Funny how, even as a someone who spends most of my work hours in (or very near) the kitchen, I can still barely manage to get a family meal plan together with time to spare. Fortunately, I do have a few things that help meals and snacks come to fruition with a little more ease, so I’m not totally sabotaged by my own (lack of) schedule. Below, I’ve rounded up the gadgets and appliances that either change the game when it comes to prep/cook time or that truly invite the kiddos into the kitchen so that mealtime prep, no matter how harried, becomes a family affair. I’ve even thrown in a few that are just so ingeniously designed and affordable, it’d be a crime not to have them in your arsenal (looking at you, Garlic Twist!).
For Convenience + Speed: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8
For Involving the Kids: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7
For Kid-Friendly Snacking: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
Well-Designed Faves: 1 / 2 / 3
Kitchen Gadgets for Convenience + Speed
These are the biggies we have in our kitchen — the powerhouses that truly make a difference in how we plan and prep meals for our family. By no means do you need to have them all, but if you cook as often as we do, they sure are handy dandy.
Truly a multi-purpose tool that pays for itself again and again (and pretty affordable, considering). We use ours to “boil” eggs weekly (they are SO much easier to peel!), and it’s completely replaced our slow cooker. It can literally make a meal out of dried beans in under an hour, frozen chicken in under 30 mins, and lentils in 12 mins. Bonus, Lana likes to program the controls. (This is the exact model we have, and Target always has it for a good price.)
Technically, the Instant Pot does this, too, but I can’t say enough about this specific rice cooker. Super-affordable, compact and with very few bells and whistles (literally, it makes no sounds whatsoever), but for making rice, quinoa or oatmeal, it can’t be beat.
One of the few small kitchen electrics where you truly get what you pay for. You can splurge on any number of brands here. We’ve had a Vitamix, a Kitchen Aid Pro Series and now a Wolf Gourmet, which all have the power to produce thick, creamy juice bar-quality smoothies and blended soups at the touch of a button. We use ours almost every weekend for smoothie bowls and these vegan acai bowls, and every few days we blend up our own cashew milk, too. (Speaking of which, this is our favorite cashew milk recipe.)
This guy makes the cut for a number of reasons. It really is the best tool for whipping up batches of sugar cookies, cake batter, eleventh-hour teacher gifts and the like. (Teacher Appreciation Week *snuck up* on me this year, big time…) But it’s also easily used by the whole family. Once you get over the fear of your curious toddler’s hair getting trapped in the whirling machinery, it can definitely be kid-friendly. I’d never let Lana operate the hand mixer for fear of the chaos that would ensue, but she loves adding ingredients to the stand mixer and manipulating the variable speeds (all with supervision, duh). (We love our classic Kitchen Aid, but I’m swooning over the color and style of this Smeg!)
For making quick work of grating cheese or veggies, pulsing cauliflower into “rice,” making pestos or salsas — and, Lana’s favorite: banana nice cream. We have this 7-Cup model and have never needed anything larger.
We have a fancy-ass toaster oven that occupies quite a bit of real estate on our kitchen counter, but you better believe we still have a standard, 2-slice toaster tucked away for quick breakfasts that’s arguably more valuable. There is no better appliance for straight-up toasting bread or reheating waffles and pancakes in a pinch. This one is so cute, I’d leave it out all the time! (And I love this one as a more affordable option.)
Somewhere between having Lana and receiving a cancer diagnosis, we opted to get rid of all the questionably toxic non-stick cookware in our house, and we haven’t looked back. Just to be totally transparent, I’ve been super-lucky to acquire a lot of cast iron through freelance work, but we’ve also paid for a fair amount of it out of pocket. The skillet we use most is this Staub 10-inch, which is deep enough for shallow-frying and stir-fry but still a manageable size. We also have this classic 13″ Lodge cast iron skillet that cooks really consistently and offers a timeless look for under $40.
Same deal as the skillet. We alternate between keeping this one and this one (but in black) on the stove top because they’re just so damn pretty. Aside from boiling water, we use this and the skillet for almost all of our stove-top cooking. If you’re only going to splurge on one, I’d make sure it’s at least 5 quarts.
Kitchen Gadgets For Kid-Friendly Snacks
Pretty sure my 4-year-old thinks preparing snacks is my full-time job. (She’s also kinda sorta not wrong.) Here’s what we rely on to keep snack time easy and interesting.
It’s a scientific fact that kids are 97% more likely to eat something in popsicle form, and I’m at least 49% less likely to lose my isht over wasted food if it can be repurposed. Leftover smoothie? Popsicle. That half-eaten yogurt? Popsicle. The overripe banana that could become banana bread if only you weren’t so lazy? You know where this is going…
We use these for portioning out snacks at home, and they’re perfect for separating items in our favorite daily snack boxes (see the next item!). They take up little to no room in a kitchen drawer, and my little one loves matching the color to the snack. We’ve used them for actual baking, too, but avoid washing them with heavily scented dish soaps or your muffins will end up lemony fresh.
