These 10 cooking tools and gizmos help you cut calories without trying. They’re must-haves for any healthy homeBy: Angela Kwan
It’s a no-brainer that eating at home is better for our waistlines and our wallets. So why don’t we do it more often (or, ever)? Could it be because cooking nutritious meals sounds like a daunting process? It doesn’t have to be. All you need are a few easy-to-use appliances and utensils to get you started. We asked some of our favorite dietitians to share their go-to kitchen essentials that promote healthy eating. With these 10 tools at your disposal, maybe you can learn to be a skinny cook.
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“No matter how well you eyeball a portion, you may be getting more than you think,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription. Eliminate room for error with a digital food scale. Basic models weigh food in ounces or grams, and more sophisticated versions provide USDA-approved nutritional information such as calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber.
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This single-purpose appliance makes more than a retro statement—it also says I care about my health. Three cups of popcorn (about 2 tablespoons of kernels) will satisfy one-third of your daily value of whole grains for only 100 calories. “If you want a snack but don’t have calories to spare, it’s a good idea to have air-popped popcorn,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, and author of The Flexitarian Diet.
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No kitchen should be without a rice cooker. “Rice never burns, never sticks to the pan, and clean up is a lot easier,” Gerbstadt says. Fancier models come with separate settings for preparing white or brown rice, steaming vegetables or seafood, and slow-cooking stews and soups. For extra flavor, mix low-sodium vegetable broth, spices, and herbs into the pot.
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Put some zing into your marinades, salsas, and sauces with citrus zest. Seasoning your food with lemon, lime, or orange means you can go easy on the salt and still enjoy distinct flavors, Gerbstadt says.
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The secret weapon to making creamy soup sans the fatty cream? A hand blender. Puree vegetables and low-sodium broth until you get a smooth consistency, Blatner says. This way you can enjoy hearty homemade soup instead of limp vegetables floating in stock. Plus, starting a meal with soup will help you fill up faster and consume fewer calories later.
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Next time your sweet tooth calls, don’t reach for a carton of ice cream. Instead, make yourself a cup of tea. Drinking strong tea, such as ginger or peppermint, is an easy way to quash a craving, especially for someone who just wants a bit of sweetness, Blatner says. And keeping a kettle on the stove can serve as a constant reminder when it’s time for a healthy snack.
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“People lose sight of what [an appropriate] portion is because we are used to what restaurants serve,” Gerbstadt says. To avoid piling on the extra calories and fat, use measuring cups or measuring spoons. Dieters should be especially mindful when eating peanut butter, nuts, salad dressing, olive oil, and cereal—the right portions of these foods are commonly overestimated, she says.
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A salad spinner can be handy for more than rinsing leafy greens. Give protein-packed beans or fiber-filled berries a whirl in the spinner to prep for meals and snacks. The side slats are bigger than the holes in most colanders, so a salad spinner may be better at separating out the larger debris found on certain foods.
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Make your own salad dressing and spare yourself the unwanted sodium, sugar, and calories found in processed varieties. Store your dressing in a squeeze bottle for convenience, Blatner says. She also encourages experimenting with different ingredients, such as flaxseed oil. “[Homemade] dressing tastes a million times better than anything you can buy in the store.”
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Cooking at home may be healthier than dining out, but what if you don’t want to eat the same stew four nights in a row? Freeze it. Blatner suggests preparing meals in advance and storing food flat in plastic bags. You will save time and space. Just make sure to let the food cool before pouring it into a bag.
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