Is the thought of back-to-school getting you down? Wondering how you’ll manage to get a healthy dinner on the table every night without killing yourself? You can do it, you just need the right tools! This is the ultimate kitchen tool and gadget guide for fast and fresh weeknight dinners!
Guys, it’s August. I mean I knew summer would fly by like it always does, but this is ridiculous. Sigh. A new school year is almost at our doorstep 😩.
Actually, thankfully for us, Jack is still in daycare, so September still passes by with hardly a ripple. But I know that for anyone with school-age kids, swinging from the lazy days of summer back into the craziness of the school year is tough. Especially with two parents working full-time, like us.
If you’re in that boat too, you might find yourself ordering takeout a little more than you’d like. I recently saw some pretty crazy statistics on how much people spend on restaurants and takeout these days. Our family is definitely not the exception, and we usually end up getting takeout or going out at least a few times a month. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I have to admit that when we do order in, it’s usually because of lack of planning more than any real desire to eat the same sushi again and again.
So let’s do it differently this fall! Let’s get prepared with an arsenal of fast, healthy, and delicious recipes that will make cooking at home feel like the better option.
And then, let’s make sure we have all the right tools to make them happen! No useless gadgets that just take up space and gather dust for nothing. Just the best tools that will save you tons of time and take all the tediousness out of cooking, so you can just have FUN with dinner!
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The Ultimate Kitchen Tool and Gadget Guide for Fast and Fresh Family Dinners
If fast, family-friendly dinners are your goal, then these are the must-have tools to maximize efficiency and help you rock your weeknight dinners this fall!
Here we go!
An immersion blender is an absolutely indispensable tool in my kitchen. Soup is a year-round weeknight go-to for me, and I use it all the time for creamy soups like this potato leek soup and this Indian-spiced carrot ginger soup. No transferring boiling hot soup to a big, annoying-to-clean blender anymore!
I use the handy liquid measuring cup to whiz up salad dressings like for this Asian chicken salad with sriracha peanut dressing, or this super-popular steak and caesar salad. No need to chop garlic or ginger, the blender does all the work! You can also use it with the whisk attachment to quickly make whipped cream.
But the best part is that this immersion blender does double-duty as a mini food processor! For small chopping jobs like salsas, this is really perfect. For all that functionality, this tool is one of the most inexpensive ways to simplify your cooking life.
Here’s another low-cost investment you can make in your weeknight efficiency. Are you on the “sheet pan dinner” bandwagon yet? Sheet pan dinners are one of the most low-maintenance ways to get dinner on the table on a weeknight.
One pan. An endless combination of foods. A complete meal that your family will love. Seriously, sheet pan dinners will change your life! Try this one with fish and brown butter sauce for proof.
These pans are super sturdy, so no bending or warping. And they also double as cookie sheets!
For maximum efficiency, I always have multiple cutting boards on hand. It saves me the trouble of transferring things to bowls and using up more dishes. Plus, by using different cutting boards for meat, veggies and everything else, you reduce the risk of contamination.
Bamboo cutting boards are great, eco-friendly, and also look nice as serving boards, but plastic is dishwasher safe so clean up is a breeze. I like to have a few of each.
My dutch oven is probably the most used pot in my kitchen. I make pretty much all my soups in it. This favorite minestrone soup for example makes hearty and healthy dinner, with plenty left over for lunches and/or freezing.
When you have a little more time on your hands, or are cooking ahead for the week, it’s also the best pot for stews and chilis, because it has a large capacity and heats really evenly. It’s also the only pot I use to braise meat because I can get a nice sear before transferring the pot to the oven, and the heavy lid keeps all the heat in. One of my favorite recipes to make in my dutch oven is this jambalaya.
You could spend a lot on a dutch oven, but I’ve had the same affordable Kitchenaid one for about 10 years and I’m pretty sure it’ll outlast me. It’s similar to this really popular Lodge dutch oven, which (bonus!) comes in a ton of amazing colors.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, than this probably won’t be the first time you hear me rave about my cast iron skillet. It is SERIOUSLY the best. I can’t remember the last time I went more than a week without using my trusty Lodge pan.
I use it for all kinds of weeknight favorites, from these crazy delicious Asian meatballs to pancakes to roast beef and roast chicken, fritattas, and much MUCH more. Oh, and obviously I would never dream of cooking a steak in any other pan.
What’s even more amazing though is that it is dirt cheap! Honestly, I love my All-Clad pans, but this (along with the Lodge dutch oven above) is the absolute best deal you’ll find in the world of pots and pans.
Not gonna try to convince you that you can’t get by without a food processor here. I went years without getting one myself, and in many cases a sharp knife and cutting board will do the job just as well.
BUT I will say that my food processor has made “pizza night” a reality in our house. Grating a pound of cheese used to be a chore I would pretty much do anything to avoid. (And please don’t talk to me about pre-grated cheese, it’s just not the same!). Now I can grate enough cheese for a veggie pizza or a lasagna in like 30 seconds!
It’s also super handy for making pestos, salsas and chimichurri, and pretty much required for making these spicy cheddar cheese straws. Also for chopping and slicing lots of vegetables for soups and the like.
These are in my Amazon cart as we speak. I’m always wasting time searching for the perfect size bowl for each ingredient whenever I’m preparing a recipe with a lot of little quantities of ingredients, like a stir-fry, so I’m pretty sure prep bowls will be a game changer.
I love that these classic, clear bowls range in size from 1 – 16 oz. They are nesting bowls so save a ton of space. Can’t believe I hadn’t thought to get these before!
Please don’t laugh, but for years I was peeling everything with a knife. Is there an excuse for this? Not really, it was just a classic example of misguided cheapness. Every time I saw a vegetable peeler in a store I would think “one of these days I should really cough up the ten bucks and buy one of these”. That day never came. But one day I moved in with Phil and inherited his. To say this was a revelation would be a serious understatement.
So this one might be a no-brainer to you, but just in case you’re like me, let me just say that a good vegetable peeler will absolutely change your cooking life.
I brought one of these home from Mexico about 10 years ago, and it’s been by far the most useful souvenir I’ve ever bought. It extracts WAY more juice with WAY less effort than you can get with your hands. Plus the seeds stay in the squeezer, and it’s super easy to clean.
If you cook with lemon and lime juice as much as I do (or make a lot of margaritas), you absolutely need one of these!
My All-Clad sauté pan is easily one of the most used pans in my kitchen. It’s incredibly versatile because you can use it as you would a skillet, for browning or frying anything, but it’s also deep enough that you can add a fair amount of liquid without it overflowing. It also goes straight from stove top to oven, which is perfect for one pot meals and casseroles like this one pot Cuban chicken and rice. It’s also great for making a big batch of coconut rice for this sriracha salmon recipe.
I’m totally rooting for you to make this your most organized, efficient, and stress-free back-to-school season yet!