kitchen organization

My Favorite Kitchen Tools + 3 That I Could Live Without

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links which means that if you purchase something through one of these links, I will receive a small commission but your cost will remain the same. All items linked are the exact model/brand that I own unless I noted "similar" in parentheses.

julienned carrots and zucchini on cutting board

Set Yourself Up for Cooking Success

When I'm leading cooking classes or lessons, the first thing that I usually talk about is the importance of setting up your kitchen with the tools and appliances that you will actually use most often, then getting rid of the "fluff" so you can stay organized and efficient. Sometimes the seemingly minor items can make a serious difference in your workflow. 

I know for me, I own a lot of things that sounded cool at one point, but after a few years it's clear that they might not have been the most practical choice. I know I'm not the only one - I have heard countless stories about ice cream makers, pasta machines and panini presses that sit in the back of the cabinet collecting dust.  

I've written on this topic before, but I figured it would be fun to share a few of my must-have kitchen tools (in no particular order) plus a few not-so-frequently-used things that I could live without. Everything is linked so you can see the model I use. I would love to hear you chime in on this topic too so be sure to play along in the comments.

Favorites

Chef's knife

A versatile and well-maintained chef's knife is hands-down the most important tool for any home-cook. I have several different ones but the one linked above is a recent favorite (disclosure: I actually received this knife for free to review it for another website - I ended up loving it!). In my experience, using dull knives is the quickest way to suck the joy out of cooking. It's really hard to slice something thinly and worst of all, dangerous. If you invest in one thing on this list, make it a quality knife. 

Cutting board (similar)

I use this cutting board every.single.day. I love that it's made of silicon because it makes chopping a breeze, plus I can toss it right in the dishwasher if it comes in contact with any raw meat. Wood cutting boards are some of my favorite serving platters, but I prefer not to use them for actual chopping (unless it's something dry like bread) because I feel like they are harder to clean/maintain and in my mind, the wood just soaks up all of that bacteria. 

chef's knife with vegetables on cutting board

Instant Pot

I am still digging my Instant Pot and I don't care if I'm totally cliche for saying it. I use it for cooking big batches of grains and dry beans but it's also seriously helpful for people with limited time to cook during the week. It's easy to make meat for a crowd (like shredded chicken/pork) and can be used for any slow cooker recipe that you want to make about 6x faster (see my note on this further down). A few of my favorite instant pot recipes can be found here, here and here. If you have an IP, what is your favorite thing to make in it?

Citrus juicer (similar)

Adding fresh citrus juice is a great way to add brightness and flavor to a dish. Sure, you can squeeze limes and lemons by hand but you end up wasting a good portion of the fruit. Plus all of those lemon seeds... it can be a total pain. This citrus juicer has been a game-changer because it works really well to get the maximum amount of juice out - perfect for vinaigrettes, sauces, guacamole and cocktails. I use it almost daily.

citrus juicer next to guacamole

Microplane

A basic box grater is fine for most vegetables, but a microplane is a must-have for grating things directly into a mixing bowl or saute pan. Think fresh garlic or ginger, parmesan cheese, or lemon zest. It grates very finely as opposed to the larger shreds from a grater. 

Cast iron skillet

The cast-iron skillet isn't totally necessary for cooking newbies, but it sure is a nice thing to have and you can find them really reasonably priced. I use it when I want to get a nice sear on a piece of protein or when I want to start something on the stove top then finish in the oven without transferring dishes. It's great for frittatas, casseroles and pizzas. As a side note, if one of your life goals is to learn to make the perfect grilled cheese, this is a totally necessary purchase. 

the best grilled cheese

Blender

For years I used a run-of-the-mill, inexpensive blender but it never worked all that well. I splurged on the one linked with some gift cards and I can definitely say it was a great decision to spend a little bit more. If this broke tomorrow, I would hands-down purchase another one right away. I think someday I would like to do the Vitamix thing but for now, this one works great for the smoothies that I tend to make. The result is always perfectly smooth with no chunks left behind, and it doubles as our food processor. The Ninja isn't as high an investment as the Vitamix, so it can be a nice in-between option. I also like that this model came with to-go cups and a separate blade attachment for when you want to make a single serving portable smoothie (so you don't have to dirty the entire thing). We use these multiple times each week.

The Ones I Could Live Without

While there is nothing wrong with any of these, I probably just wouldn't make an effort to replace them right away. I know many people swear by their slow cooker though so of course each person should form his/her own opinion.

