Healthy Eating 101: Essential Kitchen Tools

Stock your kitchen with exactly what you need to cook healthy meals.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Whether you’re stocking your kitchen for the first time or you’ve got some tools and looking to beef up your collection, there are always essential tools to make sure you have to cook healthy meals. We’ve compiled a sweeping list of all the pots, pans, and tools you’ll need to stock your kitchen with. Adjust to what works for you and how you cook or want to cook.

These essentials have multiple uses and purposes so you can get the most use out of what you have, and hopefully have less to wash. The number of tools and utensils is a starting point, if you have more space or want to use more tools, feel free to add them on your list and in your kitchen.

Pots, Pans, and Larger Items

These tools are the heavy lifters in your kitchen that put the meal together.

Cutting Boards: All the magic happens on a cutting board. You can chop, mince, dice and slice your way to a delicious meal. If you’re a meat eater, have at least two cutting boards, one just for your meat, and one for everything else. This will keep cross contamination down to a minimum. Make sure you get a cutting board large enough to do your work.

Mixing Bowls: Mixing bowls are so versatile in the kitchen. You can use a mixing bowl to store your meal prep while you’re working on getting other ingredients together, combine your elements together to make the meal, or even to serve salads or meals in. If you’re looking for the essentials, go for a 2-3 sizes. Start with large one for big jobs, big salads, or high volume prep, a medium one for additional work, and one slightly larger than your regular bowls for prep/entertaining.

Saute Pan: The heavyweight when it comes to cooking on your stove, a good saute pan is so instrumental to cooking healthy in the kitchen. In addition to sauteing your meat and vegetables, you can make any meal that requires a pan and the stove. Buy a medium to large size one, depending on how many people you cook for. Saute pans have straight vertical sides and usually come with a lid. Frying pans have rounded sides and may or may not come with lids. Buying pans made out of stainless steel is healthier buys than non-stick or teflon coated pans, which can chip and get into your food.

Stock Pots: For soup, broths, stocks, grains or pasta, stock pots are your best friend. It’s best to have two sizes for the different jobs. A medium sized stock pot is more for making grains, pastas, hard boiling eggs, or making gravy or sauces. A larger stock pot is great for soups and stews, boiling larger vegetables, making larger amounts of soups, broth and other meals.

Like with the saute pan, go for stainless steel.

Frying Pan: Nothing is better than a sunny side up egg in a frying pan! You can also use your frying pan for omelettes, stir frys and quickly cooking vegetables. As mentioned earlier, this pan has the rounded sides. There are large and small frying pans, buy the size that works best for the food you make, and go with a stainless steel one.

Baking Sheets: Baking sheets are for so much more than just baking cookies. Baking sheets are great for roasting vegetables and meat, as well as a good place to hold your prep utensils and ingredients while you’re working. You can also make sheet pan meals, meaning you roast your protein and vegetables all in one pan for one delicious and easy meal. If you like to batch cook and meal prep, get at least 2 so you can keep working with one sheet while one is in the oven. If you get larger baking sheets (make sure they fit in your oven), you can also make little trays with aluminum foil and roast two different things at once on the same pan.

Mesh Strainer: Necessary for pasta and draining beans, a mesh strainer makes separating your food from the water they were packed in or cooked in. Go for a stainless steel one that’s big enough for small and big jobs.

Food Storage: All the meals you’ve prepped and made have to be stored somewhere. If you prep a lot, get a food storage set with a variety of sizes to match the varied amounts you’ll be storing. The healthiest option to buy is oven and freezer safe glass food storage containers. You won’t have to worry if the plastic is BPA-free or not, and you can also use the food storage to cook with as well.


Without utensils, we would be lost, especially these. Read on to see what essential utensils you should stock in your kitchen.

Chef’s knife: The most important utensil to have in your kitchen, hands down, is your chef’s knife. With a sharp chef’s knife that is comfortable in your hand, you can chop, dice, mince, and break down anything on your cutting board. If you’re in the market for a new knife, find a store you can hold and use the knife to see how it feels in your hand. A knife 8-10 inches in length is recommended.

Paring knife: While the chef’s knife is the knife to do most of your jobs, there are some smaller cutting jobs that you need a smaller knife for. A paring knife is best used when hulling strawberries, deveining shrimp, or cutting smaller foods like shallots or cherry tomatoes.

Knife Sharpener: To keep your cuts easy and to stay safe in the kitchen, keep your knives sharp. Have small knife sharpener on hand that you can easily run a clean knife through to keep your knives sharp. If cutting your food starts to get tough or the cuts are a little soft (this is easy to see on softer foods, like tomatoes or stone fruit), rinse your knife off, run it through the sharpener a few times and wash the knife. Your cuts after that will be much smoother.

Measuring spoons and cups: Though they are small, measuring cups and spoons are essential for dry measuring for recipes, especially baking. To get the flavors and amounts right, these belong in your kitchen.

Liquid Measuring Cup: Dry and liquid measurement is slightly different, so make sure to have a liquid measuring cup as well. Getting a glass cup is helpful if you melt anything in the microwave. A 2-3 cup measuring cup is usually good for most jobs. If you know you’re going to be measuring bigger quantities often, consider buying a larger one.

