Because food is one of the top-three household expenditures, reigning in the cost of food is a sure way to save some dough and help keep more of your hard-earned bread. Here are some of the kitchen essentials that you need.
Cooking…to some it’s really an enigma. I have friends with Ivy League PhD’s who really can’t figure it out. As one said, she just wants “to be told what to do.” Food is reportedly one of the biggest household expenditures after housing and transportation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, it doesn’t have to consume (yes, I went there) your budget. With places like Walmart, Target, Costco, and (my favorite) Trader Joe’s, it’s easy to scale back your budget. So, to start, let’s make sure we have the cooking utensils we need.
1. Utensils & Plates
This seems obvious, but at a minimum have at least four MATCHING sets of utensils. You will get more mileage out of an 18/10 stainless steel set as opposed to something that is 18/0. (The numbers 18/8 and 18/10 on stainless steel flatware refer to the percentages of Chromium and Nickel [for corrosion resistance and shine]. 18/0 indicates 0% Chromium and would be considered lesser quality than 18/8 or 18/10.
If you want to be artsy and mix-and-match, EVERYTHING must be mismatched, which seems like a lot of work. For plates, you’ll need entrée/main course, side plates, and bowls. The entrée plates are going to be used the most, and they may break (I’m a total klutzy butterfinger), so it may be worth getting a few extra of these.
2. Non-Stick Sauce Pan
Whether it’s grocery premade, from a can or out of a freezer (we’ll get there) on a cold winter’s day, sometimes throwing that on the stove is the perfect meal. Also, homemade sauces are the best. Or you made an amazing meal, and you just want to save the leftovers for work to save some cheddar. A good pot is a kitchen essential.
3. Cast-Iron Pan
Looking to sear a steak or cook bacon? (I think I’m addicted to red meat.) Really, these pans can do anything. Bonus: they are indestructible, require very little cleaning, and, once seasoned, make everything better.
4. Knife Set
This gets tricky. There are great, cheap kits out there that may make sense for college, but if you buy a good set of knives, they can serve you well for quite some time. Most fancy cooking devices are just mimicking good ole’-fashioned tools. Also, throw in a knife sharpener. Sharp knives make cooking soo much easier. You may also want a cutting board as well to not mess up your Formica laminate counters. (Sorry, childhood called.)
5. Wooden Soup Spoon & Metal Spatula
The former (wooden spoons) lets you stir and not scratch up your non-stick pan. Wood is also fine with the high-heat cast iron. The latter (a metal one, and I have always thought OXO is a frugal match to the best) is perfect for scraping some of the goodness off the bottom of the pan (think a good sear on a steak and the residual for making a sauce), flipping eggs, pancakes, meat…you name it. Just don’t use it on non-stick.
6. Baking Tray
If you’re doing the minimal, do not get a sheet pan/baking sheet. You want curved ends for anything with grease so that it doesn’t drip. Everything from cookies to roasted veggies to meat can be made on this. Also, if you want to be fancy (and save the environment from less trash, get a silicon liner when cooking under its specified degree.
This can technically be a hand mixer, but I do love blenders that have food processors and other accessories that you can hook up to them. Just think: protein shakes, smoothies, and soups. (I’m looking at you, butternut.) I’ve also “heard of” people using them to make frozen daiquiris and margaritas, so you may just have to interwebs that.
8. Plastic/Glass Storage
You’re going to save that deliciousness you’re making. Leftovers, work lunch…all of them need a transportation vehicle. To be extra saving-savvy, reuse leftover delivery containers.
9. Measuring Cups
Hot and cold measuring as well as can go in the microwave to heat up/steam food. These are pretty useful. I love this set. If you are cooking, you will need various dry and wet cups. Flour in a previously used, not-yet-dry,used-for-milk cup? Doesn’t work. Especially as baking is science/unforgiving. If you have a tiny kitchen, do you know what else is awesome?
10. Mixing Bowls
Dressing salads, whisking eggs (you can use a fork or buy a whisk), etc.—you’ll need these. Even on a Netflix-‘n-Chill night, make a big salad in one of these bad boys, pour a glass of wine, and bliss.
If you really want to go all out (think of this as a secondary top 10):
1. Cloth Napkins
Learn a few folding tricks as well. (see above). Trust us, we’ve seen plenty of shade thrown on millennials for destroying many things (and maybe we don’t disagree with it’s wasteful nature (like put it a straw in it)), but for more formal dinners (or friends coming over), you do need a few cloth linens, but they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
(NON-SCENTED) and nice holders. This will impress any friend, parent, or, dare we say, date. Have them at hand. Plus holders.
3. Slow Cooker/Instapot
Set it and forget it. I forget everything, so coming home to a nice bowl of chili is amazing. Plus, cheaper, tougher meat (like stew meat) is the tastiest when it cooks as slowly as your workday passes. Slow cookers are great (but we saw what happened in “This Is Us”)…I’d spring for the multifunctional Instapot. I’ve only used the pressure cooker, the simmer, and the slow cooker function, but this is amazing. It should probably be moved up to #1.
4. Carbonated Water Maker
I love my SodaStream. Sparkling water, Diet Coke, sparkling lemonade…it’s really the only time I drink water, and, mathematically, it works out to some decent savings.
This you don’t really need, but it is helpful to cook certain meats at just the right temperature. Medium rare steak? You’ll know when the internal temperature is 125° F. Also, if you have a wonky oven that never seems to cook at the right temperature since it was installed before you were born.
6. Big Stew Pot
Better for big families, but sometimes there’s a dish I just love, and it’s a pain to make, but making a single serving vs. serving a whole village is essentially the same. So for those things you like, this helps make a big pot, and you can freeze the rest. But if you have one of these, you’re set.
7. Box Grater
Zesting, grating cheese, slicing vegetables…these things do make kitchen work easier.
8. Measuring cups
Unless you have a good eye or never plan to bake (which is basically a chemistry class where you can’t cheat), you’ll need these.
If you’re cooking pasta, drying lettuce leaves (and don’t have a salad spinner), etc., these make the job easier. (I’m usually too lazy and just use the pan lid to drain food.). I’m a traditionalist when it comes to hot things on plastic, but this is an amazing space saver! However, if you have the space, this beauty will probably outlive you.