Slow cooker

The Instant Pot has essentially replaced my slow cooker. It does have a slow cooker setting but I mainly just use the pressure cooker setting to cook any of these recipes in way less time with the same results. I never really liked using the slow cooker to begin with because the timing never worked with our schedules. When I worked in an office, I would set it in the morning but then the meal would be done way earlier than we were ready to eat dinner so I worried about it over-cooking. It was all right for weekends, but again I just prefer to use the IP now.

Toaster

This one might seem surprising. I love toast but I think when our toaster bites the dust I'll be replacing it with a toaster oven instead because it's so much more versatile. I like the idea of being able to bake, broil or even just heat up leftovers (mainly things like pizza or sandwiches) without turning on the full-size oven. 

Mandolin

I actually really like the mandolin, but I don't use it nearly enough. I rarely come across a recipe that requires using it, probably since most people don't have one. It's actually a great gift because it's a fun tool to own, but for practicality sake I wouldn't recommend it for amateur home cooks. The one I have has several parts and it can be a challenge to put together and adjust.  

Free Mini-Course

Stocking your kitchen with useful tools and appliances is the first step to streamlining your cooking routine but to keep the momentum going, I created a free 3-day email course with actionable steps on organizing your kitchen, meal planning, shopping and prepping for the week!

The course includes a pantry staple checklist, 5-day dinner plan, and other helpful information to help you refresh your kitchen and refocus your nutrition and cooking routine. Use the form below to sign up!

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How to Get Organized with Meal Planning

snack with cooking magazine

It's back-to-school time, and with that comes feelings of getting back into a routine and leaving behind the relaxed vibe that summer brings. I don't know about you, but no matter how far removed I am from my school, I still feel a small sense of excitement when Labor Day rolls around. 

Getting organized with meal planning is not exclusive to students though. Meal planning can save a tremendous amount of time and energy which is something that we don't always have come 6:00pm on a week night.

Here are a few ways you can nail it in the kitchen and use that saved time for relaxing with a glass of wine (or tea!) instead. 

Always Keep a Notebook Close 

Keep a notebook in your purse or car so whenever a meal idea or craving strikes, you can write it down. You can also use the notes app on your phone to do this (but I'm a sucker for pen and paper). If you already have a general idea of what you want to make by the time you sit down to write out a plan, I would consider this a win. You will probably still need to browse recipes or thumb through some cookbooks but at least it's a start. 

If you are a coupon-user, keep those tucked inside your notebook so you can factor them into your plan as well (and never forget them at home again - unless you forget your notebook too, then you're just out of luck). I get a great mini-magazine from the grocery store I visit regularly. They include coupons catered to my purchasing history so it's a win-win and also serves as some extra inspiration for meal ideas.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

There are a few ways you can utilize technology to help you out big time with meal planning. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Utilize the 'save' function on Instagram if you see a recipe that you want to refer back to later. As you can see below, all of your saved posts are in one easy-to-find place on your profile so you don't have to remember who posted what (click each photo to enlarge).

  • Install a Pinterest plug-in on Google Chrome. This allows you to "pin" anything you find around the internet, regardless if the site has Pinterest functionality enabled. I have a wide variety of recipes on my Pinterest page and they are organized by categories like “fast” or “plant-based”.

  • Try out a meal planning service that does all the work for you. For a small fee, I can provide weekly plans that include super fresh and flavorful meal ideas curated by registered dietitians. You can also drag and drop recipes to meet your needs, scale the number of servings to suit your family and generate a printable grocery list. If this sounds like something you want to test out, sign up for a free 3-day trial to see what it looks like.

Make a List

It all comes down to the list, doesn't it? The beauty of it is, you can use a pretty template, scrap paper, or even a cocktail napkin. Whatever the case, a list is just an all-around great idea because it helps ensure that you don't forget any necessary ingredients or just wing it and grab whatever looks good in the moment.

Start by listing everything you need and then take inventory of your kitchen and cross off any items you already have. This will help you cut down on food waste since you are buying only what you need. It can also help you stay on track with a weekly food budget. 

related resource: Get a list of the 10 healthy foods I always have on hand

coupons.JPG

Leave Room for Flexibility

It can be easy to get stuck in a fruit and vegetable rut and buy the exact same thing every week. I like to keep this part of my plan as general as possible as a way to save time, and also so that I can scope out what's on sale and what looks the freshest once I actually get to the store.

