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Holiday Wish List: Great Gifts for the Healthy Kitchen

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, RD, MPH

With the holidays under way, chances are you’re thinking about buying—and let’s be honest—receiving, gifts. So, what’s on your wish list? Do you really want to find another iTunes gift card or more winter running gear wrapped up with your name on it? Instead, why not combine your desire for good nutritional health with the gift-giving season? Let us suggest a few ideas, perfect for giving or receiving, that can make following nutritious habits easier (and more appealing).

BPA-free Water Bottle
Staying hydrated is just as important for your health in the cooler months as in the warmer ones. By now you know that toting a reusable water bottle is just the way to ensure you have water for hydration—plus it’s not only better for the environment, it’s better for your wallet, too. But unless the water bottle you’re toting is BPA (Bisphenol A) free, you might be doing more harm than good for your body. Chinese research found that men exposed to high levels of BPA on the job were likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Granted, the levels of BPA were much higher in the men in the study than an average Joe, but why take the risk it when it’s easy to make a few changes to cut back on BPA exposure? Slim, BPA-free plastic, stainless steel or even glass water bottles make perfect stocking stuffers!

High-quality Blender
You’d be surprised the difference a high quality blender makes. The motor is powerful (read: it doesn’t smoke when you crush ice), the blade intentional, and the carafe design is more able to circulate foods to encourage better mixing. If you have a blender that’s easy and effective to use—plus simple to clean—you’ll be more likely to use it. A good blender can help you turn out protein-packed breakfast smoothies to sip on the way to work, puree fresh pasta sauces made from fresh tomatoes and spices, and blend filling, healthy soups in a snap. And for lazy breakfasts without leaving the house, you can whip eggs whites in the blender to ensure a fluffy heart-healthy omelet. And yes, a good blender could make a mean margarita, too.

Pepper Grinder
Since Americans eat too much salt—around 50 percent more than the daily recommended level—it goes without saying that there’s a high need to find ways to add sodium-free flavor to food. Fortunately, there’s a cheap, easy solution: adding freshly ground pepper is an excellent way to add a little spark to your food without negating the health benefits. A good-quality pepper grinder can help you slash the amount of salt—as well as fat—you add, while still keeping the food you eat delicious. Even better, there’s far more to choose from than traditional black peppercorns. Pink, green and mixed blends—just to name a few—all impart unique flavors with a few turns of the pepper grinder. Don’t forget to add peppercorns to the list if you’re requesting a grinder!

Good Knives
Any chef can tell you, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp knife—there’s more chance for slipping since the blade isn’t able to effectively to grip food, which leads to more accidents. A good six- or eight-inch chef’s knife of specialty-store quality is an indispensible tool when it comes to preparing healthy produce. Whether you’re cutting into a tough winter squash you’ll be steaming in the microwave, or just preparing a tomato for a sandwich, you’ll find that a sharp knife makes easy work of slicing, chopping and dicing. But if you’re going to invest in knives, don’t neglect the importance of a quality wooden or synthetic polypropylene cutting board to go with it (they help keep your knives from being prematurely blunted) and be sure to keep your knives routinely, professionally, sharpened.

Grill Basket
A grill basket is a great tool for adding veggies to the barbie without creating a lot of post-meal cleanup. Simply chop up veggies (sweet potato chunks, red onion and zucchini are delish together) toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and you’ve got a practically effortless, but vitamin-packed, side to sizzle alongside your chicken or fish. There are plenty of sizes and brands to choose from—just pick what works for your space and cooking volume needs. And don’t despair if you can’t find them since it’s not technically grilling season—they’re easy to locate online year ‘round.

Kitchen Shears
A sharp pair of dedicated kitchen shears (read: not the same dull scissors you use to hack into packages and saw through duct tape) can make quick work of healthy food prep. You can snip fresh herbs to add flavor (but not fat) to foods; cut low-sodium deli turkey into strips for a salad; chop boneless chicken breasts into pasta; and if you’re making soup, you can cut up whole tomatoes right in the can before adding them to soup or chili—a great way to boost the vitamin power of your meal. Bought wherever knives are sold, it’s a simple addition to your kitchen that makes taking a few shortcuts to healthy cooking a lot easier.

Good Olive Oil/Parmesan Cheese/Balsamic or Flavored Vinegar
It’s definitely true; quality cooking ingredients can set you back more than a few bucks. But if you’re eating less, the integrity of ingredients matters more. If you’ve ever compared a thin slice of imported Parmesan cheese to a few shreds of mainstream precut parm, you know exactly how important springing for the good stuff is for a satisfied palate. Even better, deeply flavored ingredients, like quality olive oils, Parmesan cheese and specialty vinegars allow you to use less, but still achieve great taste. So if someone else is buying, request high quality foods that might not fit your everyday budget—but can help you add flavor without OD’ing on fat, calories or sodium.

Microwavable Egg Poacher
In a study, people eating an egg breakfast lost more weight than those eating a bagel breakfast, likely since the protein helped keep hunger a bay longer. So, it really pays to make sure your first meal of the day is packed with protein. Trouble is, when you’re in a rush in the morning, sometimes toasting a bagel is the easiest thing to do. Enter the microwavable egg poacher: there are lots of brands and styles that can do anything from poach a single egg, to bigger models that cook up for a crowd. Simply pop your egg in the poacher and nuke it while you locate your shoes and put on your coat. Then, slide that egg out onto a toasted English muffin, and head on out the door with a hot, filling breakfast in your hand.

Slow cooker
Don’t be embarrassed to add this piece of helpful equipment to your kitchen. Sure, it might be in every Midwestern casserole mom’s kitchen arsenal—but who says you can’t steal their secret for having a healthy dinner on the table with minimal effort? Think of it this way: frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts + jarred reduced sodium marinara on low while you’re at work = dinner ready when you come home. Chicken not your thing? There are countless healthy slow cooker recipes floating around online for whatever your stomach fancies. Besides, what greater motivation do you have to keep from driving past a fast food window than knowing dinner is ready the minute you walk in the door?

Measuring Cups and Spoons
If you don’t already own a sturdy set, now’s the time to add measuring cups and spoons to your kitchen. A quality stainless steel set of each are durable through years of washing, and won’t warp, stain or melt. Even if you’re not much of a baker or chef, measuring gear is indispensible for portion control, and can be a real boon to highlighting foods that you’ve been (unwittingly) overdoing. Most people are surprised at how much more they are eating than previously thought when they take time to measure serving sizes using measuring cups and spoons. Especially important if you’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to drop a few pounds, measuring equipment may uncover that your nightly “half-cup” serving of ice cream is more like one-and-a-half cups!

A few good enhancements to your food prep collection can help ensure that you start the new year ready to tackle any health-related resolutions you have—and offers a way to maintain them too! Besides, what better way to avoid a gift destined for the re-gift pile than to head it off with a wish list of good suggestions?