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When I first got married, I was an awful cook. I knew how to boil pasta and scramble eggs–and that was it.
The first time I went grocery shopping as a newlywed, I shopped like I had a family of 5 and ended up spending $200 for a week. Needless to say, most of that food got thrown out–just money in the garbage.
I did not know what I was doing in the kitchen. I regularly called up my mom for a step-by-step tutorial of whatever kitchen task I was trying to accomplish that day. My sister had to come over to show my how to chop an onion.
Add to that, my ambition is often much larger than my skill level. I dreamed of creating picture-perfect dinner dishes. So, in my first six months of cooking, I tried to make really complicated dishes–like shrimp alfredo, from scratch. Needless to say, it was a disaster!
But when you’re working full-time, it’s difficult to find time to tinker around in the kitchen.
Eventually I just became the master of the kitchen helpers. Hamburger helpers, chicken helpers, tuna helpers–we ate all kinds of helpers. My poor husband ate “helper” for almost an entire year straight!
I am now a self-taught “good cook.” Most of our foods come not from a box or package, but are made from scratch. Some things, though, are just too time intensive for me to make from scratch on a regular basis
But just because our diet is mostly homemade does not mean that I’m slaving away in the kitchen all the time. No way! I’m busy, and if there is an easier way to do something, then I am using it.
No, the secret to our diet and my kitchen skills is in part from the smart and continued use of our small kitchen appliances. In 30 minutes, I can get dinner started, set up a loaf of bread to bake, and start a cooker with broth.
Is my kitchen messy afterwards? Absolutely. Is it worth it for the hours of time I spent not actually cooking? Without a doubt.
I want to note, though, that this is by no means an all-inclusive list. I aquire most of my appliances second-hand or as Christmas gifts. So I do not have an Instant Pot, an Air Fryer, or a Ninja Foodi. Even though they are all the rage right now! I’ve always been one to bide my time and wait to get it used for huge savings, so you won’t see the latest kitchen innovations here.
1. Rice Cooker
We have the Aroma Professional 20-cup Rice Cooker. It is one of my favorite appliances! It’s not uncommon for me to take it down 3 or 4 times a week to make rice.
I guess you could say we like rice.
We enjoy eating rice in many different ways. Stir fry, orange chicken, taco chicken bowls, rice oatmeal, and fried rice are all favorite in this house.
Plus, let’s be real here–rice is cheap. I love that I can buy a 25 lb bag of rice for around ten dollars and it will last us for 5-6 months.
Before we invested in our rice cooker, we almost never ate rice. I knew, in theory, that using rice in more meals would stretch our meals further and allow us to keep a lower grocery budget.
I’ve used this rice cooker to make rice, beans, and lentils. It comes with a steamer tray so you can steam vegetables, and I’ve even made hard-boiled eggs in it! It also has a slow cooker setting, if you want to further minimalize your kitchen.
Now, I know with the popularity of Paleo, Keto, and Whole30, there are a lot of people avoiding carbs. We are more of an “everything in moderation” family.
There might be better appliance options for you if you simply don’t eat rice. But if you already have a rice cooker just sitting around, I encourage you to try out some new ways to use it!
If you do eat rice and are interested in finding new ways to eat it, check out my guest post over at Unexpectedly Domestic, 5 Delicious Ways to Dress Up Rice.
We use our slow cooker multiple times a week, especially in the fall and winter. Soups, fajitas, broth, and burrito filling all regularly take up residence in the crockpot. Its just so easy to just throw everything in the crockpot and let it do it’s thing.
Next to our rice cooker, I use our slow cooker the most. Both of them sitting next to each other on the counter top is not an uncommon sight in our house.
Besides, there is something about a slow cooker. Its nostalgic. My grandma had one, my mom had one, and now I have one. I know I can count on it because people have been counting on Crock-Pots for generations.
