Take Charge: Kitchen Essentials for Starting Out or Starting Over (Again)

Major life changes like moving into your own place for the first (or second) time bring not just a number of conflicting emotions but some logistical challenges too. The thrill of being able to make your own choices and chart your own path clashes with the equal and opposite “analysis paralysis” as you find yourself having to make your own choices. Here are some relatively inexpensive household items that can help simplify your life, save money, and make sustainably healthier nutrition choices.

Take Charge: Kitchen Essentials for Starting Out or Starting Over (Again)

BY: Scott Conway

Home. It is one of the most common places where I see counterproductive behaviors. It is where we plan our daily choices about what to eat and drink, yet when many people are starting out (or starting over), they overlook the simple tools that can create a broad spectrum of healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable options.

No judgment! I’ve been there! Major life changes like moving into your own place for the first (or second) time bring not just a number of conflicting emotions but some logistical challenges too. The thrill of being able to make your own choices and chart your own path clashes with the equal and opposite “analysis paralysis” as you find yourself having to make your own choices. While it may be convenient and fun to drive to the coffee shop for a quick shot of morning caffeine, swing by the deli for lunch with friends, or run to the convenience store for another bottle of water, it is NOT fun to see how quickly those trips can rain death destruction on your bank account or, even worse,…your bathroom scale. Fortunately, there are some relatively inexpensive household items that can help simplify your life, save money, and make sustainably healthier nutrition choices. Here is my list:

Crockpot

OK, I get it. It isn’t fun, exciting, or glamorous. Crockpots tend to inspire recollections of the mystery meats and purple sauces you were served at grandma’s house. But it isn’t all cabbage soups and casseroles. Today’s crockpots are blank canvases for easy “set it and forget it” meals. Want to make delicious ribs while you’re at work? You can do that. Lasagna with the magical combination of crispy/melty cheese? You can do that, too! You are one simple internet search away from complete recipes and ingredients lists. Just search for your favorite meal and add the words “Crockpot Recipe.” I just tried it with pizza, so you know where my head is. The crockpot allows you to manage your ingredients, make healthy substitutions (like ground turkey instead of ground beef), and create delicious meals while you are doing something else—all at a fraction of the cost of its restaurant equivalent. The best part? Easy clean-up, especially if you use a crockpot liner.

Coffee Pot

Face it; your local coffee shop isn’t like the ones on the SitComs. The floor is sticky, the girl in the corner is talking too loud on her phone, and that guy over there on his job interview…well, there’s always next time, Champ. Besides, do you REALLY think it costs over $2.00 for a simple cup of coffee? Hint: IT DOESN’T! Take control of your caffeine and your wallet.

You can go as simple as a $15.00 Mr. Coffee Simple Brew to the other end of the spectrum: the $8,999.00 Jura Giga X7 Professional Espresso Machine (cue the singing angels). I would suggest something in between the two, but coffee is a personal choice. Trust me; it will pay for itself. Want to up your game a little bit? Buy a variable coffee grinder and experiment with different beans. Have some fun and customize your own brew. Mastering your own perfect cup of coffee feels so much better than seeing your name misspelled on a paper to-go cup.

 

Water Filter

I grew up thinking there was nothing finer than drinking water out of the backyard hose on a hot summer afternoon. However, I know that not everyone shares my fond sentimental spigot memories. Over the years, my palate has become slightly more sophisticated, so I graduated to a relatively simple water filter pitcher. Like the aforementioned coffee pot, water filters range from the simple to the scientifically absurd depending on your Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) desires. Help put a dent in the 60 million (or so) water bottles that the United States throws away each day (don’t believe me? Search for yourself!). Plus, you can save more than just the environment. The average person spends just over $100.00 per year on water in disposable bottles, so that money can go right back into your bank account. It almost goes without saying, but you can even customize your water’s ride. Use part of that hundred dollars on a Yeti, Nalgene, Hydro Flask, Camelback, or go old school with a Thermos; your choices are vast. Just don’t forget your bottle in the gym after your next workout!