Obviously you may need specific items if you are following recipes, but leave some room for shifting things around where you can. Shoot for at least one green and one orange vegetable, a berry of some sort (fresh or frozen) and whatever else is in season and looks good. Remember that almost any vegetable can be chopped up and thrown into either a salad or an egg scramble if you need to use it up fast so don't be afraid to think outside the box with your choices.

basic substitutions for common vegetables:

  • Broccoli - cauliflower (any color), chopped asparagus or brussels sprouts

  • Kale - collard greens, bok choy or swiss chard

  • Spinach - arugula

  • Romaine - butter lettuce

  • Shredded napa cabbage - radicchio or purple cabbage

  • Carrots - roasted sweet potato or butternut squash

  • Green bell pepper - red bell pepper, poblano pepper

  • Cucumber - Persian cucumber (smaller and less watery), zucchini

  • Onion - shallot, scallions

In summary, keep a notebook (or your phone) handy for taking notes throughout the week, use technology to your advantage, and make some sort of list before you go shopping but leave room for flexibility based on what catches your eye. Everyone tends to have a different system that works well for them, but don't be afraid to try something new to streamline that meal planning process and save you some time along the way. 


How I Made My Kitchen More "Green"

Snack lunch.JPG

In honor of Earth Day on Saturday I wanted to talk about some things I purchased to make my kitchen more “green”. The Minimalist RD and her sustainable kitchen series inspired me to make some simple changes that could save on a whole lot of unnecessary waste! Some of these suggestions were from Erin and others are items I wanted to add to the list. 

Reusable Snack Bags

I hate buying the little zip top baggies but they are so gosh darn convenient! I have been meaning to purchase the reusable ones for a while now and purchased these from Amazon. There are all sorts of cloth patterned ones that I found, but ultimately I went with this option to prevent dry snacks/breads from going stale. These are also freezer safe and seem much easier to wash! I will probably still keep the disposable ones on hand for convenience (like when I’m taking something to-go and won’t be able to hang on to the bag afterward) but can already tell I’ll be way less reliant on them.

Glass Food Storage Jars

I love the look of these and they make organizing a lot easier. I plan to use them for bulk grains, nuts/seeds or any other dry goods. They’re functional but also stylish enough to keep on the counter! You could definitely use standard mason jars, but I like to use my jars for making sauces and packing lunches and I wanted something with a wide mouth that would be easier to scoop so these are perfect. 

Cloth Napkins

It’s always nice to have a napkin with meals just in case you need one, but I found that too often I was taking a paper towel with dinner each night, barely using it, and then somehow throwing it away by the time the kitchen was cleaned up. I like the idea of cloth napkins because, 1) they are a whole lot more visually appealing to look at, and 2) you can use them over and over before having to wash them (unless you have a really messy meal of course) and cut way down on paper towel use. Similarly to what I mentioned about the baggies, I will still keep paper towel on hand for when it makes more sense but I think these will help to cut back on it. I chose this particular option because I love the simple look and the reviews indicated they are actually absorbent unlike some other cloth napkins on the market. 

Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

These also help replace paper towels but from a cleaning standpoint. Jacob’s aunt recently gave me a few of these to try because she loves them so much that she wanted to pay it forward. I have been using them for just a couple of weeks and am already hooked! You can clean glass and mirrors really easily and don’t even need any cleaner (just soak in water and ring out well before using). I also love the way they clean counter tops - for some reason they don’t get all crunchy when they air dry so can also be used to wipe up moisture. Love them!

Reusable Shopping Bags

These are definitely not a new trend by any means, but I wanted to include them on this list any way because I LOVE them. I remember about ten years ago when I first started seeing these pop up on blogs. You had to order them online then – now I get them for free constantly at conferences and special events. I use them for groceries (at least when I remember them) and it cuts way down on plastic bags (I only need 2-3 as opposed to about 50 plastic bags that I end up with otherwise). In addition to just that, I use them for road trips or for packing up dinner supplies if we are going to a friend’s house. I also use the small ones for lunch bags so they are just great all around. 

I think it's important to remember that no one is perfect when it comes to this stuff, but we can all do something to be a little bit less wasteful. Small changes certainly add up to big ones in the long term. Hopefully this provided some inspiration for simple swaps that really make a difference.

Is there anything you have done to make your kitchen more green?