It’s easy to prepare healthy meals in a pinch when you have the right tools. These go-to kitchen gadgets make food prep easier, cooking time quicker — and bring you closer than ever to your weight-loss goals.
1. Ice-cream maker. When an ice-cream craving strikes, being armed with one of these can keep you from diving into the pint of Chunky Monkey. Purée your favorite fruits and then add them and a cup of fat-free yogurt to an ice-cream maker for a dessert low in SmartPoints® values. Or let the ice-cream maker magically turn a frozen chopped banana into a rich and creamy treat.
2. Citrus press. Fresh citrus adds zing to whatever you’re cooking so you can rely less on oil, butter and salt for flavor. A citrus press squeezes out every drop of juice but holds onto the pulp and seeds. And since it’s less messy and more efficient than squeezing with your hands, you’ll end up using a press all the time — for dressings, soups, marinades, fish, anything! Tip: If you squeeze more than you need, freeze the remaining juice in an ice-cube tray, then pop out the cube next time you cook.
3. The Magic Bullet. Move over, bulky blender. This pint-size infomercial whiz blends, chops and purées — with easier cleanup than a traditional blender or food processor. Use it to mix up salsas and bean dips, purée soups, chop onions and garlic — or even transform a chicken breast into chopped meat (we’ve tried it — it works). Screw-on lids let you store leftovers directly in the blender attachment in the fridge. The Bullet guarantees you’ll always have time for breakfast. Purée a smoothie in 10 seconds flat, then grab it and go: The blender doubles as a portion-controlled to-go cup.
4. Nutcracker. Preliminary research suggests that including nuts in moderation may have weight-management benefits: A recent Harvard study of 121,000 men and women found that people who ate one serving of nuts a day gained less weight over a 20-year period than those whose diet regularly included potato chips and soda. That news is promising, and this is even more certain: All nuts contain filling protein and fiber to keep you satisfied longer. Since nuts are high in calories, stick to a 1-ounce serving and use a nutcracker when snacking: The work it requires to shell them makes it harder to munch mindlessly.
5. Steamer-basket insert. It’s not just for broccoli and carrots: Steam shrimp and other shellfish, vegetable dumplings, fish fillets — even chicken (that’s what they do at Chinese takeout places before they douse the meat in calorie-laden sauces). And when it comes to veggies, steaming is a healthier cooking technique than boiling, since vitamins and minerals in veggies can leach into the water, says Phoenix-based culinary nutritionist Michelle Dudash, RD. To infuse more flavor into these healthy foods, use stock instead of water when steaming, then top with chopped herbs and lemon.
6. Paring knife. Own one of these, and we bet you’ll eat more fruit. The small blade makes quick work of peeling an apple, hulling strawberries, sectioning grapefruits or scoring mango cheeks. Even sweeter: Once you get your hands on a paring knife, you can get rid of your apple corer, special grapefruit knife and all those other tools causing clutter in your gadget drawer.
7. Oxo box grater. This double-sided grater stands on a measuring cup so you know exactly how much you’re shredding. Stick with the fine grating surface: Lowfat cheeses melt better when thinly shredded, making whole-wheat pizzas and veggie quesadillas perfectly gooey, says chef Devin Alexander, author of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fattening (Clarkson Potter, 2010).
8. Measuring spoons and cups. People typically underestimate their calorie intake by 30 to 50 percent, in part because they eat bigger portions than they realize, Dudash says. Cups and spoons take the guesswork out of serving sizes. Always measure foods that are difficult to eyeball: cereal, nuts, salad dressing, peanut butter, pasta and pretzels.
9. Twelve-inch nonstick sauté pan. Push that leaning tower of pots and pans to the back of your cabinet. All you need to prepare a healthy one-pan meal, fast: a nonstick skillet, Dudash says. The nonstick coating means you won’t have to add glugs of oil to prevent food from sticking or browning. Use it for no-fuss weeknight meals like whole-wheat veggie quesadillas, Asian stir-fries, omelets or turkey burgers.
10. Meat mallet. You’ll want to eat chicken multiple times a week when it’s cooked to juicy perfection. The flat face of the mallet lets you pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or pork to an even thickness, so you’ll get evenly cooked chicken every time, Alexander says. Use the toothed side to tenderize leaner, tougher cuts of beef — like rounds, sirloins and flank steaks — before you cook them.
Purge your cabinets of these space-wasting, diet-busting gadgets:
Egg slicer. The same goes for an avocado cuber, strawberry huller, garlic press or anything that can be cut with a tool called a "knife." The more you need to fuss with your food before it hits your plate, the less likely you are to reach for it when hunger strikes.
Deep fryer. Please don’t tell us that you eat fried foods so much that you actually need one of these. Save the irresistible fried stuff for the occasional county-fair splurge.
Electric wok. Maybe we’re just jealous of the endless counter space you must have to fit a one-purpose appliance (we’re also talking to you, fajita-grill owners), but in our minds, a sauté pan or old-school wok works just fine.