The Makings of a Healthful Kitchen (Part 7)

Now that you’ve got your pots, pans, and knives, are you ready to start cooking? Not just yet. There are some other tools that you’ll need in your kitchen to whip up tasty, healthful meals.


If you like to peruse cooking catalogs or meander through cooking stores, you’re probably amazed at all of the gadgets and gizmos that are out there. There’s a tool for just about everything, from pitting olives to hulling strawberries to getting that pesky skin off garlic. It’s hard to know what you really need, and if space is an issue in your kitchen, there’s no way you’d have room for all that stuff anyway. What often ends up happening is that you buy some nifty gadget that you think you just can’t live without; soon, it ends up buried in a drawer somewhere, never to be used.

So, just as we’ve done for the pots, pans, and knives, let’s look at what utensils and other tools you really need to have on hand (and feel free to add your own, too!).


  • Wooden spoons. One might argue that these really aren’t necessary, since you can get by with a silicone cooking spoon or spatula. But I find that I always reach for wooden spoons, whether I’m stirring pasta into boiling water or mixing up some egg salad.

    Wooden spoons are inexpensive, sanitary, and easy to care for. You should hand wash them (washing them in a dishwasher can dry them out), and if they start to look too dry, rub them with some mineral oil. You can even buff out stains with sandpaper (or just buy some new ones, since they’re cheap enough). Keep a bunch of these tools on hand and make sure you have different lengths to match the depth of your pots and pans. If you want to get fancy, look for wooden spoons made out of bamboo or beech.

  • Heat-resistant spatula. This is a highly versatile tool which can take you straight from the frying pan to the mixing bowl. If you’re sautéing or stir-frying, this spatula will get the job done. You won’t have to worry about food sticking to it and it won’t melt! They usually come in different colors so get a couple that match your kitchen.
  • Slotted spoon/serving spoon/ladle. I lumped these three tools together because they often are sold in a set. Slotted spoons are useful when you want to lift a food item out of a sauce, broth, or fat. Serving spoons and ladles come in handy for dishing your creation into a bowl or onto a plate. If you have nonstick pots and pans, use utensils geared for this type of cookware so that you don’t scratch the nonstick surface.
  • Tongs. You see TV chefs using these, so why not pick up a pair? They’re great for turning a chicken breast, mixing vegetables into pasta, and tossing salads. Buy a set that is spring-loaded and that has a locking device to save room when you store them.
  • Serving spatula. Good to have if you’re, say, flipping pancakes or burgers. You can get a deeper spatula for serving lasagna out of a pan.
  • Whisk. You might think only pastry chefs or bakers need whisks, but you need one too! Whisks are essential for making gravies (they help get those pesky lumps out!) and sauces, and are great for whipping up eggs for an omelet.
  • Measuring spoons. You probably have a set of these lurking in your kitchen drawer. These are spoons that typically come in a set of at least four: 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon. Sure, you can always throw in a pinch of this or a dash of that when you’re cooking, but there will be times when you need a more precise measurement (especially if you bake). And using your flatware teaspoons and tablespoons won’t give you an accurate measurement.
  • Measuring cups. You need a set of dry measuring cups for measuring foods such as rice, pasta, peanut butter, flour, and sugar. A liquid measuring cup (usually glass) is needed for measuring out liquids (obviously) such as milk, juice, oil, and broth.
  • Vegetable peeler. I know, dietitians tell you to eat the skin and peels of fruits and vegetables whenever possible, but there are times when you’ll need to peel a potato, for example. Get a good peeler (I like the ones that are Y-shaped) and make sure it feels good in your hand; otherwise, you’ll soon get fatigued.
  • Meat thermometer. To make sure your meat and poultry is thoroughly cooked, keep a meat thermometer on hand. There are several kinds to choose from, ranging from the “old fashioned” liquid thermometers to electronic probes to digital thermometers. Some give quicker readings than others.