Cooking Spoon: To make your stovetop cooking easier, buy a cooking spoon. Cooking spoons are larger than your average soup spoon and depending on the kind you get, can be deeper and have higher walls that can also double as a serving spoon. To protect your pan from scratch marks, get a wooden, bamboo, or silicone coated spoon.

Turner: Often called a spatula, a turner is a very handy kitchen tool to have. It’s got a wide, shovel-esque shape perfect for turning meat, large vegetables or an omelette, and makes serving a sheet pan of roasted vegetables easy. If you’ve got metal sheet pans and stainless steel pots and pans, consider getting a plastic or silicone coated turner, again to protect and prolong the use of your equipment.

Spatula: A spatula, or scraper as they’re also called, is your go-to tool for getting everything off the walls of your bowl, pan, measuring cup, jar… Get a durable, yet flexible silicone one. If you use your spatula in food processors or blenders, be careful not to knick your spatula with the cutting blades.

Can Opener: If you need to open cans, obviously you’ve got to have a can opener. If you’re low on space or you’re not a power can user, go with a manual can opener. You can also buy can openers that also have bottle openers on them, to add more purpose to this tool and have one less thing in your drawer.

Vegetable Peeler: You can use a vegetable peeler for so much more than taking the skins off of a fruit or vegetable. You can make wide vegetable noodles without needing a spiralizer or shavings of vegetables to toss in your salad. There are several kinds of vegetable peelers as well. A julienne peeler looks like a small rake and will cut your food into small matchsticks, great for snacking on, putting on salads or pickling.

Tongs: Perfect for grabbing and flipping foods, tongs deserve a spot in your kitchen. They’re also great for mixing salads or pastas in with other ingredients as well. If you’ve got metal mixing bowls, pots or pans, consider getting a plastic coated set of tongs so again, you keep your equipment in good shape.

Ladle: For all of your liquid serving and pouring, have a ladle in your kitchen. They make serving soups and gravy easy, as well putting leftovers away. Go with a silicone ladle to avoid scratches and to get the most out of the bottom of your pot.

Extra Credit Tools and Equipment

If you’re looking for more things to add to your kitchen or want to take your cooking to the next level, there’s some more equipment to consider, depending on what you want to make.

Muffin Tin: Muffin tins aren’t just for making muffins. They can be great portion control vehicles for a frittata, macaroni and cheese, a casserole, lasagna, healthy desserts… The possibilities are endless.

8x8” Glass Baking Dish: Ideal for casseroles, lasagna, baked oatmeal, desserts, or as a container for roasting squashes, an 8x8” glass baking dish can be a helpful addition to your kitchen.

Pie pan: If you love pie, quiche and frittatas, consider buying a pie pan. Instead of buying them, you can now make them yourself and healthy them up and make the flavors your own.

Blender: If you want to start making your own nut milks, smoothies, sauces, or purees, consider getting a blender. If you can, invest in a higher quality blender so it can last longer. If you want to make purees and smoothies but aren’t ready for the monetary or space investment, start with an immersion or stick blender.

They’re more affordable and have a much smaller footprint. When you use an immersion blender, make sure the bowl or pot you’re blending is deep enough so food isn’t flying everywhere.

Food Processor: If you’re really looking to make your own nut butters, sauces, meatballs, doughs, dips, flours, invest in a food processor. You’ll be able to expand the amount of foods you can make yourself to your taste, in a healthier way, and maybe even cheaper too. Look online for reviews and get one that will last for a long time.

Rice Cooker: Despite the name, a rice cooker can be used for so much more than rice. You can cook a lot of grains in a rice cooker, from quinoa, barley, farro, and many more. You can get a very basic model that just has one button, or you can get fancier, Japanese models that settings and sing to you when done.

Spring Loaded Ice Cream Scoop: If you’re making anything that requires equal portioning (meatballs, patties, cookies), the spring loaded ice cream scoop will save you a ton of time and handwashing. And you can also still use it for high-quality ice cream.

Where to Buy

Once you’ve figured out what tools you need, it’s time to get any of the things you don’t already have. While you find kitchen tools everywhere, the better quality and prices will probably come at a restaurant supply store. Check to see if there are any in your area and if they’re open to the public (most are, but there are still some that are only open to restaurants). If they’re aren’t any in your area, check out online restaurant supply stores.

The appliances (food processor, blenders, rice cooker) are easier to find at regular retailers, in stores and online. Restaurant supply stores will most likely only carry industrial versions of these appliances.

For pots and saute pans, if you have the space, consider buying a cookware set that has of the pots and pans you need. Sets come in all sizes and price points, do a little research to find the best one of you. If you can’t a set small enough, also look to the restaurant supply store to see if you want to buy from their selection or buy individual pieces from another store or the internet.

As you get your tools and start cooking, you’ll get a better sense if you’re missing any tools or if you don’t use some as much as you thought. You may also discover more tools as you make different recipes that call for different techniques. Enjoy stocking your healthy eating kitchen, as well as making your healthy meals.

Healthy Eating 101 returns with how you can easily up your veggie intake at any meal.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Second Photo Credit: Evgeny Karandaev/; Third Photo Credit: Naruedom Yaempongsa/; Fourth Photo Credit: daykung/; Fifth Photo Credit: knelson20/; Sixth Photo Credit: philippou/; Seventh Photo Credit: DenisFilm/; Eighth Photo Credit: S_Photo/; Ninth Photo Credit: Charles Brutlag/