good. Look for bargains on e-bay, craig’s list, Amazon market place, or cruise garage sales. You can find a lot of used appliances that work perfectly fine for little or no cost. I got my crockpot free from some students who were moving out and had no room for it, and it has served me without a hiccup for over two years so far.