Basic Food Preparation Tips

LAST UPDATED: October 10, 2017
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Helpful cooking tools to have on-hand

Whether you live in the barracks, a small apartment, or a house, having some basic cooking tools will help with easy meal preparations. A few appliance such as a rice cooker, crock-pot or a toaster oven may help with simple meals. If you live in the barracks, check with housing office for specific guidance for cooking devices (rice cookers, crock-pots, etc.).

Pots, pans, and other cooking tools may be available to borrow from Army Community Service (ACS). If you must purchase your own cooking tools and devices, research and shop for the best quality at an affordable price. The next few pages contain an illustrative guide to some of the helpful and common cooking devices and tools. You do not have to purchase every single device pictured on the next few pages! Pick only those devices and tools you think you will use the most often. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions when operating, cleaning, and storing your kitchen devices and tools.

Cooking

  • Rice cooker
  • Slow-cooker/crock-pot
  • Toaster
  • Toaster oven

Food preparation

  • Blender
  • Can opener
  • Colander(s)
  • Cooling rack(s)
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Meat thermometer
  • Mini-food processor
  • Mixing bowls (various sizes)
  • Oven mitts
  • Pots and pans (non-stick)
  • Sharp (cutting) knives
  • Spatulas
  • Stirring spoon(s)
  • Trivet(s)
  • Washable cutting board(s)

Microwave

  • Ceramic dishes/bowls
  • Glass/Pyrex containers

Food storage

  • Aluminum foil
  • BPA-free plastic dishes/containers (** Bisphenol A (BPA) is a carbon-based synthetic compound used to make certain plastics and plastic containers.)
  • Glass/Pyrex containers
  • Parchment paper
  • Plastic wrap
  • Refrigerator thermometer
  • Sealable plastic bags (large and small)
  • Sealable plastic freezer bags
  • Wax paper

Cleaning supplies

  • Bleach
  • Dish-washing soap
  • Dish-washing tub and drying rack
  • Disinfecting spray and/or wipes
  • Hand-soap
  • Paper towels
  • Washable dish-rags

Common uses for kitchen tools and appliances

(Note: Some appliances may not be allowed in the barracks.)

Kitchen tools and their common uses
Device or Tool Purpose
Blender Blend soups, smoothies, etc.
Ceramic/glass Baking casseroles and meats or for microwaving vegetables. Stores and protects leftovers or meats during thawing. Useful to re-heat food in the microwave or oven (remove plastic lid when re-heating food).
Cooking scissors/shears Trim the fat off the meat (poultry) or quickly cut the stalks off of fresh broccoli.
Cutting boards Provide a surface to cut, dice, chop meats, vegetables, fruits, etc. Protects counter-tops.
Grill pan Grill meats and vegetables on the stove-top.
Kitchen knives Cutting, chopping, and slicing. Refer to the knife guide at Kitchen Knives - Blades, Styles and Uses for more information.
Meat thermometer Use to check cooked meat to ensure it has reached the correct internal temperature.
Mini-food processor Quickly mince or chop raw veggies (onions, peppers, garlic, etc.).
Muffin pans Bake muffins
Non-stick skillet pan Cook and heat sauces, eggs, chicken, ground beef, etc.
Oven-tempered glass/Pyrex Baking casseroles and meats or for microwaving vegetables. Use to safely re-heat foods and/or store left-overs.
Pots Boil water, soups, sauces, marinades, etc. on the stove-top.
Rice cooker Cook white or brown rice, and other grains like quinoa, bulgur, etc.
Sheet pans Bake or roast foods that won’t run or seep liquid (e.g., baking potatoes, fish-fillets, vegetables, cookies, etc.).
Slow-cooker or crock-pot Slow-cook soups, meats, casseroles, etc.
Wok pan Stir fry meats and/or vegetables.

Save money with a slow-cooker/crockpot

Slow-cookers can help you turn nearly any combination of ingredients into a delicious, comforting, and low-cost dish with plenty of leftovers.