Personally, I love having a Crock Pot with so many different settings–two high settings, two low settings, plus an automatic “warming” feature. I also love the locking lid feature–it makes transporting it so easy! I’ve heard great things about Crock-Pots with delay timers, too, but I haven’t found it necessary.
3. Roaster Oven
We bought a roaster oven two years ago, right before a big Christmas party. I needed to cook two hams to feed everyone.
My slow cooker was too small for even one ham, so clearly two was out of the question! The roaster oven was perfect.
It has turned into my favorite appliance. I’ve actually started calling it my giant crockpot, because that’s how I use it most often! If you set the temperature to 200 degrees, that’s the equivalent of the “Low” setting on your crockpot. If you want to simulate the “High” setting, just set it to 250!
I’ve used this bad boy to cook down 24 pounds of apples. It can roast 2 whole chickens, and then turn around and serve up a whopping 32 cups of bone broth. I’m a huge fan of using batch cooking to save more time in the kitchen, so the roaster oven was a lifesaver!
Plus, if your oven ever goes out, you can use your roaster oven as a backup for anything that you would do in your regular oven–cakes, breads, casseroles, etc. I’ve never needed to use it this way, but it’s nice to know I can.
I personally have a very cheap one. It has worked fine, but it is a pain to clean. I recommend spending a little bit more to get a roaster oven with a removeable insert–it will make cleaning loads easier.
4. Bread Machine
Last week I opened the cupboard that contains our bread machine and took it out. Within seconds, my 3-year-old had appeared in the kitchen, eyes wide as he stared at the bread machine. “Bread?!” he asked with anticipation.
This kid loves homemade bread. He loves the smell, the taste of melted butter, and the golden crust. Shoot, who doesn’t love all of that?
During the first 30 minutes of the 3-hour cycle, he’d show up in the kitchen every 5 minutes or so. You know, just in case it was done already.
I’d periodically hear him saying a running dialogue to himself as he played, “Maybe the bread will come out and it will be warm and Mommy can put butter on it and then I can EAT it!”
I kid you not, once the bread is done, half the loaf is gone within a matter of minutes.
I originally acquired our bread machine because when my oldest was a baby he had a soy intolerance. Soy is a very common ingredient in a lot of pre-packaged foods.
Especially bread. If you went to your local grocery store and checked every brand and every type, I can guarantee you that 97% of them have some form of soy. And the specialty loaves that don’t will run you $4-$6 per loaf.
Long story short, this particular machine became more of a necessity than a novelty for our family.
But that doesn’t mean that a bread machine wouldn’t be useful in your home too. Imagine having to only spend 5 minutes to make delicious zucchini bread or cinnamon carrot bread that your kids would come running for–what a game-changer!
As an added bonus, your local thrift store likely has a healthy selection of bread machines due to their high popularity in the 90’s! So you can easily find them for a very reasonable price.
And if you have a little more cash to spend, newer models don’t take up nearly as much space as the clunkier 90’s models.
5. Kitchen Scale
Two years ago, our grocery budget was suffering. We had just moved to the west coast and our money just didn’t stretch as far at the grocery store.
I had to get creative, so I switched to ground turkey as a way to bring our meat costs down. I bought our ground turkey at a local restaurant supply store in 5 lb logs.
But it is way too easy to waste food when you are freezing and thawing 5 lbs at a time. We only needed 1 lb of meat (or when things were really tight, half a pound!) per meal.
I needed to separate 5 pounds out into the portion sizes I would need for a meal. I needed a kitchen scale.
We acquired ours from a sweet neighbor lady who had two of them. She wanted to bless us with the other.
Seriously, though, even if I had bought it, it would have been worth it. By adding a kitchen scale to my arsenal, I was able to freeze my meat flat. By freezing flat, I keep my freezer far more organized and everything thaws faster.
Do you already own some of these appliances? If so, which ones do you have? Which ones do you want? Are there any others you feel should be added to the list?
This post was originally published on October 1, 2019. It was updated on March 10, 2020.