It’s not that you don’t know how to cook.

Mom taught you how to do a taco casserole and scrambled eggs. Dad made sure you understood how to cook chicken on the grill. Mac-n-cheese and spaghetti are easy – you just follow the directions on the box.

Knowing doesn’t equal doing. For many years you’ve depended on frozen dinners and take out for your meals. (As well as the occasional dinner with Mom and Dad. Thank goodness they still live close by.) So far you’ve even managed to lose fat and feel stronger without moving too far away from this model. You’ve learned that there are healthier frozen meals than the “green box” choices. You’ve figured out that you can buy eggs already hard-boiled and found a great easy to grab protein bar for breakfast.

Now you’ve reached the point in the journey where it is time to make a nutrition upgrade. It’s time to start cooking more and just a little bit healthier than before. Not bake your own bread or make homemade protein bars but just a couple of dinners a week that didn’t come out some kind of box.

You’ve found a few recipes and figured out that Hy-Vee delivers. There is just one last thing…you need to have the right tools for the job.

If you’re going to do more cooking, it is important to invest a little money in time saving and quality cooking tools. From my own experience as well as with a little help from my clients and my friend Grace, from The Press Coffee & Juice Bar, I’ve developed a list of 10 essential cooking tools. Whether you’re learning to cook for the first time or doing a kitchen upgrade here’s the perfect place to start to make sure you have the basic tools for fast and simple healthy home cooking.

Your basic beginner cooking tools

Basic set of pots and pans: You’re going to be tempted to skimp here but don’t! You don’t have to spend a fortune but the right set of basic pots and pans is a good investment. If you get a quality set and treat them right you won’t have to buy them again for years. I own this Calaphon 10 piece set of stainless steel cookware and have had it for over a decade. Don’t bother with non-stick, it won’t hold up as well. Also a chef once told me that with oil and heat all cookware becomes non-stick.

Chef’s knife: My Wustoff chef’s knife is my best friend. Funny thing…it was a Christmas present for Brian about 15 years ago because he used to do the cooking. Now I consider it mine and I don’t know what I would do without it. Grace shared with us at the last cooking class that she prefers Japanese over German knives because they are lighter. She uses a Santoku chef’s knife and loves it.

Cast iron skillet: Brian laughed when I bought a cast iron skillet. Now he uses it every Sunday to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Cast iron skillets are great for high heat items like fajitas and for things that need to go from stove to oven like frittatas. (If you can master a frittata you’ll never worry about what to make for a quick dinner or what to do with veggies that need to be eaten fast.) I use a cast iron skillet from Emeril Lagasse. Bam!

Slow cooker: I had to be reminded of this kitchen jack-of-all-trades by one of my clients. With a slow cooker you can dump in a bunch of ingredients in the morning and come home to a delicious dinner after work. You might be thinking it only does soup or chili but you can do so much more! Slow cookers can do anything from enchiladas to BBQ pulled chicken to overnight oats. Try this classic Crock-Pot with a timer for even more flexibility.

Cookie sheet: No, not so you can bake endless batches of chocolate chip cookies. You need a good cookie sheet for roasting! I use my cookie sheet three or four times a week for everything from sweet potato fries to roasting tofu. (Pro tip: pair it with parchment paper for mess free roasting.)

Mixing bowls: You’ll need them for salads, pancakes or black bean burgers. I have a set of Pyrex glass mixing bowls but I know many chefs prefer stainless steel. Either are durable and dishwasher safe. You may use them so much you might invest in two sets.

These tools are your foundation. When you can, use the list below to add a few critical accents. You can get by without them but your cooking life will be so much easier with them.

Make cooking a little easier with these kitchen tools

Hand juicer: I just learned about this miracle tool from Grace at our last cooking class. I am always juicing a lemon or lime for something, especially for dressings during my summer of salads. You’ll love this easy to use juicer the next time you want some lime on your fajitas

Food processor: Here is your second big ticket item on the list. Like pots and pans, a good quality food processor is a great investment that will save you time and money in the long run. I love my Cuisinart food processor.  I use it for everything from mixing up falafel to grinding up tempeh for tacos to making my own vegan cheese. It’s also got a dough attachment if you do feel like trying out baking your own bread.

Y peeler: Sure you can use a Vegetti to make zucchini noodles but it can’t do the things a good vegetable peeler can. Peel cucumbers and shave asparagus for delicious sides with ease. Go with this OXO Y-peeler and you can’t go wrong.

Micro Plan: This handy tool is a much better cheese grater and lemon zester than the box model graters most of us have in the kitchen. Every chef I’ve ever met swears by owning one. Add the classic Microplane to your utensil drawer for easy accents to pasta and salads.

Don’t worry if you can’t get all of these at once. You can start cooking with what ever you have. The key is to START. If you need a refresher on basic cooking methods I might suggest How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. It may seem like a boastful claim but he really does cover almost all the basic cooking techniques with tons of simple recipes.

What’s your can’t live without kitchen tool? Or better yet…what thing did you buy that you never use? Help us save money by sharing your experience!

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