Chances are, you've got at least a half-dozen items in your kitchen you never use. I'd ask you to name them, but you've become such an expert at pretending they're not there that you'd probably draw a blank. Yes, I'm referring to that pasta maker you bought for that party three years ago and haven't touched since. It's right there next to the fondue pot.

The worst part is that these items are simply collecting dust in the back of your cabinets. That's precious space where you could be storing an additional tub of protein powder!

When convenience and health are at a premium, it pays immensely to have versatile cooking equipment on hand every day. Here are four kitchen tools you need to own right now. Buy these, and they'll make your meals easier, healthier, and even tastier!

1. Bamboo Steamer

Can't stomach raw kale or broccoli, but don't want to cook the nutrients out of them? Get yourself a bamboo steamer! Unlike vitamin-zapping methods such as boiling, braising, and searing, steaming minimizes nutrient loss while helping fruits and vegetables maintain their fresh flavors, bright colors, and unique textures.

There's no need to shell out extra cash for a pricey electric steamer when a more affordable bamboo steamer works just as well. The slotted, stackable trays of a bamboo steamer allow for multiple parts of a meal to steam at the same time, streamlining both meal prep and clean-up.

So you could place a fish fillet on the bottom tray and your veggies on the top. In fact, steaming removes dry heat exposure altogether, which means you're at less risk of having to gum through dry chicken breast and tilapia, and can instead enjoy a moist cut of protein. And by allowing you to scale back the need for cooking oils, steaming can shave off some calories from your meals.

The slotted, stackable trays of a bamboo steamer allow for multiple parts of a meal to steam at the same time, streamlining both meal prep and clean-up.

How To Use It: Using a bamboo steamer couldn't be simpler. Simply fill a pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Make sure you put enough so that pot doesn't run out, though! Then, place the bamboo trays containing your food on top of the pot, secure the lid, and reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer.

To reduce sticking and the risk of flavors penetrating into the bamboo, place items like fish on a layer of parchment paper. To clean the steamer, simply soak in warm water using as little dish soap as possible.

2. Cast-Iron Skillet

The gym floor isn't the only place you should consider lifting some iron. Grab hold of a timeless cast-iron skillet when it's time to rustle up your next meal. A cast-iron skillet has the capacity to generate high heat and retain it, too. This characteristic makes it especially convenient for searing protein-packed items like beef and pork—try whole chicken as well—and then finishing them in the oven.

The high straight sides of a cast-iron skillet are also great for making dishes like stir-fry, frittatas, roasted vegetables, cornbread, and even DIY deep-dish pizza. Like a culinary Swiss Army knife, cast-iron skillets can go from stovetop, to oven, to dinner table, no sweat.

Plus, cooking with a cast-iron skillet will further infuse your food with essential iron! Yes, you read that correctly. Iron from the pan itself actually leaches out into your food to further boost iron levels. Further adding to the laundry list of reasons to own a cast-iron skillet is the fact that a seasoned skillet—one that has been coated to prevent rust and wear—is a perfect nonstick option for cooking delicate items such as scrambled eggs, fish, or a batch of perfectly browned pancakes.

Cooking with a cast-iron skillet can boost the iron content of your meal.

How To Season Your Skillet: Most store-bought cast-iron skillets now come conveniently pre-seasoned, meaning they're nonstick. But if you've rescued one from a garage sale or your grandma's attic and you notice an eroded finish or rust, you can take matters into your own hands and reseason it.

Simply rub it with a thin layer of vegetable oil or even reserved bacon fat inside and out, and place in an oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit upside-down on the metal rack for an hour. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack below the skillet to catch any dripping oil that could smoke out your kitchen. After an hour, turn off the heat and let the pan cool in the oven.

To preserve the pan's nonstick searing power, wash after use by hand—never in a dishwasher!— with warm water and a mild detergent. Then spread on a light coating of oil. With a little love, a cast-iron skillet only gets better with age.

3. Zester

A common struggle for physique-minded individuals is breaking out of the monotony of flavorless chicken and bland fish. Sure, you can simply add your favorite barbecue sauce or oil-based dressing, but there's a simpler way to boost flavor without adding a deluge of sugary or fatty calories: Use a zester. This one-of-a-kind kitchen tool will help you to effortlessly infuse flavor into a variety of your meals. It is equipped with tiny razor-edge holes that allow you finely grate foods to ultimately disperse flavor in a multitude of ways.

This one-of-a-kind kitchen tool will help you to effortlessly infuse flavor into a variety of your meals.

How To Use It: Rub it across the surface of citrus fruits like lemon, lime, or orange, and use the resulting shreds of zest to instantly brighten up oatmeal, plain Greek yogurt, protein shakes, pancakes, soups, salad dressings, and sauces with virtually zero calories. Zesting or shaving hard cheeses, whole garlic cloves, fresh ginger, horseradish root, or bars of dark chocolate can add flavor to your other favorite foods.

Pro tip: You can even use the zest of hot peppers in sour cream or yogurt. Use them as a topping for tacos, chili, or whatever else needs it.

4. Food Processor

You may ask yourself: "I've already got a blender, so why the heck would I want to also invest in a food processor?" While a blender can do a marvelous job at whipping up post-workout protein shakes and pureed soups, most of them struggle when nut or seeds are involved or liquids are limited.

A food processor, on the other hand, makes quick work of hard foods, meaning it can often replicate the work of a sharp chef's knife during high-volume meal prep. So next time you need a rough chop of multiple peppers, onions, and garlic for your DIY salsa or omelet, save time by simply throwing each into the food processor. And if you want to embrace the trend among athletes to make some of your own energy bars out of pulverized whole dried fruits and nuts, a food processor is what you need to get the job done.

A food processor is a versatile tool that can help you perfect dips, nut butters, hummus and more!

How To Use It: Many machines come with slicing and shredding blades that can make quick work of whatever you choose to throw in there. If you're going to need yours to handle big jobs, invest in a machine that has a powerful motor. Soon enough, it will become your go-to tool for preparing pesto, hummus and other dips, DIY nut butters, and even grinding your own meat for burgers and meatloaf.

About the Author

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MSc., is a registered dietitian based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He works full-time as a freelance nutrition writer...

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