Keeping a kitchen frugal and efficient means you have everything you need to make good food and a few things you want.
During our early marriage, my husband and I did a lot of apartment hopping. We lived super minimally, working up to a long-term goal. Doing subleases and 3-month stints were what worked for us. It was actually awesome.
As a result, my entire kitchen could fit in a box. Whenever we moved, I dumped everything into a plastic bin that fit in the back seat of our Saturn. Making good, frugal food from scratch was a priority to me back then, and it helped us save a ton of money towards our big goals – one of which was not starving, the other was to eat fairly healthy.
Here are all the very basic tools that will help you do the same.
If you’re outfitting your kitchen for the first time or simply trying to figure out what you actually need, this is a minimalist list for your kitchen. With these tools, you can make plenty of from-scratch foods to help you save money and eat healthy.
This collection grew slowly. I put up with a lot of cheap, subpar kitchen equipment that did the job just fine until I was able to invest in quality I could keep forever. On the other hand, a lot of inexpensive kitchenware works great. I linked to products I thought would be helpful, but always do what you think is best.
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If you want to know what I would pack in a second kitchen box – tools that make food prep faster, easier, and more fun – check it out here.
1 big (8-inch) knife
1 serrated bread knife
1 small paring knife (I don’t have a good one yet – I make due with a small collection of hand-me-down steak knives and a y-blade vegetable peeler)
I don’t have a lot of experience with different types of cutting boards, because the small bamboo board (this is not my exact one, but similar) I got almost 10 years ago is still going strong. It’s small – only 12×9 inches, but it’s perfect. I keep thinking I’ll want to get another one someday or a bigger one. However, that day hasn’t come. (See background of knives and photo below – that’s my cutting board.)
One 10-inch skillet with a lid
Cast iron or stainless steel is the way to go here. It cooks beautifully, lasts forever, you can use it on the stove top or in the oven, and it will never, ever flake bits of teflon into your food.
One small nonstick or stainless steel skillet with a lid
For heating small amounts of food and for making omelets, if that’s your thing. Nonstick is easier for making omelets and crepes. Stainless steel lasts longer.
One 4-quart pot with a lid
I love stainless steel here. I’m not linking to anything because I’m not brand loyal at this point. My pot was from the thrift store, and it’s awesome.
There are 2 tricks to cooking with stainless steel over nonstick pans:
- Make sure you invest in pans with a thick, heavy bottom, as they will heat evenly and won’t burn as easily.
- They retain heat extremely well. After your pan heats up, turn down the temperature or it will burn whatever you’re cooking.
When you inevitably burn something the first few times you use it, let the pan soak overnight with warm soapy water. If that doesn’t work, sprinkle the burned food with a little water and baking soda. Let it sit for a few minutes or hours. Scrub it up. Should come away no problem.
On that note, these Pampered Chef pan scrapers are the best kitchen cleaning tool. I’ve been using the same one for 5 years and it shows no sign of wear.
One small pot with a lid
For heating small amounts of food. Stainless steel is best.
One 9-by-13-inch baking pan
I love glass here, specifically the Pyrex pans with lids. Saves me from using plastic wrap (not good for the environment or budget) when I bring a dish to friend’s house or when I’m covering leftovers at night. Pyrex glass is also extremely durable and lasts forever – or for at least 8 years if I’m only speaking from experience.
Two 13-by-18-inch sheet pans
Stoneware or sturdy stainless steel are excellent investments – durable, even heating, easy to maintain. I prefer stoneware but have yet to upgrade my wedding gift baking sheets.
A set of mixing bowls
A bowl is a bowl. BUT I swear by the glass Pyrex mixing bowls with lids. Glass bowls mean they are easy to clean and always pretty. Pyrex means they are durable even though they are glass. Lids mean you can bring them places easily, store them in the fridge, and virtually eliminate your need to ever buy plastic wrap. WIN.
BONUS TIP: If you make sourdough or kombucha, glass bowls are perfect because they are non-reactive.
I only keep 1-2 on hand. Since they normally come in packs of 3,000, I just stash the rest somewhere else and keep a few out until they break.
Not to be confused with a spatula, which I thought was one and the same for the first 20 years of my life. In general, I like OXO brand for affordable but sturdy kitchen tools like this.
One metal whisk
Some things you can get by stirring with a fork, other food needs a whisk. Get a whisk.
A pair of sturdy metal tongs
I use these for salads and flipping food while it cooks. SO versatile, handy, and you don’t know how much you need it until you actually have it. I like having two so that I can use one set for the meat while it’s raw and gross, and after it’s cooked I can use the other without needing to wash it in between.
Also, I prefer the kind without a hinge – the hinge can snag your skin so it gets stuck and makes you want to kick something. Ask me how I know.
I like my metal ones because they look legit and last forever.
Again, stainless steel lasts and is cute. My prerequisite to most things – including my choice in a spouse.
Liquid measuring cup
Someone gave me two Pampered Chef batter bowls with lids (8-cup and 4-cup), and they rock. I use them interchangeably as measuring cups, mixing bowls, and to store leftovers. You can even bake in them. Extremely versatile and handy.
However, my very close second favorite and less expensive option is OXO’s angled measuring cup. Makes accurate measuring quick and easy. If a batter bowl and an angled measuring cup had a baby, I would adopt it.
Dishtowels & Washcloths
Of course, you need a few of these. Try to keep at least 4 of each of each so you don’t end up drying dishes with paper towels.
2 Pot Holders
Not one, but TWO pot holders so you don’t burn your hand trying to lift that cake out of the oven… trust me.
Cute picture for Pinterest. Pinning is my love language: