If there’s one goal that I think everyone should have for their diet, it’s to eat high-quality foods. We should aim to consume more natural, wholesome foods and fewer overly processed ones. It’s trickier said than done, given the deceptive advertising within the food industry. Many items on store shelves marketed to us as “healthy,” “natural” or “organic” start to become pretty questionable when you actually read over the ingredient list. At the end of the day, the best option is usually just preparing our meals at home from quality ingredients.
Making everything for yourself at home can seem a little overwhelming at first. The good news is that developing a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. You can pace yourself by making small changes that steadily build on one another over time (like learning how to start meal prep in my post 3 Ways to Meal Prep like a Pro). There are also some fun gadgets out there that can help make the process a little more practical while adding some variety to your dining routine. So today I’m sharing three of my favorite kitchen appliances that I like to incorporate into my weekly meal prep!
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1. Food Dehydrator
Growing up, one of my favorite snacks was dehydrated fruits. At the time, I just assumed anything with fruit in it had to be nutritious, right? Until one day I read the nutrition label on a generic bag of dried mangos. The amount of excess sugar and preservatives that went into the making of those things were mind-boggling. I might as well have been eating a bag of fruit-flavored candy.
After that, I limited dried fruits the way I would desserts. When I discovered that some specialty health food stores carried more natural, unprocessed dehydrated fruits, I began enjoying them again as an occasional treat (but they were fairly pricey). One day, when I was buying some dehydrated apples, I asked the clerk at the little local health food store where they got their dehydrated fruit. She told me “oh, we make it ourselves with a dehydrator in the back of the shop”.
So I started looking into food dehydrators. I figured for what I’d spent on my dried fruit splurges in the last couple years, I could probably just make my own and save money. That was when I discovered dehydrators have a range of different uses beyond just producing dried fruits. They’re great for veggie chips, dried tomatoes for sauces and pasta dishes or jerky. You can also make your own fresh dried herbs, granola, dry sprouted flour or crispy nuts and seeds.
I found this little dehydrator at a local supermarket a couple years ago for about $40 and have absolutely loved using it ever since. Using a dehydrator is not a lengthy or confusing process. It’s quite similar to operating a crockpot. Once your food is placed inside and ready to go, you turn it on and then leave it (8-24 hours, depending on what you’re dehydrating) to do the rest on its own.
I mainly use mine to make big batches of dehydrated fruit (which will make your entire house smell amazing while dehydrating, by the way). My husband and I munch on during the day as snacks or I use them for bread, muffin or granola recipes. Every so often I will make my husband beef jerky; it’s a little longer of a process because you have to prep the meat 24 hours in advance before you dehydrate it but it’s one of his favorite things ever. Over the holidays, I’ve even made little fruit and jerky gift bags for friends and neighbors! It’s been by far one of my favorite kitchen gadgets.
If I’m being honest though, I do hope to one day upgrade to a nicer, even larger dehydrator (like this one) to be able to do even larger batches of fruits and veggies at once. Particularly since my husband can go through a full dehydrator’s worth of fruit chips in a two-day span before I even realize we need to make more. (Feel free to send me one for Christmas, if you’d like. I’ll mail you some homemade jerky.)
2. Vegetable Spiralizer
If you aren’t familiar with the almighty zoodle by now, you’ve probably been hiding under a culinary rock somewhere. Zucchini noodles and other spiralized veggies have become popular in recent years because they are a great substitute for pasta, whether you’re going low-carb or gluten-free. They also just add some fun texture in soups, salads, and wraps.
You can buy veggie noodles in some grocery stores and they’re arguably one of the safer options to purchase pre-prepared (so long as they’re additive-free). For me, it’s more a matter of freshness and not wanting to pay extra money for a soggy bunch of zoodles that have been sitting on a shelf all week.
I’ve had a spiralizer for about four years now and still get a lot of regular use out of it. I actually acquired this one while working on staff for an online magazine writing product reviews. It was a pretty fun because I got to keep the products that I tested (some of which were more interesting than others, like this turkey cannon that my father claimed after I finished testing it for a holiday review). This spiralizer was by far my favorite kitchen item to come from that job.
You can use these things for a lot more than just zoodles. I will with the straight blade to spiralize carrots, cucumbers, and apples for some fresh crunch in wraps and salads or (my husband’s favorite) to make baked, crispy potato fries. I also pretty regularly use the three julienne blades for squash or zucchini noodles for a low-carb spaghetti or vegetable noodle soup.
I’ve compared this spiralizer to some of the cheaper handheld versions out there on the market and come to the conclusion that you get what you pay for in terms of texture and overall quality. If you enjoy spiralized veggies or find yourself regularly buying them from the store, you might as well just spend the $35 to get a good quality spiralizer to start making them at home. I will make them in a big batch with my meal prep and just toss them into lunches and dinners the rest of the week.
1. Yogurt Maker
This little beauty was a gift from some dear friends of ours a couple years ago. I mentioned my interest in a yogurt maker to my friend (after a couple fairly miserable attempts at making yogurt in my crockpot) and she took pity on me and got me a proper yogurt maker for Christmas. Not only did it make the process so much more practical but I loved that my husband and I were able to enjoy yogurt without any of the excess sugars or preservatives found in store-bought brands. Plus, I’m telling you now, the texture of homemade Greek yogurt is simply out of this world.
I’ve had to eliminate a number of food groups from my diet in recent years, including a number of dairy products. I’ve swapped out traditional milk, yogurt, and creamers for almond and coconut substitutes and was happy to discover I could keep using my yogurt maker for coconut yogurt. (Partly because of added sugars and preservatives in store brands and partly because coconut yogurt isn’t carried by many stores in my area and it’s pretty pricey at the ones that do sell it.)
This is the same yogurt maker that I use and it’s a lot of bang for your buck for just under $25. There are a variety of tools and ways to make yogurt at home, but once again, I am a fan of most any appliance that produces tasty things while requiring fairly minimal effort on my part. I’d say it’s for the sake of time management, but really I’m just a lazy cook. Like, I could spend 2-3 hours in the kitchen crafting some kind of breathtaking, Martha Stewart-ish dinner… But I could also throw a bunch of raw ingredients into a crockpot then go work on my herb garden. With this yogurt maker, it’s just a simple process to prep the milk, pour it into the jars and then let the machine do the rest for the next 6-8 hours.
These are three of my current favorite less traditional kitchen appliances and I’ve gotten a lot of use out of over the past several years. Do you have any favorite kitchen gadgets that help you eat well and maybe save some time or money while you’re at it? If so, I’d love to hear about them! Feel free to share your experience with these or any other nifty gadgets or appliances in the comment sections below!
All writing and images copyright © 2018 Rachel Elise Weems Woods