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As a mom of four kids under the age of 3 (yep, you read that right!), l attract a lot of unwanted attention. I’m frequently fielding questions along the lines of, “How do you do it?!” To quote an old, cliché saying: It takes a village. And that doesn’t just mean help from other people. I’ve found that, with this many kids at my feet, picking—and sometimes splurging on—the right products is absolutely necessary to running an even somewhat functional household. We’ve got all kinds of baby gear in the house, but I also have a kitchen full of appliances and accessories that help me get food on the table for all three meals a day, at least six days a week.
Here are the best meal prep tools I rely on to get the job done.
Best Immersion Blender: Kitchen Aid 2-Speed Hand Blender
Easy to operate
Comes in lots of fun colors
I’ve had this immersion blender for years and have relied on it to make plenty of soups, but I really started to reach for it three years ago when my eldest was old enough to start solids. While there are plenty of baby food makers on the market, the vast majority are much more expensive than this immersion blender and—frankly—aren’t any better. Sure, some steam the food right in the same container you puree the food in, but that’s essentially what I do with this immersion blender. I simply steam cubed food in my All-Clad pot and then use this stick blender to puree it in an instant.
I love that the canister it comes with is tall, so it holds plenty and doesn’t splatter when I blend the food. And a simple two-speed operation is all I need to get the job done. In fact, I think it’s easier than fumbling with different settings when you’re in a hurry. Similarly, some may say the lack of accessories is a con, but I’ve never missed the additional parts and am glad to have fewer items to store and keep track of.
Lastly, as any parent-friendly gadget should be, the blender attachment and the canister are both dishwasher safe.
Weight: 2 pounds | Material: Stainless steel | Dimensions (DxWxH): 2.5 x 2.5 x 16 inches
Best Slow Cooker: Hamilton Beach Portable 6-Quart Set & Forget Digital Programmable Slow Cooker With Temperature Probe
Keep warm functionality
Hard to store
I never got on the Instant Pot bandwagon, but I do have a soft spot for my slow cooker, especially in the winter. (I’m sure it will also come in handy when I have four kids eating full meals!) On days where we’re a little too busy, the slow cooker helps me cook everything from pulled pork, to lasagna, to beef stew. I love that you can simply set it and forget it—so much so that you can safely leave the house while dinner cooks.
I like this particular model because you can set it on a desired cooking time or use the temperature probe, so the machine turns off once the food reaches a certain temperature. The 6-quart capacity, dishwasher-safe crock is exactly what I need for my large family, too. And, as a bonus, the lid clips down, so that we can take the slow cooker to potlucks or sporting events (yes, we do sometimes manage to get everyone out of the house!).
Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.25 x 17.5 x 11.75 inches | Capacity: 6 quarts | Material: Stainless steel | Weight: 14.75 pounds
Best Storage Containers: Rubbermaid Brilliance Storage 14-Piece Food Storage Set
Variety of sizes
Microwave-, dishwasher-, and freezer-safe
Lids don’t nest well in storage because of the clips
Despite the number of mouths I have to feed, I inevitably end up with leftovers from time to time—like when a toddler suddenly decides they don’t like macaroni and cheese anymore. I also tend to prep roasted veggies for my own lunches at the beginning of the week to save time each day. In either case, these storage containers come in handy.
I love how thick and durable they are, so I don’t have to worry about putting hot food into them. They’re also microwave-, freezer-, and dishwasher-safe—a must for storage containers. I can pop food in the microwave without transferring, save extra cuts of meat for a rainy day, and toss the container in the dishwasher when done. (Note: Even the lids are dishwasher-safe, which is a claim many other containers can’t make.)
I’ve never had a problem with anything leaking, either, since each lid has a secure latch that keeps everything airtight.
Includes: (2) 0.5 cup containers, (2) 1.3 cup containers, (2) 3.2 cup containers, and (1) 9.6 cup container, plus lids | Material: BPA-free plastic
Best Sheet Pan: Chicago Metallic Commercial II Sheet Pan
If you could see my sheet pan, you’d know just how much use it gets. The color no longer looks anything like it does in the picture—it’s darkened with age and usage, but it functions just as well, if not better now.
I have two of these sheet pans and use at least one on a daily basis for everything from roasting veggies for lunch and dinner, to baking chicken fingers and tater tots for the kids, to cooking cuts of meat like ribs wrapped in aluminum foil, to making cookies. These pans are true kitchen workhorses, and I don’t know where I’d be without them.
If there’s any downside, it’s that they don’t fit well in my sink (even though it’s on the large side), so cleaning isn’t as easy as it could be. (Note: They’re technically dishwasher safe, but they’d never fit in my dishwasher; plus hand-washing is recommended.) Still, I reach for these pans over and over again.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 16.75 x 12 x 1.25 inches | Weight: 4.66 pounds | Material: Steel
Best Blender: Vitamix A2300 Ascent Series Professional-Grade Smart Blender
Hard to store
This was a purchase I really labored over. After all, there’s no denying it’s an investment piece. But I finally bit the bullet when my son started asking for smoothies on a daily basis because I got sick of stopping and starting my less-powerful blender over and over again. The Vitamix does just what it’s supposed to: It whirs frozen fruit into a drinkable smoothie in less than a minute, making breakfast prep so much easier for me.
