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After spending the last five years helping people transition their diets to The Autoimmune Protocol, one thing has become abundantly clear – for some people, the biggest barrier to their success is not having the right kitchen tools or organization to embark on a healing diet.
I thought I’d write a back-to-basics article to help those of you who are just starting figure out how to get your kitchen in order before you make the transition. For those of you who have been doing AIP for awhile, stick around, because you might learn about how to invest in some better foundational tools or learn some useful tips and tricks!
Start with the basics
This is the list of cooking equipment I believe every kitchen should have to transition to a real-foods, home-cooked diet. If you have a kitchen already set up for home cooking, you might think this list is overly basic – but I have worked with many folks who either don’t have some of these simple tools or they have them, but they aren’t very functional.
- Cutting board – Look for a large wooden board that isn’t going to move around on your countertops – often boards with feet work well on surfaces that are more slick.
- Knife – You only need one good chef’s knife. No need to buy fancy sets with different shapes or sizes – prioritizing one great knife that fits your hand and learning how to keep it sharp will go a long way in making the task of preparing food easier.
- Soup pot – Make sure you invest in a pot that is large enough for batch cooking, for making broth or soups (I suggest 6 quarts or more). Getting a large Dutch Oven as your soup pot can also double as a dish for roasting large hunks of meat.
- Skillet – I recommend a heavy-bottomed cast-iron skillet if you are only going to have one. Stay away from non-stick. A stainless can be handy but less versatile and more difficult to clean.
- Baking dish – Having at least one on hand for cooking vegetables or meat is helpful.
- Mixing bowls – A couple of glass mixing bowls in various sizes are essential for getting your ingredients ready.
- Measuring cups – Make sure you have at least one liquid measuring cup and a set of dry measuring cups. If you intend to follow recipes, these will be essential.
- Basic utensils – A wooden stirring spoon, a set of tongs, a ladle, and a spatula are important to have on hand.
- Storage containers – You will want some containers to store leftovers. These can be as simple as mason jars or glass pyrex dishes which can go straight into the oven for a reheat.
You’ll notice this list is relatively small. You might be thinking “why isn’t the Instant Pot or Vitamix on there?”. Yes, those tools can make preparing certain meals super easy, but they are not essential. For less than $250 you can get all of the kitchen items you need to get started with the Autoimmune Protocol, even cheaper if you are a thrifter or sale shopper. I’ve linked to some affordable brands in the list above, if you are looking.
Quality over quantity
Now you may have all of the tools on the “basics” list, but maybe they are not at the right quality level that is setting you up for success. For instance, a cutting board that is slippery and moves all over your countertop is going to be a pain (and dangerous!) to use. A knife that is the incorrect size for your hand and dull is going to produce a similar problem. A saucepan isn’t going to cut it as a soup pot. Cooking with the wrong tool for the job just creates frustration, and will make AIP that much harder for you.
If any of these issues sound familiar, don’t move on to adding to your cookware collection until you have focused on upgrading the quality of the basics above instead. The biggest area I see for improvement here is the combination of cutting board and knife setup. Nothing makes me not want to cook in a particular kitchen more than a mismatch here.
Once you’ve got a quality basic setup, there are some more advanced tools that might make cooking quicker or easier for you.
For those with an additional budget for adding to their cookware, adding some tools to the mix can make the job of cooking for The Autoimmune Protocol easier. Like I said before, these tools aren’t required, but depending on your cooking style and needs can increase convenience. I’ve added a description below each item to help you decide if this particular tool might be right for you.The Instant Pot
Of all of the appliances on my list, this is hands-down the most convenience you will get for your money and the #1 advanced tool I recommend. This electric cooker is a combination pressure and slow cooker that works independently of a burner and can be programmed to do a variety of tasks. My favorite AIP staple to make in the Instant Pot is bone broth – I just set it and forget it and end up with a full pot of warm broth a couple hours later. The Instant Pot can also steam vegetables in mere minutes and prepare many prep-to-table recipes in under 30 minutes.
If you have one of these, you have no need for a standalone slow cooker or pressure cooker (which saves a lot of space in small kitchens!). I recommend the 8-quart size for families or batch-cooking, but the 6-quart will certainly suit the needs of a single person. For those of you interested in a collection of AIP recipes developed specifically for the Instant Pot, check out The AIP Instant Pot Cookbook.Food Processor
This appliance is super handy for processing raw vegetables and creating other mixtures and purees. If you have a condition that affects your joints, you can use a processor to chop some vegetables instead of having to do it by hand. Shredding root vegetables, chopping onions, garlic, and herbs, and creating purees for dips (like pate!) are all super easy in a food processor. There are some great brands out there – I use this 7 cup processor from Kitchen Aid.
