For years I always knew Christmas must be getting close when I saw my first SaladShooter commercial on television. Oh sure, there are other products that show up on the little screen only at Christmastime—Chia Pets and The Clapper come to mind, but I’m a kitchen gadget junkie so that’s what catches my attention. I’ve never actually owned a SaladShooter though. That’s just one of those presents that I figured would end up in the graveyard of space-consuming, too-much-of-a-hassle-to-get-out-and-clean- afterwards appliances that has grown in my basement (believe it or not, there’s a hot dog toaster interred there now). That’s not to say there aren’t some really useful kitchen gadgets out there for gift giving be it Christmas or any other time of year. Here are five of my favorites—at all different price points, and I can personally vouch for their usefulness.
1. The Produce Saver Bag by Healthy Steps
Like I said, I’m a kitchen gadget junkie and I came across a set of these bags one day at Tuesday Morning. As the grocery shopper and cook of a household of three, I’d always struggled with choosing the lesser of two evils: buying large bags of onions or potatoes for the lowest per pound cost but throwing away some because they spoiled before we used them all, or buying individual items at the highest unit price and perhaps needing to make special trips because I’ve run out. Now I just store onions and potatoes in my Saver bags. I’ve never had an onion go soft or sprout – even when I misplaced the bag for several weeks. There’s still a limited shelf life on the potatoes and sprouting but it’s much longer than before and the dark bags keep them from developing that green tinge.
Why It’s on the List: There’s are few things more frustrating to this frugal mama than having to throw “cash in the trash” because the produce I’ve bought has gone bad or started to sprout.
2. A Potato Bag
Since we’re on the subject of potatoes anyway, let me tell you about a super kitchen gadget I found at a craft show of all places! Alongside handmade shopping bag holders and tea cozies, this crafter was selling potato bags with instructions on using them in the microwave to cook potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn on the cob. I’d been using a plastic steamer for my microwaved potatoes, but they never had the right texture. Now they come out with the mouth feel of a real baked potato. I’ve also found these bags to be great for reheating rolls and homemade pretzels without them hardening post- microwave.
Why It’s on the List: This is a gift you could make yourself in bulk (think teachers, neighbors, co-workers) and the materials aren’t very expensive –100% cotton thread, fabric, and batting. Just try Googling Potato Bag pattern. There’s also energy savings by using the microwave vs. the oven and saving on utilities by not heating up the kitchen in the summer.
3. A Popcorn Popper
When my Schnickelfritz was only three, I brought home a Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper I’d found on clearance. I figured, and I was right, that he’d love watching the kernels ricochet around the clear dome/bowl. It’s now the snack of choice in our home on movie nights and several times during the week. You’re not limited to butter and salt for seasoning either. You can find great recipes for sweet and savory alternatives online.
Why It’s on the List: When purchased in bulk (like Sam’s Club), popcorn can be one of the cheapest snacks that will still satisfy the salty/crunchy desires of my heart. My Stir Crazy makes about 6 quarts of popped corn at a time—about as much as a bag of chips, but for FAR less money. Take a look at my calculations from my last bulk purchase.
4. A Yonanas Machine
I’ll confess, this purchase was my gadget addiction run amok but now that it’s been in my house all summer I’ve not been sorry one instant for my Yonanas machine. When temps soared over 100 and my son and I needed a cool treat, we would grab some frozen bananas and other fruit and have a soft serve ice cream-like snack in minutes! Strawberries and bananas is my son’s favorite. I liked mango with mine, or even blueberries and cinnamon. And there wasn’t any guilt in eating it as often as we wanted because IT WAS JUST FRUIT! (There are more decadent recipes out there with crumbled up cookies and candy bars if that’s your thing).
Why It’s on the List: I can still make a case that this is a frugal kitchen tool because we weren’t running to Dairy Queen all summer. We’d buy berries in season (cheapest price) and freeze them for later. You also don’t have to throw away overripe bananas because that’s the stage that makes the best treats. You may even be able to buy spotted bananas at a deep discount at the grocery. And I’m going to give Yonanas bonus points because it helps me get more fruit into my kid’s diet.
5. A Pressure Cooker
This is going to be the most expense upfront purchase of the list, but you’ll be saving money in the end. I’ve owned and upgraded through three pressure cookers in the dozen years I’ve been married. I’m getting my biggest one yet this Christmas and passing my current one on to my mother this year, along with lessons on how to use it. Mom’s from the era that remembers someone exploding split pea soup on the kitchen ceiling, but the modern electric pressure cooker has multiple safety features. If a pressure cooker is beyond your budget right now than consider its slower cousin – the crockpot. You’ll just need to be more organized to start cooking earlier in the day because you’ll need hours not minutes.
Why It’s on the List: Obviously eating at home is cheaper than eating out. If you can’t or forget to start dinner until the last minute there’s no need to resort to a trip to the drive thru. There’s lots of meals can be cooked in under 15 minutes—faster than any pizza can be delivered. You’ll also have energy savings in not using the oven for hours or heating up the kitchen. Pressure cookers (and slow cookers) also tenderize the tougher (and therefore cheaper) cuts of meat so you’ll save on groceries.