We don’t yet pack full lunches, but we pack a snack box almost every day. (When I remember, I even document them in my Stories!) This little Yumbox is just the right size for a hearty snack, easily fits into our daypack, and Lana has always been able to open and close it by herself (we bought it when she was about 2). The brand makes full lunch-sized boxes, too.
Waffles are one of our fave breakies in that they’re easy to take on the road if you run short on time at the table. This little cutie makes the perfect size for little hands, and extras easily fit into a toaster for easy reheating at snack time.
For early eaters, this fun little tool adds much-needed texture to slippery finger foods (mango, cucumber), but we still use it for cutting sweet potatoes into crinkly fries and carrots into more appealing “chips” at snack time.
Kitchen Gadgets To Get The Kiddos Involved
I feel a lot less pressure to get our meals prepped in a hurry if my little one is right there alongside me, helping out. (To be clear: this doesn’t happen at every meal, but it’s nice when it does.) These kid-friendly tools make it easy to get kiddos into the kitchen — and, they’re quality enough to stand up to a little abuse.
This thing is so dang clever! It’s basically a pencil sharpener for veggies. Seriously the easiest way to quickly spiralize smaller veggies (cukes, zukes, carrots…) without junking up your cabinet or counter. Just to be on the safe side, I make sure Lana is using it with the (included) guard.
The first tool Lana ever used in the kitchen, and it remains her favorite to this day. If you go through as many greens as we do (we make a variation of this Sausage, Beans + Greens recipe at least twice a month), it’s worth the real estate in your cupboard. We even use it for art projects!
Shana recommended that this guy be included, and I can totally see why. It’s robust (other variations of this type of tool can break over time), super fun for kiddos to use. And, just being real, anything that turns my mini-me into a mini-bartender is gonna make the cut, so…
We all know tiny hands can make some big messes, so tiny hands wielding a spatula the size of Texas is just asking for Battergeddon. These are just right for kid-sized tasks (less flinging, more actual, uh, stirring) and at Williams Sonoma, they come in loads of fun designs, like Gaby Dalkin’s foodie set above or Hilary Duff’s tastefully abstract little number. (The Easter Bunny and Santa are both big fans.)
I’ll never forget the day that Lana was able to climb up into a stool instead of whining to be picked up while I was working in the kitchen. Total game-changer! Suddenly she was right beside me (or as near whatever I was doing as I deemed safe) with a view of everything happening on the counter — and she LOVED it. At the time, we had a narrow, galley-style kitchen, so we modified a small Ikea stool to make our own version of a learning tower, but if we had the space, something like this would have been worth the investment.
Another recommendation from Shana. Give each kiddo their own lightweight, durable cutting board, and suddenly everyone’s got their own space to help and create in the kitchen. Diffusing potential arguments before they even start!? Smart lady.
Lana has these, and they work exactly as advertised. Are they gonna fillet a ripe tomato like those knives they sling on late-night cable? Nah. But they’re just sharp enough for things like strawberries, cucumbers, banana, avocado, lettuce — you get the gist.
Well-Designed Tools For Any Kitchen
I couldn’t do this round up without including a few simple tools that will always have a place in our kitchen due to their smart design. These are my absolute faves.
Drop this little guy in the water when you put your eggs on to boil, and even if you forget to set the timer (hi, me…), you’ll have a clear indicator of their doneness.
Around the same time that Lana started joining me in the kitchen, we upgraded to a “safety” can opener that doesn’t create sharp edges. Nothing fancy — just a really well-designed tool that does exactly what it claims.
I’ve used my share of garlic tools, and this is the only one that has maintained its spot in my utensil drawer (for more than 12 years!). It’s simple, effective and washes up super easily.
PHEW! Talk about a lotta content. And again — is it realistic to have *every single item* on this list? Well, maybe if you’re a food blogger. But if you’ve got even half these things in your kitchen, you’ll be well on your way. Happy cooking, friends!
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Love this so much! So many great ideas for getting my toddler involved with cooking. Thanks, Emily!
High compliments on your edit. My husband, who is a former chef and has worked in the restaurant world most of his adult life is very very picky about kitchen tools- meaning he is very minimalistic and he definitely does not go for “gadgets”. The only thing we don’t have is the rice cooker and garlic press- all the other things are in heavy rotation and mostly stay on the counter. Ok- I’m the one who bought the instant pot and he hasn’t totally warmed to it yet, but I’m working on it. Can’t wait to read your other posts! Thanks!!
You’re so welcome, Shelby! Happy cooking — it’s so fun when they’re little!
Thank you Rebecca — high praise! I feel the same. We have a decent amount of cabinet space and I’m still not a big fan of uni-taskers (though some can’t be helped). If we didn’t eat grains very often, the rice cooker could probably go — but I think that one I also hang on to for sentimental reasons. Our family used the rice cooker several nights a week growing up, so it’s literally the only way I will ever cook rice! And the garlic twist is AMAZING if you’re a fan of garlic and maybe only the diameter of a beer can (eh, or a little bigger). Works for ginger, too!