If you have to pick between a food processor and a high-powered blender, an immersion blender or magic bullet are affordable options that can round out your blending needs without having to add another major appliance to your collection.High-Powered Blender
I usually recommend that people have either the combination of a food processor and an immersion blender, or a high-powered blender, but that both aren’t necessary. A high-powered blender (like the Vitamix) is different from a regular blender because it can process thicker mixtures like pate or soup. There are a few brands out there making these high-powered machines, and I’d encourage you to purchase one with a good warranty. I’ve had great luck with my Vitamix 5200 – I bought a refurbished model that lasted 9 years, and I am a couple years in to my second purchase.
If you want to add to your frozen food storage capacity, you can get a chest freezer or a upright freezer. These are handy for storing large quantities of frozen meat (like a bulk buy from your farmer), raw ingredients (like berries picked in the summer), and frozen pre-made meals and staples (like batch-cooked AIP meals and bone broth). A freezer can help you save money because you can easily take advantage of sales at the meat counter or buy your animals in bulk. You can also have more flexibility with the extra storage space they provide.
When I had less space I had a chest freezer, which can come in smaller sizes and be more difficult to access due to the size. If you know you need some serious space and organizing capacity, an upright freezer is likely your best bet, as it is easiest to access everything you have inside. If you can’t afford a new freezer, be sure to check your local marketplace like Craigslist for a used one – they are very affordable purchased this way.
There are a few other appliances that can be used to prepare AIP meals that I don’t consider essential – in fact, some of these items I had before my dietary transition and I ended up giving them away since I never use them anymore. Stand mixers, vegetable juicers, deep-fryers, waffle-makers, and ice-cream makers can all produce some fun foods, but are in no way necessary. Since the development of the Instant Pot (which wasn’t around when I started my journey!) I’ve even since given away my pressure and slow cookers. If you have the space and you like to collect kitchen appliances with more novel or special uses, then there is no harm in adding these to your collection, but they certainly aren’t necessary.
The last category of “extra” tools are gadgets that save time. If you’ve been anywhere near a kitchen store in recent years you will have noticed that they are all full of little bins of these inventive items. I’ve tried many of them, and while I value drawer space and like a more minimalist kitchen these are the ones I find especially handy:
- Handheld citrus juicer – I use this tool every day. It is much quicker to use than other forms of citrus juicers, and if you get the “orange” size you can use it for oranges, lemons, and limes.
- Thermapen – Before I found this instant-read thermometer, I would destroy multiple thermometers per year due to heat or moisture. This one is simple to use, accurate, quick to read, and holds up to some abuse. It is a bigger investment than other thermometers, but I’ve been really happy with the quality.
- Mandoline slicer – I love using this handy tool to make thin, consistent slices of fruits and vegetables.
- Spiralizer – These come in both a handheld and a countertop version. The handheld only works on soft, straight vegetables (like zucchini) while the countertop creates various sized noodles out of anything from carrots to jicama. This tool is really fun for increasing variety and creating some flavorful meals.
- Immersion blender – If you don’t have a blender, this tool is handy for blending beverages and soups directly in the mug or pot.
- Magic bullet – This is another blending option, although at small capacity. I like to use it for blending beverages or small quantities like dressings or smoothies.
Set up your space
Now that you have an idea of the tools you have in your kitchen, you’ll want to get to work setting up your space for efficient use.
If you have any clutter in your kitchen, now is the time to clear it out. Sell, give away, or donate those items that take up space and don’t support your health goals. If you can’t part with them just yet, even boxing up and placing in storage will give you more room to work.
If you have any non-kitchen items taking up space, like stacks of paperwork, bills, books, keys, or another collection of items, find another place to store these things. Sometimes it is simply creating a system to organize items, like an “inbox” for mail or to-do lists, or a basket to collect kitchen clutter.
Place your appliances where they will be used most often and aren’t in the way. I like to keep “occasional use” appliances like my food processor and small tools in cabinets to be pulled out for use. Appliances I use nearly daily, like my Instant Pot and Vitamix I have found a permanent home where they aren’t in the way of my prep areas.
If you haven’t already, another area to set up and organize is your pantry. I’ve written a whole article on that topic at Stocking The AIP Pantry, so if this is an area you need some guidance be sure to check out that article!
Once you have your tools organized and your countertops free from clutter and you’ve got your pantry in order, you are ready to embark on actually using your kitchen for what it was meant for… cooking some delicious, nutrient-dense food! I promise you will feel so much more inspired and willing to get cooking once you have your kitchen in order.
Are there any tools that have really made your AIP easier that I missed? Let me know in the comments!