No matter your tastes, weight, fitness level, gender, age, or location, eating healthy is something we should all strive towards. But sometimes life gets in the way, and we end up resorting to take-out, fast food, or cooking unhealthy meals simply because they can be cooked quickly.
There’s a longstanding belief that healthy meals are either expensive, or take too much time to make. But that isn’t the case at all.
Eating healthy can be affordable
Many fresh fruits and vegetables are affordable or can even be grown at home, and cheaper cuts of meat and poultry can be turned into healthy meals.
There are healthier alternatives to the foods you love
Fresh chicken or fish can be cooked in a much healthier way than pan frying to preserve nutrients, and eliminate the use of oils, butter, or additives you might get with frozen, pre-seasoned products.
Eating healthy meals at home can be quick and easy
A common misconception is that cooking healthy meals requires a lot of time and prep, and the use of expensive ingredients. This isn’t true. One of my favourite dinner recipes for one-pan lemon asparagus salmon uses five simple ingredients, and can be made from prep to cook in 15 minutes.
Whether you’re looking to eat healthier, or find healthier alternatives to the foods you love, here are five small appliances that can help you improve your eating habits.
An air fryer works similarly to a deep fryer, but can cook food in a much healthier way. Instead of submerging French fries or fried chicken in hot oil, air fryers use a bit of oil and cook the food much like you might in an oven, while maintaining that crispy exterior that’s important to the frying process. Everything from vegetables to meat come out delicious, and much healthier.
What to look for in an air fryer
Size matters. Select based on the typical portion sizes you make for dinner. A model that can hold about 5-6 cups worth of food should be fine for most average-sized families. Some models have a basket that can be flipped, which is good for those planning to make desserts as well, like doughnuts (when you want to indulge, of course!) You want the basket to be easy to remove as well. Check if they model you desire has an anti-odour filter to get rid of unpleasant smells after cooking as well.
This category includes full-sized blenders and immersion blenders that can crush, puree, and/or blend foods, and juicers that can squeeze fresh juices out of fruits and vegetables. One of my favourite things to make with my immersion blender is smoothies using ice, almond milk, frozen fruit, spinach, and chia seeds. A blender can make a smoothie in minutes, which is perfect for busy folks who don’t have time for a full breakfast in the morning. (Tip: in addition to buying bags of ready-to-go frozen fruits, you can also wash fresh fruits that are about to go bad, pop them into the freezer in ziplock bags, and use those for smoothies.) It’s much healthier than a store-bought smoothie, and eliminates additional sugar or additives.
But blenders aren’t just for smoothies. I use my full-sized blender to smooth out mashed potatoes as a healthy side dish, or to whip up a batch of healthy homemade soup that contains far less sodium than the store-bought kind. My immersion blender also comes in handy for quickly blending and pureeing ingredients for a delicious pasta sauce (heavy cream, garlic, and roasted red peppers, for example), to smooth out a basic homemade tomato sauce, or make a healthier dip, like homemade hummus. If you have babies or toddlers, these are also must-have appliances for making fresh baby food. (Tip: grab a freezer tray, pour pureed food in, freeze, and pop out a cube an hour before feeding time, or pack one before you head out for the day for healthy and nutritious baby food on-the-go.)
What to look for in a blender
Blenders come in all shapes and sizes, and of differing motor strengths. If you plan to make large batches of soups and sauces, a full-sized blender is great to have. If you might want to blend harder ingredients, look for one with a high-powered motor. For making quick smoothies in the morning, or whipping up an individual batch of homemade hummus to accompany vegetables, an immersion blender can do the trick. Ideally, having both devices will cover all bases.
With juicers, look for one that maintains as much of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables as possible, that can accept fruits like apples without you having to remove the skin, and that aren’t too difficult to clean.
When you think healthy eating and drinking, soda probably doesn’t come to mind. But if you have an affinity for the bubbly libation that you just can’t seem to kick, a soda machine can at least make sure you’re drinking something a little healthier than canned and bottled pop. The small appliance lets you make sparkling beverages using fresh fruits or other natural flavours instead of high-fructose corn syrups, and minus additives. You can still indulge in great-tasting soda, but you control the ingredients.
What to look for in a soda machine
Some models let you customize the level of carbonation, which can be good for kids (or adults) who don’t like drinks that are too fizzy. Look for neat features like touch controls that make operation a cinch, and quick output so you can go from fruit and water to a delicious, and healthier, soda alternative in seconds.
Sous Vides & Steamers
The sous vide method of cooking has been used by gourmet cooks for ages, but it’s only now becoming popular as a way to create delicious and healthy meals at home. The technique involves placing foods, like chicken or fish, inside a vacuum-sealed pouch that is then submerged in a water bath. The water heats slowly and gently to an exact temperature, cooking the food evenly, and preserving the nutrients, seasoning, and natural juices. In addition to chicken and fish, you can make everything from eggs to crème brulee using this method.
Dedicated steamers, meanwhile, use water to steam things like vegetables and fish perfectly, while maintaining all of their goodness.
What do look for in a sous vide or steamer
Like with other products here, size matters. If you’re making a couple pieces of fish for two, a smaller sous vide machine might suffice. But if you plan on cooking an entire roast or chicken for gatherings, and have the room to accommodate one, get a bigger appliance. Also look for a model that has a wide temperature range so you can cook a diverse selection of foods, and one that is easy to clean to help save you time.
With steamers, some have multiple tiers, so you can steam a piece of fish in one, and a selection of vegetables in another for making an entire meal. Find one with a timer. Features like a delay, keep warm function, and automatic turn off when all of the water evaporates, can also come in handy.
The Instant Pot (and Other Pressure Cookers)
I’ve been a weekly user of this Canadian invention since I purchased one last November. Its biggest advantage is being able to cook foods in a fraction of the time you might need to cook them using other methods. But it can also help you make healthy dinners quickly and easily.
Throw in a whole seasoned chicken, potatoes, and vegetables and have it cooked and ready to eat in under an hour. While it can work as a slow cooker as well, time-strapped families and individuals can make traditionally slow-cooked meals, like pulled pork, in less time by using high pressure.
A cheaper cut of meat can be slow or pressure cooked with a selection of spices, then refrigerated and used for several healthy dishes throughout the week, from stews to shredded taco bowls. Meats can be cooked directly from frozen in the same amount of time (it will just take a few extra minutes to come to full pressure), so there’s no need to order in because you forget to take those chicken thighs out of the freezer in the morning.
There are one-button cook options for things like chilli (try ground turkey for a healthier alternative to beef), rice, and even oatmeal. I sometimes dump coconut milk and steel cut oats in the pot, press the “Porridge” button, and breakfast is ready to serve with fresh fruit, pecans, and a drizzle of maple syrup by the time I get back from dropping my son off to school.
Make healthy, homemade yogurt too: a single 2L carton of milk and teaspoon of a yogurt starter can transform into week’s (or more) worth of delicious yogurt you can mix with an endless number of healthy toppings.
What to look for in an Instant Pot
They come in 3, 6, and 8-quart models. A 6-quart, which I own, is large enough to make meals to feed my family of three, with leftovers for lunch the next day. But I’ve made large batches of food when we’ve had guests over as well. If you have a larger family, or want to make meals you can save and freeze, consider an 8-quart. Make sure the model you select has a dedicated “yogurt” button if you want to experiment with that function as well.