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Must-Have Gadgets for a Healthy Kitchen

Posted Mar 03 2009 2:50pm
Here is my latest article on Irongirl.com
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Must-Have Gadgets for a Healthy Kitchen
By Marni Rakes

According to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the average weekly cost of food, in the U.S., in December 2008, for a family of two (ages 19-50), was $131.00. For a family of four (children ages 6-11), the cost increased more than $50, for an average weekly cost of $188.60 for food at home (1). Take into account extra curricular activities, training sessions, races and a little socializing outside the home, and the average person is likely to spend at least $150-$250 a week on food!

Due to busy schedules and improper meal planning, many Americans opt to eat out, as opposed to preparing meals at home. Therefore, in addition to a weekly budget of $131.00 on food consumed at home, Americans also spend money on fast food, take-out meals or food from restaurants. According to the NPD group, in a recent USA Today article, Americans are likely to consume approximately five meals, outside of the home, on a weekly basis (2).

In an effort to eat the same type of foods that you desire from the local deli or restaurant, there are several gadgets I recommend that can help you save time and money, while preparing healthy meals at home. Aside from the common appliances found in most kitchens (oven, stove, toaster, coffee maker, refrigerator and microwave), the following gadgets are worth the cost if you are looking for easy ways to prepare quick, satisfying, healthy and affordable meals.

1) Crock-pot (aka slow cooker)
What a great invention for the "lazy" cook. Plug it in, put your ingredients in a pot, cover the pot and wait a few hours for a delicious meal. From meats to vegetables to bread and stews, the slow cooking crock-pot will maintain a steady temperature, for several hours, to ensure even cooking. Crock-pots come in all sizes, to accommodate the number of people in your family, and the care and clean-up is simple. Entertaining could not be easier. More so, you will save money each week by not eating out. Why eat out when a warm, home-cooked, comfort-style meal is waiting for you at home?
Cost: $30-$130

Recipe:
Vegetarian Chili
1 tbsp. Olive oil
Minced garlic (2 cloves)
1 red and 1 green pepper (largely diced)
1 can crushed tomatoes (low sodium)
1 large onion (diced)
1 can corn (low sodium)
1 can black beans (low sodium)
1 can chickpeas (low sodium)
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tsp. cayenne or chili flakes
1 cup black bean salsa

1) Add onions, garlic, cumin and cayenne to olive oil and sauté in hot skillet until golden brown.
2) Add peppers to onion mixture.
3) Place tomatoes, corn, chickpeas, beans and salsa in crock pot and add onion and pepper mixture.
4) Cook on low heat for about 10 hours.
5) When ready, top with 2-3 tbsp. shredded cheese (per person)

2) Blender
A must-have for the athlete who is looking to recover faster after workouts. Aside from the normal protein and fruit smoothies, use your blender for milkshakes, fresh fruit juices, soups, sauces, purees, salsas and dips. You can even make pancake batter in your blender! Just like the coffee maker, a blender should have a permanent place on your counter. A durable, glass blender, with multiple functions and settings, will be a useful tool in your healthy kitchen. Be sure to spend at least $50 on a blender to ensure that you aren't wasting your money on a blender that doesn't crush ice or mix thoroughly. Many blenders provide a "juicer" option, which is another great way to add vitamins and minerals to your diet.
Cost: $50-$200+

Recipe:
Vanilla Milkshake Smoothie
½ cup low fat vanilla yogurt (Lit n' Fit)
1 cup light vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 frozen banana
½ grapefruit (sliced and peeled w/o seeds)
1 scoop vanilla whey protein
Dash of cinnamon
4-5 ice cubes
*may need additional water

1. Add all ingredients to blender except protein powder. Blend for 30-45 seconds. May need to add a little water during blending.
2. Add 1 scoop protein powder and blend for additional 30-60 sec. May need to add a little water.
3. When your mixture is thick and creamy, stop blender and pour 8 ounces into a 12-ounce cup.

3) Panini Maker
Tired of eating the same toasted-bread sandwich every day at work? With a panini maker you can get deli-style sandwiches any time you want! There is little to clean up and you don't make a mess when trying to wrap up your over-stuffed, veggie-filled, lean-meat sandwich. When you start using your panini maker, you will wonder how you ever lived without it!

Depending on the brand of panini maker, you will have the option to use several settings (low, medium, high) or the grill. Most panini makers come with a non-stick surface so cleaning up is a breeze. You can make simple sandwiches of meat, cheese and veggies or you can make gourmet sandwiches with a thick whole grain baguette, roasted chicken (or a veggie burger), cheese and lots of thick-cut veggies. On the grill, you can easily cook chicken in just a few minutes. No matter what type of sandwich you are cooking, you will end up with a nicely grilled panini every time you use it. After preparing your fillings for your sandwich, just close the lid and give yourself a few minutes to prepare the rest of your meal. When you smell your sandwich cooking you know you will have a healthy and satisfying deli-style lunch!
Cost: $40-$60

Recipe:
Pizza Panini
2 slices rye bread
2 thin slices mozzarella cheese
3 thick slices of tomato
3-5 mushroom slices
4 onion rings
1-2 tbsp. Marinara sauce
Italian seasoning

1. Turn on Panini maker to medium heat.
2. Place 1 slice of bread on Panini maker. Cover with 1-2 tbsp. marina sauce. Sprinkle on Italian seasoning.
3. Top with cheese, tomato, onion, mushroom and cheese (in that order), followed by the other slice of bread.
4. Close Panini maker and wait for a few minutes.

References:

1) USDA
http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/FoodPlans/2008/CostofFoodDec08.pdf

2) USA Today
http://content.usatoday.com/topics/post/People/Journalists,+Media,+Academia/Kati
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