Kitchen appliances like multiple burner professional ranges and sleek induction cook tops can cost thousands of dollars, but you don't need these big ticket items for tasty, good-for-you meals. Surprisingly, it's the small stuff — mixers, blenders, choppers — that make the cut.
The November issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, features 14 must-have kitchen items that can help you trim calories and not the flavor from home-cooked meals.
Blender or food processor — Make fast soup, quickie fruit smoothies, tomato sauce, dips and spreads. Use the slicing tool to cut through fresh produce quicker than with a knife. Look for a heavy-duty machine to fit your counter. Smart picks: Oster Counterforms BVLB07 ($80) was among the best in tests of 33 blenders.
KitchenAid KFP715 (WH) ($100) and Cuisinart DLC-2011BCN ($200) were among the best in tests of 27 food processors.
Spray-bottle cooking-oil dispenser — At about $10, this item will allow you to limit the fat in your diet (even healthy oils can run 120 calories per tablespoon). And you won't have to worry about chemicals or propellants.
Sharp knives with a hone or sharpener — A good set makes knives work faster and easier. Dull knives require more force and can be a danger. Go for forged-steel knives, which outdid stamped-steel models in tests. Smart picks: Henckels Twin Professional "S" ($290).
Measuring cups and spoons — Measuring ingredients helps control portion size and calories. Look for metal cups with handles for dry ingredients and see-through glass cups with etched-in markings for liquids.
Metal broiler pan — To save time, cook healthful meals of fish or chicken with quick-cooking veggies like asparagus and cauliflower. Oils and marinades drip through the slots, keeping grease at bay. Sturdy pans with dark finishes cook food faster than shiny metal ones.
Grill pan — Searing in a grill pan infuses strong flavors and allows fat to drip into the grooves, away from food. Choose a nonstick surface that is dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup.
Nonstick pan — These pans are easy to clean and only require a mist of oil. Be sure to avoid high cooking temps that break down the coating and toss when the coating starts to flake. Smart picks: Earthpan with SandFlow ($190 for a 10-piece set) was among the best in tests of 32 models.
Salad spinner — You'll be more likely to eat salads every day because it makes washing greens easy. Choose one with a pump instead of the spin type for better grip. Look for large capacity and plenty of holes to release liquid as you spin.
Tongs — Rubber- or nylon-tipped tongs protect the finish of nonstick pans and are easy to use. Choose dishwasher safe metal with locking handles for easy storage.
Microwave oven — Great for quick-steaming vegetables and fish, the microwave can encourage healthy eating. Check out microwaverecipes.com for ideas about steaming food in wet paper towels or microwave steam bags. Look for models with a sensor, touchpad controls and auto defrost. Smart pick: Kenmore 6633(9) ($140) was one of the best countertop ovens out of 25 models tested.
Slow cooker — These are perfect for nutritious soups and stews filled with veggies and beans. Load it up in the morning, and dinner will be ready when you get home. Smart pick: Rival Crock-Pot SCVC604 H-SS ($60) has all of the features you need, and it turned out tasty dishes in tests of 15 models.
Small vegetable chopper — Handy for small jobs like mincing herbs or chopping veggies, it's great when cooking for small numbers. Get a sturdy model to handle nuts and consider the ease of an electric unit. Smart pick: Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus DLC-2A ($40) was among the top out of eight models tested.
Pizza stone — Load on veggies and cut the grease by making pizza at home on this stone that prevents soggy crust. Choose an unglazed stone that is lead-free.
Stand mixer — Make baking bread and cookies from scratch easy with an appliance that does the kneading for you and lets you use whole-grain flours, nuts and other nutritious add-ins for more healthful goodies. Use attachment pieces to make homemade pasta and leaner burgers. Look for a sturdy machine, a paddle and easy-to-read controls. Smart pick: KitchenAid Classic K45SS(WH) ($200).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.