Diane Henderiks, registered dietitian and "Good Morning America" contributor, offers her favorite tools for cooking healthful food at home. For more healthy tips, check out Diane Henderiks' site here.
Tool: something (as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession (a scholar's books are his tools.)
I believe that selecting quality ingredients, choosing the right types of fats and sweeteners, highlighting the natural flavor and textures of food and reducing the total amount of salt without sacrificing flavor is the foundation of healthier cooking. To get this job done you need the right tools and here are my top 10 favorites:
|Good Set of Knives|
Choose those with a forged blade that goes through to the handle. They should be sharp and feel good in your hand. It can be more dangerous to use a dull blade vs. a sharp blade so sharpen quickly with the steel after each use. I believe there are only four knives the home cook really needs: a paring knife, utility knife, 8 or 10 inch chef knife, and an 8 inch serrated knife.
|Cast Iron Skillets and Griddles|
Cast iron pans conduct heat very well, require minimal oil in cooking, sear items beautifully, go from stove top to grill or oven easily and offer health benefits. Cast-iron cooking naturally increases the iron content of food. Be sure to season your pans before first use by placing an even layer of kosher salt at the bottom, cover with oil and place over high heat on top of the stove. As soon as it starts to smoke, get rid of salt/oil mixture and rub inside of pan with a few paper towels until clean. Never use soap, just hot water and wipe clean. Dry thoroughly so no rust accumulates.
Great for zesting citrus fruits, grating cheese, chocolate and nutmeg. The zest of citrus fruits has wonderful aromatic oils which add terrific flavor without calories to dishes. Grating good-quality cheese with a microplane means you will use less. Commercially grated cheeses in a shaker jar often have fillers added that dilute flavor so more is needed. Same goes for chocolate, you can grate a small amount of good quality (higher cocoa content the better) to obtain amazing flavor with just a small amount. There is no comparison to freshly grated nutmeg! I love it on steamed veggies.
|Crock Pot/Slow Cooker|
I have three slow cookers in three different sizes and make everything from stews, soups, chili, whole chicken, pulled pork, spaghetti and meatballs, hearty veggies and more. What I love is you use minimal fat (if any), set it, forget it and a healthy meal is on the table in a snap!
This heavy-duty cooking pot is great for healthful recipes and one-pot meals and can be used on top of the stove then go right in the oven. They distribute heat evenly all the way around and have a practically non-stick surface which means you can brown with less fat.
Steaming is a great way to retain nutrients in vegetables. Using a steamer basket produces a nice texture, color and taste. Try to cut vegetables in the same size for more even steaming. This is a no fat cooking method. I like to add some low-sodium chicken or veggie broth to the water for added flavor.
You can pick up fancy ones at your local kitchen store or do as I do and go to the hardware store and get the plastic ones. Fill with your favorite oils like olive, sesame, canola, etc and you're good to go. This is an awesome way to add a small amount of oil to the pan or food without bathing it in oil. This is a non aerosol, healthy way to reduce calories (1 tablespoon of oil has 120 calories and 14 grams of fat) and increase flavor.
This is probably my most-used tool in the kitchen (other than the knives)! When my boys were little I made all of their baby food in my blender, they never ate baby food from a jar. In the "wet" attachment I make smoothies, juices, puree soups, beans, salad dressings, marinades, sauces, etc. In the "dry" attachment I grind flax seed, coffee, spices, oats and cereals.
|Food Processor with Attachments|
The food processor speeds up prep time of slicing, grating and chopping when preparing healthful meals. I love it for grating blocks of low-fat cheese, shredding cabbage for slaws, slicing cucumbers and other veggies, making hummus, dips and pestos.
Whisks are super versatile and should be used for a variety of jobs in the kitchen like mixing dry ingredients together, frothing egg whites, creating smooth batters (I use to incorporate wheat germ and ground oats and chia seeds into pancakes), emulsifying dressings, making silky sauces and gravies or any other job where a smooth consistency is needed and a spoon just won't cut it!