Believe it or not, this Vitamix isn’t the most premium in the line, but I find that it does the job extremely well. I also love that it’s not too complicated to use because there are only a handful of settings. The timer is helpful, too, since I can spot it across the room and have come to learn just how long it takes to make a chunk-free smoothie.
Capacity: 64 ounces | Dimensions (LxWxH): 11 x 8 x 17 inches | Weight: 12 pounds | Wattage: 1500W
Best Food Processor: Cuisinart FP-8GMP1 Elemental 8-Cup Food Processor
Easy to use
Comes with chopping attachments
Difficult to store
There’s no denying that chopping can take up precious time, which is why I find myself reaching for my food processor on a regular basis. In addition to whipping up sauces like pesto and salad dressing, I often use the food processor’s cutting attachments to shred carrots (great for hiding in pasta sauce!), slice onions, and chop up herbs.
I love this particular model because it’s not quite as big and bulky as some others, but it still has a large enough capacity to meet the demands of a six-person family. It also has plenty of functionality, including three processing speeds: high, low, and pulse.
And, like everything I love the most, all of the removable parts are dishwasher safe.
Capacity: 8 cups | Dimensions (DxWxH): 7.75 x 9.5 x 15.25 inches | Weight: 6 pounds | Wattage: 350W | Material: BPA-free plastic
Best Lunch Box: Bentgo Kids Chill Lunch Box
Exterior isn't dishwasher safe
Compartments can sometimes be limiting
The key to getting out of the house on time on school days? Packing lunch the night before. These compartmentalized lunch boxes take the pressure off when I’m making lunch since I can include a wide variety of foods (increasing the chance picky toddlers will eat something!). I typically have veggie-loaded meatballs in one of my storage containers in the freezer, so I often reach for a few of those, a cheese stick, a fruit leather, and some fresh fruit or crackers. Then, I clip the lunch box shut, pop it in the fridge, and pull it out in the morning just before we dash out the door.
Though the company makes a few different types, I particularly like this version because the compartments are a little bit larger, and it comes with an ice pack insert—great for days when I include items like those meatballs or a yogurt pouch.
Dimensions (DxWxH): 9 x 6.25 x 2 inches | Weight: 1.25 pounds | Material: BPA-free PP plastic, ABS plastic, and TPE
Best Knives: Misen Essentials Knife Set
Set of three
Not dishwasher safe
A good set of knives is the foundation of almost all meal prep, and I love this three-piece set. They’re nice and sharp—essential for safety—and feel nice and heavy in the hand. The chef’s knife is my go-to for just about everything, but I also find myself reaching for the paring knife when cutting the kids’ fruit, especially since they typically like their fruit peeled. The serrated knife doesn’t get used nearly as often, but it is nice to have for cutting bagels and the occasional loaf of French bread. It also comes in handy for tougher-to-cut fruit, like watermelon.
Unfortunately, these knives aren’t dishwasher safe (most aren’t!), but I’ve always put them in the dishwasher anyway and have never had a problem.
Includes: Chef’s knife, serrated knife, paring knife | Material: Japanese steel
Best Ice Pop Molds: Tovolo Groovy Pop Molds
Has drip guards
Requires a lot of freezer space
My older children inevitably ask for dessert, so I make sure to always have homemade ice pops on hand. I much prefer having control over the ingredients unlike with store-bought alternatives, and they’re cheaper. They’re also a great way to make use of overripe fruit, fruit the kids reject for one reason or another, and leftover smoothie.
I simply pour the leftover smoothie or blend a combination of fruit and a touch of honey, then pour them into this stand-up popsicle mold and place it in our basement freezer. The ice pop releases easily—especially when you run it under a touch of warm water—and both the cover and the stick are dishwasher safe.
Dimensions (LxWxH): 8 x 5 x 7 inches | Weight: 1.54 Pounds | Material: Plastic
If I had to choose one standout meal prep tool, it would be the Rubbermaid Brilliance 14-Piece Set of storage containers (view at Amazon). I use these containers every single day, without fail. For a splurge that's truly worth it, go for the Vitamix A2300 Ascent Series Professional-Grade Smart Blender (view at Amazon).
What to Look For in Meal Prep Tools
This has to be my number one. I simply don’t have time to hand-wash everything, so having dishwasher-safe products is a must to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.
I have more storage space now, but it’s amazing how quickly it fills up. I always look for products that—even if large—can tackle multiple tasks.
Ease of Use
Sometimes, simpler is better—especially in the case of a busy parent. I don’t want to spend time reading instruction manuals about how to properly use something. Instead, I prefer more basic and intuitive machines that still get the job done.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This article was written by Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer with a culinary degree from The French Culinary Institute who has spent the last 10-plus years researching the best home goods and kitchen items for various digital publications. Brigitt also frequently contributes to parenting sites like What to Expect, plus has four of her own children—all under the age of 3.5. Still, Brigitt manages to cook nearly all meals at home using all of the above meal prep tools.