Consumer Reports’ Shop Smart: Gadgets make healthy meal prep faster and easier

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Stock­ing your kitchen with fresh, healthy in­gre­di­ents is im­por­tant, but it’s not the first step to eat­ing bet­ter, notes ShopSmart, the shop­ping mag­a­zine from the pub­lisher of Con­sumer Re­ports. Hav­ing the cor­rect gad­gets can speed prep times and make the most of the nu­tri­ents in the foods you cook. To find out which tools are a nu­tri­tion must, ShopSmart polled health-con­scious cook­ing pros, plus its own ex­perts. Turns out, the same 10 items made ev­ery­one’s go-to lists. Here they are, plus some pro tricks to help you get the most use of each gad­get.

• Gar­lic press: Using this time-saver is a quick way to get heart-healthy gar­lic into your diet. Cook­ healthy tip: Use a gar­lic press to finely mash ol­ives for a tap­e­nade and to press gin­ger to saute with chicken or sea­son a salad in­stead of us­ing salt.

• Non­stick pan: These pans are a cinch to clean and make it easy to cook with lit­tle or no fat. Cook healthy tip: Even when us­ing non­stick pans, pros rely on a few other tools for keep­ing added fat in check, such as us­ing a sil­i­cone pas­try brush to lightly coat food in oil be­fore cook­ing.

• Bak­ing mat: Non­stick mats are handy for more than bak­ing cook­ies. They save cal­o­ries and fat by let­ting you prep meals with­out cook­ing sprays, oils or but­ter.

• Juli­enne veg­e­ta­ble peeler: Though chefs may use a more ex­pen­sive man­do­line to make those pa­per-thin strips of veg­gies for sal­ads and other dishes, you can use this peeler to make the same restau­rant-style dishes at home. Cook healthy tip: Make tri-col­ored carb-free “noo­dles” from car­rots, zuc­chini and yel­low squash, and toss with fresh to­mato sauce or pesto.

• Cof­fee grinder: Think of your elec­tric cof­fee grinder as a mini-food pro­ces­sor. Use it to finely grind whole pep­per and other spices — a great fla­vor sub­sti­tute if you’re look­ing to cook with less salt.

• Bam­boo steam­ing bas­ket: Steam­ing is a great way to cook fat-free and re­tain nu­tri­ents that can leach out in cook­ing wa­ter. And bam­boo bas­kets are lighter, eas­ier to han­dle and less ex­pen­sive than metal ones. Cook healthy tip: In­stead of zap­ping left­overs in a mi­cro­wave, steam them in a bas­ket.

• Grill pan: Using a stove­top grill is a lean way to cook burg­ers and other meat; the ex­cess fat drips from the food into the grooves. Cook healthy tip: The pans aren’t just for meat — they’re ideal for grill­ing veg­gies, es­pe­cially stur­dier bell pep­pers, on­ions and as­par­a­gus.

• Salad spin­ner: It’s the best and eas­i­est way to re­move grit from herbs and greens. Cook healthy tip: To avoid soggy sal­ads, give those greens at least three whirls.

• Im­mer­sion blender: “An im­mer­sion blender whips in air and blends starchy veg­gies like po­ta­toes and car­rots into a creamy con­sis­tency, with­out the need for but­ter or cream,” says L.A.-based di­eti­cian Ilana Muhl­stein. Cook healthy tip: Swap a but­tery roux for a rus­set po­tato.

• Slow cooker: It’s an easy way to cook nu­tri­tious meat­less meals: sim­ply toss veg­gies and beans into the pot. Cook healthy tip: Swap dried beans for some or all of the meat in slow-cook rec­i­pes for chili, stew, soup or curry. For each meat serv­ing you want to re­place, swap in a quar­ter-cup of dried beans.

By the ed­i­tors of Con­sumer Re­ports (www.con­sumer­re­p­

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