The Recipe Doctor's Top 12 Healthy Cooking Gadgets

Great little items to give as gifts (or keep for yourself)!

From the WebMD Archives

Every year, my husband and girls spend an hour or so at a kitchen store shopping for stuffers for my Christmas stocking. I've gotten all kinds of crazy gadgets over the years, from mushroom slicers to a microwave hot dog holder.

Truth is, they would be better off stuffing my stocking at Bath and Body Works (I love that store!). That's mostly because I already have a favorite cast of kitchen characters. These are the tools (some aren't even that expensive) that I use over and over again.

In honor of the holidays, I am happy to share with you my Top 12 lineup of helpful and healthful kitchen tools, in the hopes one may end up in someone's stocking or as someone's Hanukkah gift this year!

Please note that although I LOVE my KitchenAid mixer and it is a permanent fixture on my kitchen counter, it didn't make the list because -- let's face it -- it's pricey. Something that sells for $300 isn't a gadget, it's an investment.

1. Misto Olive Oil Sprayer

There are many times when I want to disperse a small amount of olive or canola oil onto the surface of a pan or a food, instead of drenching it in oil. This way, you're still using oil -- but a lot less. A thin layer of oil on the surface of the food enables it to brown and crisp as it cooks. The best part about the Misto sprayer is that you don't have to throw it away when it's empty, unlike the cans of oil spray, which keeps your kitchen environmentally-friendly.

Cost: You find it in many kitchen stores for about $9.99.

2. Lemon Zester Hand Tool

I love this thing! I "zest" the peel off lemons, limes, or oranges for all sorts of recipes, from muffins, cakes, and bars to pies and pancakes. The zest, or outermost layer, of a citrus fruit holds plenty of aromatic oils, so this is an easy way to add a punch of flavor without extra calories or fat.

Cost: There are several brands, but they start at about $6.99 with Oxo brand Good Grips Zester.

3. Battery-Operated Pepper Mill

Since I don't use a lot of salt in my cooking and I'm always looking for ways to punch up flavor without adding fat or calories, the pepper mill is real popular at my house. I love the battery-operated mill because I can add the pepper with one hand while I'm holding a whisk in the other. And there's something about freshly grinding your pepper that adds to the flavor. There's a new "gravity" battery operated mill -- just turn it upside down and the pepper grinds itself.

Cost: Two battery-operated mills (Gravity and iTouchless) both cost about $19.99.

4. Adjust-a-Spoon (professional series)

When you cook as much as I do, you always seem to find every measuring spoon except the one you need. The Adjust-a-Spoon is one tool that meets all your measuring-spoon needs, from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. And this particular brand is totally stylish with its stainless steel design. It also comes in an adjust-a-spoon teaspoon edition.

Cost: Adjust-A-Spoon tablespoon sells for about $5.99 and the Adjust-A-Spoon teaspoon sells for $4.99.

5. "Green" Nonstick Frying Pans and Skillets

Nonstick pans are a must for light cooking. You need a lot less oil or fat in your pan to keep food from sticking if you are using great nonstick cookware. Now you can use a new line of "green" gourmet nonstick anodized skillets. Cuisinart's new line is "green" in several different ways. The pans and skillets require less energy to maintain cooking temperatures, the scratch-resistant surface won't peel, and the ceramic-based coating is petroleum-free. Cost: Cuisinart's new Green Gourmet line ranges from $24.99 for the 8-inch skillet and $39.99 for the 10-inch grill to $69.99 for the 12-inch skillet.

6. Hand Food Chopper

I use this tool often with the chopping mat I mentioned above. Cooking light means using ingredients that boost flavor without adding fat and calories, and some of these require chopping -- onions, red and green peppers, and fresh herbs come to mind. (You may be wondering why I didn't list garlic, so I have to admit I use bottled minced garlic for convenience.)

The hand chopper makes it easy to chop all of these without nicking a finger or shedding a tear. This tool works for chopping nuts, too! Most hand food choppers have a 1-cup capacity and are dishwasher safe.

Cost: $9.99 for the Zyliss brand.

7. Bread Machine

I almost never use my bread machine to actually bake bread. I just use it to create the dough, and then take it through one rise. I then shape the dough into cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, or a braided bread loaf, and bake in the oven.

The great part about a bread machine is that you can make a bread or roll dough that's half whole-wheat and half unbleached white. And you can choose to add a tablespoon of canola oil instead of 4 tablespoons of melted butter, for example. You control all of the ingredients in your dough. That's pretty powerful!

Cost: $69.99 (for the Oster Breadmachine) to $209 (for the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme Bread Maker). A happy medium might be the Cuisinart Convection Bread Maker in stainless steel for $129.99.

8. Mini Food Processor

We are a two-food-processor family. I use my mini food processor as much as I use my regular-size one. When you cook light, sauces or spreads sometimes need a little extra help combining, and the food processor always comes through to make everything smooth. You can also use it to chop fresh herbs, nuts, or create breadcrumbs or cookie crumbs. I think I've had my mini food processor for more than 10 years now!

Cost: $39.99 for most mini-prep food processors.

9. Microwave Steamer Container

If you are eating healthy, that means lots of vegetables and fish, right? One of the easiest and most nutritious ways to cook veggies is either in the microwave (sitting in a small amount of water) or in a steamer (where the veggies sit above the water).

This new microwave steamer container lets you have the best of both worlds. You are using the microwave, yet your veggies and fish are sitting above the water and being steamed. Cost: $6.99 for the MicroWare microwave fish & vegetable steamer.

10. Easy Pop Popcorn Maker

Popcorn is considered to be a "whole grain" and when eaten plain is a great source of fiber. Four cups of air-popped pocorn contains 124 calories and 5 grams of fiber. When you make plain popped corn you decide what type and amount of butter, margarine, or toppings you add. No oil is needed to pop the kernels because hot air or the microwave is used.

Cost: $24.99 for Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Hot Air Popper by Presto or $12.99 for Progressive Microware Popcorn Popper.

11. Spice Grinders

One way to add flavor to lighter and lower fat foods is to add some spice! Spice grinders make this a little easier (and a bit more fun). Use spice grinders for dried herbs and some spices and for dried spice medleys. They can even grind your flaxseed for you.

Cost: $14.99 for the Tulip brand Spice Grinder.

12. Silicone Basting Brushes

When you are cooking light, you sometimes need to spread the pan or food lightly with canola or olive oil or melted butter/margarine. That's when a silicone basting brush comes in handy. They also help baste meat and fish. Because the brush part is made from heat resistant silicone, you won't find any wayward bristles in your dish.

Cost: $5.99 for the Dripless Basting Brush with silicone or $6.99 for the OXO Good Grips Silicone Pastry Brush.