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5 Kitchen Tools That Make Meal Prep Easier

They say an artist is only as good as their tools, and the same holds true for meal prep.

Published Jan. 27, 2020.

Certain phrases invade the modern lexicon so thoroughly that they become annoying. “Meal prep” is headed in that direction for me. Sometimes I think if I scroll past another grid of perfectly arrayed containers on Instagram while waiting for my pizza to be delivered, I’m going to scream. But the truth is, when I take time to prep a few things for the week on Sunday, my life is measurably better. I eat healthier, I'm less stressed, and I spend less money.

They say an artist is only as good as their tools, and the same holds true for meal prep. To make it less of a chore (and thus make you more likely to do it) you need the right equipment. Another thing that helps: bribing myself off the couch with a good podcast. Proof, America’s Test Kitchen’s own investigative food podcast is fantastic. I also love Death, Sex, and Money, and true crime shows such as My Favorite Murder and True Crime Obsessed. The truth is, I might still order a pizza for dinner, but at least I’ll have a healthy lunch the next day to get myself back on track.

Here are my favorite tools for meal prep. They speed things up, minimize dishes, and make the process easier and more hands off. 

Zavor LUX LCD 8 QT Multicooker

I learned about the beauty of pressure cooking when I tested multicookers. A pressure cooker is basically a really tightly-sealed cooking pot. Because it’s so completely sealed, the temperature can get hotter than in a normal pot, which allows food to cook faster—think chicken stock in one hour compared to six on the stove. And because of that tight seal, flavors concentrate and food stays super juicy. (Instant Pot may be the big name in this category, but our testing found it isn’t the best. We thought the Zavor Lux LCD Multicooker was much easier to use.)

Zavor Lux LCD Multicooker

The best multicooker on the market, this Zavor makes great food and has a clear, easy-to-use LCD interface.  
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But even with those benefits, as a (mostly) non-meat eater, I wasn’t immediately sold on owning a multicooker. Then I got one for free in our company Equipment Giveaway. It sat in the box for months until I pulled it out one day—and promptly fell in love. Now it hums along on my counter every weekend. I typically do a grain, such as brown rice or quinoa, plus hard-boiled eggs, beans or chickpeas, chicken broth, and sweet potatoes, all one right after another with a quick wipedown in between, if needed.

Prepping this way takes way less time than other cooking methods and is more hands off, so you don’t have to worry about your pot simmering over or losing track of time; you just program the machine and it does the work, cheerfully beeping upon completion. Machines like these also really shine in certain (sort of random!) ways. Mussels are cooked to perfection in just one minute. Pasta, too, is excellent in a pressure cooker, especially short chunky shapes like ziti that tend to break apart when boiled on the stovetop.

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

I love baking sheets for food prep. I whip mine out on a Sunday and roast things one after another, sometimes with a quick wipedown in between, sometimes not if I’m just roasting with oil and salt. I’ll do two trays at a time full of ingredients like chicken thighs, cubed tofu, zucchini, red peppers, onions, sweet potato—basically a jumble of whatever proteins and veggies will keep for a few days. Then I’ll either assemble lunches or put the food into large storage containers to pull from for quick dinners throughout the week.

Before I worked at ATK, I had cheap, thin baking sheets that went “BOING!” and warped in the oven on a regular basis. I thought that was normal, as my mother also suffered from boinging pans. Well, I soon learned you can get inexpensive, sturdy baking sheets that won’t warp—if you choose the right brand. Our winning rimmed baking sheets from Nordic Ware are so good and so affordable and so many people have bad baking sheets that this is one of the most common gifts I give. An essential sidekick to the baking sheet is a good cooling rack. (Our favorite is from Checkered Chef.) We use this dynamic duo in all different ways, from roasting meat, to deep frying, to coating chocolates, and more.

Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly. Best of all, our new favorite is a few bucks cheaper than our old winner.  
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The smaller quarter-sheet pan and wire rack are just as useful. As are the lids! The lids are clutch for holidays and parties because they turn your baking sheet into a large, stable, stackable, transportable storage container. (There’s a reason professional bakers love them!) Get yourself (or someone else) a couple sets of each and toss those cheap old sheets to the curb.

OXO Glass Storage Container

I stopped putting plastic in the dishwasher and the microwave after reading this article from American Pediatrics. I think there’s a lot we don’t know yet but I’d rather be safe than sorry. That said, I don’t want to add to my chores by having to hand wash a million dishes. This is why I switched to our favorite glass storage container set, the OXO Good Grips Smart Seal 16 Piece Container Set, for storing prepped food and leftovers and packing lunch.

OXO Good Grips Smart Seal 16 Piece Container Set

This set has as an array of sizes that accommodates most of your meal prep needs, whether that’s enough grilled chicken for lunches all week long or the small amount of vinaigrette you need for tomorrow’s salad.  
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Glass is nice and crystal clear, which I’ve found is really important for actually using the food you prep—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stored something in an old yogurt container only to find it weeks later, covered in mold. Glass containers can go in the microwave and the dishwasher, and while they’re heavier, they don’t discolor or warp like plastic can. And the set from OXO is durable, leakproof, and less expensive than buying individual containers.

Another bonus I found when I switched to glass: a more organized kitchen. When I was using plastic, I would save every takeout and old food container that came through our house—as long as it had a lid, it became a belonging of mine, requiring a home in my kitchen. Now that I have my nice glass set I feel empowered to recycle plastic containers straight away, which has totally decluttered my storage container drawer, which is something I never thought would happen.

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife

A dull or uncomfortable knife is dangerous and slows you down. A good knife is your best friend during food prep. You can spend a lot of money on a chef’s knife but you don’t need to. The Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife is supremely comfortable and will stay sharp for a long time.

I love all of my knives—fancy and not-so-fancy alike—but I really appreciate a knife that’s good and sharp but not too precious to use how I please. With the Victorinox, I can hack apart a chicken or slice through a dense squash without worrying about damaging it.

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8" Chef's Knife

Still the best—and a bargain—after 20 years, this knife’s super-sharp blade retained its edge even after weeks of testing.  
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Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe Series

Bench scrapers are classic baking tools used for dividing and moving doughs but they’re also awesome for scooping up and transporting chopped food—an essential part of food prep. Using a good bench scraper to corral every last bit of errant garlic is quicker than using your knife and easier than moving the whole cutting board. They’re also great for tidying up your workstation— you can scrape everything down to do a quick reset between tasks. Our winning bench scraper from Dexter-Russell is comfortable, thin, and sharp, allowing it to excel at every task.

Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe Series

This bench scraper has a deeply beveled edge that quickly slides under piles of chopped vegetables and doughs. Its slender, textured polypropylene handle makes it easy to keep flat to the work surface for fast and efficient cleanup.  
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For more of our equipment experts' thoughts on kitchen equipment, check out these articles:

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