Did I leave anything out? What’s essential in YOUR kitchen?

Learn more about the health and medical experts who who provide you with the cutting-edge resources, tools, news, and more on Diabetes Self-Management.
About Our Experts >>

  • tmana

    I rarely use wooden spoons; they are not quite as sanitary as people make them out to be. I do have a wooden chopping bowl that I use with a mezzaluna for certain tasks (such as extremely fine chopping/mincing, chopping wet items such as tomatoes, and making chopped liver).

    I have a candy thermometer as well as a meat thermometer. The candy thermometer is useful when working with syrups and boiled frostings, when frying, and when making jams and jellies as well as (doh!) making candy. (This is not a “must-have” item for most kitchens.)

    I have a manual (not electric!) can opener. It folds up small and fits in a drawer when not in use. (This is a must-have for all kitchens.)

    I have a corkscrew for wine, and one of those bottle/can openers with one side that punches a triangular opening for pouring out fluids from a can, and the other side that lifts lids of non-screw-top bottles (think “soda, beer, and hard cider”).

    I have a silicone basting brush for adding bastes and glazes to the tops of meats and roasts.

    I use a colander for draining pasta and produce (and browned ground meat); I also have a couple sizes of strainer, and a citrus reamer for juicing oranges, lemons, and limes. (The colander and at least a two-cup strainer/sieve and a tea strainer are must-haves for most kitchens.) I have a couple of multi-size graters for grating and julienning cheese, veggies, garlic, and ginger, and zesting citrus. (The grater – or something similar – is another “must-have”.)

    Mixing bowls and prep bowls are both essential in my kitchen. The graduated set of stainless steel mixing bowls (.75 qt – 8 qt.) holds chopped vegetables, can be used to soak fruits and veggies to wash them, can hold sliced meats while they are marinating, and can hold frozen foods while they are defrosting. They are also used for making cakes, beating eggs for omelets, and whipping cream. I have three sets of relatively small prep bowls. The smallest (nominally 1-oz, holds up to 2 oz) set I use for prepping spice mixtures and for holding citrus zest, minced garlic, chopped fresh herbs, and finishing-oil mixtures. The middle set (nominally 1/2 c, holds up to 1 c) I use for liquid bastes and marinades, flavored sugars, coloring cake and cookie icings, chopped veggies for omelets, and larger amounts of spice mixtures (for example, enough to rub a large roast, or a small turkey, or to coat a meat loaf). I also use these smaller sizes to serve ice cream and frozen desserts. The largest of these (nominally 1-c, holds up to 1.5 c) I use for chopped veggies for omelets, preparing finishing sauces, serving chopped fruits and fruit salads, and certain dips.

    Note that I haven’t begun to discuss small appliances (hand mixer, blender, food processor, indoor grill, coffee-maker, microwave, toaster oven, electric can opener, electric griddle, etc.) I actually use very few of these – by choice. I’m presuming the small appliances will be the subject of a future post in this series?

  • Jane Greenspan

    What else do people need?
    I think an ice cream scoup, kitchen scissors, wine opener, church key, grater, I think are all useful and necessary. I like your column, but where is it published altogether?

  • Diane Fennell

    Hi Ms. Greenspan,

    Thanks for your question. All of Amy Campbell’s blog entries can be found on her blogger page:

    Thank you for your interest in Diabetes Self-Management.

    Diane Fennell
    Web Editor

  • Tami

    As a baker, I find that having 2 or 3 sets of dry measuring cups and spoons is helpful. I also have different sizes of pyrex liquid measuring cups.

  • Jonathan B. Horen

    Mixing bowls. You can never have too many
    of them, and they can never be too large.
    Size counts. There’s precious little worse
    than running out of space in a mixing
    bowl, with one or two ingredients left to
    add, or not being able to pay attention to
    what you’re doing, for fear that your
    ingredients will slop over the rim.

    Do yourself a favor: Buy lots of mixing
    bowls, and buy ’em large.