It’s no secret that cooking meals at home puts you in charge of the quality and healthfulness of the ingredients you’re eating. I admit, it’s not as easy as ordering in from the local pizza joint, but the effort you put in can really pay off on your waistline and long-term wellness. One study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Research found that meals cooked at home are healthier, with home chefs who cook most often consuming fewer calories, carbohydrates and sugar compared to those who report cooking the least. In this study, people who reported participating in meal prep six or seven nights a week — I know, a lot! — also made healthier choices on the occasions they ate out. Cooking at home has also been linked to higher consumption of fruits and veggies — both fresh and otherwise — a factor that is key to optimizing your health.
To get you more excited about meal prep, I’ve asked some of the nation’s leading dietitians—food pros who know their way around healthy eating—for their go-to kitchen gadgets that make meal prep as easy as possible. Happy cooking!
Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, nutrition advocate and certified natural chef in Los Angeles, CA, loves her many microplanes! “The microplane is a small investment that delivers big flavor to everyday meals. It grates citrus rinds, ginger, turmeric, hard cheeses, and whole spices, such as nutmeg and cinnamon. It also shaves chocolate for the perfect desert topping. The best part is that when you grate or shave these ingredients, a little amount goes a long way to flavor foods,” she explains.
Begun recommends using the tool in her summery recipe for Strawberry Lemon Shortbread Cookies. “It uses lemon zest to add zing to the cream, which is a nice balance to the sweet strawberries and vanilla shortbread,” she says.
Julie Harrington, RD, Culinary Nutrition Consultant in Morristown, NJ is also a fan of this small but mighty tool. She uses it to make quick work of grating to add flavor and freshness to dishes like her Crepes with a Strawberry Lemon Ricotta Filling and Broccoli & Cauliflower Salad.
2. Veggie Spiralizer
Chef Julie Andrews, MS, RD, CD in Madison, WI can’t live without her spiralizer. This gadget is useful for turning veggies — from zucchini to beets — into noodle-like strands. Though I typically use it to create a stand-in for pasta, she shows you how to create Crispy Beet and Sweet Potato Fries, a vibrant, nutrition-packed, and lighter take on traditional curly fries. I think even picky eaters (read: kids) will try this colorful creation.
3. Stand Mixer
All of my foodie friends swear by this small countertop appliance — even those living in New York City apartments with tight kitchens. Sara Hass, RDN, Culinary Nutritionist in Chicago, IL could not agree more. “I would love to say I could mix everything by hand all of the time, but time won’t allow for that. Not when I work from home while managing my little sous chef! My stand mixer makes my life easier and cooking and baking more efficient,” she says. Trust her and try using this timesaving tool in her lightened up baked goodies like Toasted Coconut Cupcakes, Super Easy Graham Cracker Pancakes, and Banana Coconut Bundt Cake.
4. Food Brush
“I can’t live without my food brush,” says Keri Gans, RDN, Nutritionist in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. Sometimes people go a little crazy with the oil when grilling, but Gans recommends brushing fish, chicken, veggies, or sliced potatoes with a little oil instead. “I brush just a little amount to perfectly cover both sides before adding herbs and spices,” she says. Also known as a silicone basting brush, Gans swears this handy helper will reduce clean-up time, too. “Before I discovered this gadget, I was using my fingers and this is far easier and a whole lot less messy!”
5. Ginger Grater
“I love ginger for its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to open up sinuses and boost circulation and metabolism. But I also love the flavor,” says Cynthia Sass MPH, RD, CSSD, in New York City and author of Slim Down Now. “I add fresh grated ginger to nearly everything, including iced water, homemade salad dressing, marinades, and stir fry sauces; fold it into nut butter; blend it into smoothies and puddings; and stir it into melted dark chocolate,” she explains.
My mouth is watering at the thought of melted dark chocolate with fresh grated ginger, but Sass also uses the spice in savory foods. “Combine ginger with ground cinnamon to season lentil soup and oven roasted chickpeas,” she suggests. “It's one of my top my can't-live-without ingredients, and my grater makes super easy to prepare.”
Try her Cherry Chocolate Green Goddess Smoothie made with—what else?—fresh, grated ginger.
6. Small Kitchen Scoop
Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN in Chicago, IL and author of The Superfood Swap recommends this mini ice cream-style scooper for a “clean, easy, and portioned way to make everything from healthy cookies to lentil meatballs to energy bites.”
“As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I love that it adds an element of portion control, but it also makes your recipes look totally professional,” she explains. Another claim to fame for the small kitchen scoop: Jackson Blatner uses it in the CUBS clubhouse to scoop sticky things like nut butters, coconut oil, and raw honey into protein shakes without making a mess.
Her PB & Flax Energy Bites are packed with good-for-you ingredients and she offers clever ideas for enjoying them, like using the bites atop your favorite smoothie. At this point I’m wondering how I have managed to live without this tool. (Thank goodness for Amazon Prime!)
7. Citrus Reamer
“To provide balance in a recipe, such as balancing bitterness, I often rely on culinary acids, especially lemon juice,” explains Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist in Brooklyn, NY, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. “The fastest and easiest way to get fresh juice from ‘produce to plate’ is by using a citrus reamer!”
Newgent’s in-season Orzo, Greens & Pan-Charred Corn Salad makes use of this low-investment kitchen item. I have a feeling this is one gizmo that won’t get lost in the back of the drawer!
Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, author of Three Steps to a Healthier You, loves the versatility of this blender. “I use it to make smoothies, chop nuts, grind spices, make nut butter, and turn rolled oats into oat flour,” she says. Need some recipe inspo? Her Powered-Up Smoothie Bowl is a fun and flavorful way to pack in seasonal produce.
Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD, Founder of Hummusapien.com and Co-Founder of Alchemy in Columbus, OH is another fan of the Nutribullet. Her pretty-in-pink Grapefruit Smoothie Bowl has an always-in-season surprise: frozen cauliflower florets. What a creative way to boost fiber and nutrients!
Kaleigh McMordie, MCN, RD, intuitive eating dietitian in Lubbock, TX, also swears by this multi-purpose appliance. “It’s easier to clean than a blender, and a little less bulky than many appliances. I especially love it when I only need to make a small batch of something, such as salsa,” she says. Take her word for it and whip up a batch of fresh Roasted Garlic Hummus. Slice up some summery zucchini and dip away!
When it comes to making quick prep of shredding and slicing veggies, Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, Intuitive Eating Dietitian and Yoga Teacher based in Boston turns to her mandoline. “I love using it to make coleslaw, veggie ribbons for salads, and veggie chips and fries! This gadget comes in especially handy when making my Dehydrated Parmesan Truffle Zucchini Chips, perfect for this time of year while zucchini is abundant at farmer's markets,” she notes.
10. Chef’s Knife
No kitchen would be complete without this essential, according to McMordie. “Having a great Chef's knife really eliminates the need for a bunch of other tools in the kitchen.” So true! You’ll want to grab the cutting board and sharpen your knife for this stunning Summery Strawberry Peach Burrata Salad.