Food Storage Containers

Whether you just moved out, moved on, or want to move up, no one really enjoys cooking for one. So, why do it? Cook multiple servings every time and plan your leftovers (aka “Planned-Overs”). While I don’t advocate buying EVERYTHING in bulk, buying larger food servings at the grocery store can lead to some significant savings. Pair that with the fact that you can cook those larger servings at once to create multiple meals, and you just reduced the number of times you have to cook (and CLEAN)!

Immediately divide your leftovers into individual meals and place them into food storage containers for future lunches or dinners. Stay ahead of the cooking game, and you will never stare into an empty fridge again. You can freeze some of your planned-overs, so you have a full, delicious meal waiting for you when you get back from that long trip. You can rotate leftovers from several meals, so you aren’t eating the “same ol’ leftovers” for lunch every day at work. Your only challenge will be limiting your portion size when you finally nail that crockpot queso chicken chili with roasted corn and jalapeño (ask me how I know). Glad, OXO, Tupperware, Zip Top, Rubbermaid, Pyrex, and a number of other brands have quality and inexpensive containers. I recommend some glass containers too. They hold up to the red sauces a little better than their plastic counterparts.

Pot and Pan

Add a good pot and pan to your cookware arsenal. You don’t need to go full-on Martha Stewart here, but a good pot and pan (with lids) will increase your food prep flexibility exponentially. Not to take away from our good friend, the crockpot, but there are a number of other cooking materials that can meet whatever culinary goals you wish to accomplish. Want to go caveman and cook over an open fire? There are some nice cast iron options for you, my friend. High heat to sear that ribeye perfectly? Stainless or carbon steel is for you. Go with a copper core if you want to add a few (hundred) dollars to that set…but again, only go where your budget takes you because they will ALL cook your food. Just remember, you will be saving money by cooking your own meals, so get a quality set. When it comes to pots and pans, buying cheap can occasionally lead to buying twice.

Grill

Get outside and ask your neighbors if they can smell what The Rock is cooking! OK…I’m kidding. Definitely do NOT do that, but DO add a grill to your cooking repertoire. Even condominiums or apartments that don’t allow grilling in individual units often have a grill or two in the common areas. Just like with the other suggestions, you can recreate your favorite restaurant meal. OR, better yet, perfect your OWN recipes by adding heat and flame. Meats and vegetables somehow taste better when you are the one who finally learned how to grill them YOUR way. Be the envy of the neighborhood when you grill your perfectly marinated chicken, steak, or pork. Season those vegetables to add pops of color and flavor to the grill top meal. If you are looking to meet some of the neighbors, believe me when I tell you that no one grills alone for long. The smoky fragrances are like an irresistible siren’s song for grill enthusiasts worldwide. Bring some extra portions and beverages, and you just might make some long-term friends.

Instant Pot

Last, but certainly not least, I give you the multitool of the kitchen. Today’s Instant Pots can do more than just cook rice. They can still do that, of course, but they can also make oatmeal, pork, chicken, shrimp, soups, appetizers, desserts, and so much more. They will cut the time and add the flavor. PLUS, they have come a long way from the exploding pressure cookers of yesteryear. There are a number of built-in safeguards that will keep even the most inept (but certainly well-intended) cooks safe. Head over to Amazon to look at your options ranging from $80 to $300. Then, it’s time to go down the rabbit hole, Alice. The internet’s Instant Pot recipes are endless!

Have a recent college graduate or a new young couple in your life? Any of these items make a great gift idea. If YOU are the one starting over and all of your friends just went home after the Housewarming Party, give “Adulting” a try once you cleaned up the last of the paper plates, red Solo cups, and empty pizza boxes. Head over to the housewares store or favorite kitchen website to invest in your own future. While the initial sticker price might seem prohibitive, it will save time, money, and empty calories in the very near future.

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