  1.  Purchase cheaper cuts of meat. The slightly tougher, and therefore, cheaper cuts forms of meat are perfect for the slow-cooker. The long hours and low temperature of the slow-cooker will soften even the toughest of meats.
  2.  Cook meals in bulk. Keep an eye out for ingredients that are on sale and double up on soup, stew, and casserole recipes. Put the extras in plastic/glass sealable containers or storage bags, and store them in the freezer or fridge. You’ll have heat-n-eat meals at your fingertips!
  3.  Break out the beans. Vegetarian protein sources (like beans) tend to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than meat or fish. You can use canned or dried beans. Dried beans tend to be less expensive than canned beans and are often lower in sodium. When using dried beans, soak them overnight in water and drain them in the morning before using.
Save time when prepping meals for your slow cooker
  • Pre-prep your ingredients the night before. Refrigerate them in a covered bowl. Wake up, pour them into the slow cooker, turn it on, and get on with your day.
  • Need to chop an onion? Try using a mini-food chopper or a bag of pre-prepped fresh/frozen onions.
  • Use frozen vegetables in place of fresh veggies.
  • Look for a non-stick surface when purchasing a crock-pot or consider disposable crock-pot liners for faster clean-up.
  • Consider a removable, stove-top safe insert for browning meat. This feature allows you to brown/sear meat or sauté ingredients directly on the stove-top before placing the pot back in the slow-cooker to finish cooking. (Reduces the amount of pans required to pre-prep ingredients for recipes that call for browning/searing meat ahead of time.)
Only have canned vegetables* for your slow cooker meal?

Using low sodium canned vegetables is a great time saver for your slow cooked meal. Canned vegetables only need to be heated. Put your canned vegetables in during the final 45 minutes of your cooking time so they retain their shape and texture.

* Note: The above recommendation does not apply to canned beans like pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, etc. You can put these in at the start of the cooking time and their texture will not be diminished.

Get the best results from your blender

Follow these 7 tips to help your blender last longer and still produce a smooth and nutritious beverage!

  1. Cut whole fresh fruits (i.e., apples, pears, peaches, etc.) into smaller pieces – ½ to 1 inch – and discard seeds, core, stems, and/or pits.
  2. Tear over-sized pieces of leafy greens into smaller pieces (~ 2 inches) when necessary. Spinach leaves are usually softer than Kale leaves. If using whole, large Kale leaves, be sure to cut out the hard stem before prepping.
  3. Defrost your bigger frozen fruits (strawberries, mangoes, cherries) in the refrigerator the night before to make them easier to blend.
  4. Always begin by blending your leafy greens and liquid base FIRST, and then add the rest of your ingredients.*
  5. Hit the pulse button, if you have one,  a few times to break up the ingredients and then gradually move your blender from a lower to higher speed.
  6. Add a little more of the liquid (water, almond milk, etc.) you are using to your blender if the motor seems stuck. If your blender ingredients get stuck or the blades get jammed, turn off the machine and unplug it immediately. Call the manufacturer or refer to the manufacturer’s directions for the best guidance.
  7. Like it really cold? Pour your smoothie directly over ice rather than using your blender to crush the ice.

*If the above steps are still too hard on your low wattage blender (300 watts), blend your liquid and fruit first (pulse the ingredients first, and then go from low to high speed). After your fruit is sufficiently blended, add your greens in small batches.

Purchasing and properly caring for cooking tools

Research cooking tools before purchasing:

  • Refer to Consumer Reports Magazine (check your local library or search online). Some of the on-line reports are only available with a subscription while other reports are free of charge.
  • Read the customer reviews.
  • Check your local PX for cooking tools and devices (PX will match Amazon.com pricing for the exact same item).
  • Check out AAFES on-line
  • Check out Amazon.com and compare prices between local department stores.

After making a purchase:

  • Register your device(s) immediately after purchase.
  • Keep warranty information and receipt(s) of purchase.
  • Keep operating manuals organized in a notebook with sheet protectors or an accordion file for easy reference.

Care for and store tools according to manufacturer directions:

  • Line baking sheets and oven pans with aluminum foil to make clean-up easier (but do not put foil in microwave), parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Use only wooden spoons or spatulas on non-stick cookware to prevent scratching and ruining the non-stick finish.
  • Keep cleaning utensils like kitchen brushes and dish-rags handy and be sure to clean, replace, or disinfect these cleaning tools on a routine basis.
  • Never operate a device with a frayed or damaged cord!
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