How to Cook Healthy in a Tiny Kitchen

Thursday Jan 9 | BY |
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A couple of weeks ago we did a survey that some of you answered. Here’s a question that we received,  which I’d like to answer today:

Can someone please show those of us on a budget and living in tiny quarters, with kitchens the size of closets, how to afford and prepare all this wonderful health food? Just once, I’d like to see a fancy prep demonstration held in a kitchen my size…

That’s a great question!

I must admit that I’m a happy renter. I’ve never purchased any real estate in my life, not because I think there’s anything wrong with it, but because I like the freedom of not owning anything and being able to move whenever I want.

For that reason, and the fact that I’ve lived in many different cities, I have had the chance to experiment with different kitchens. Some were large and modern, and some were extremely small, kind of like the one you’re describing.

When I lived in Costa Rica during the winters of 2008- and 2009, my entire apartment was 450 square feet, so you can imagine the size of my kitchen.

Here are some tips that can help you take advantage of the space you have and make healthy cooking work in small spaces and on a budget:

1) Limit the number of accessories

If you listen to the gurus in the raw food and vegetarian world, you’re supposed to own: a high-speed blender, a crockpot, a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a food processor, a citrus juicer, a coffee grinder, numerous skillets and pots, and an untold number of kitchen tools.

That’s not going to work in a small kitchen. I suggest the following:

– A good blender: It should be good enough to make basic smoothies and grind grains, and whip out dressings. Buy the best you can afford, because you’ll be using it a lot.

– A pressure cooker. You can do almost everything in a pressure cooker. I love the “Instant Pot,” which combines a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a skillet and a slow cooker — and it really works well. If you have limited space, I would get that.

– A few non-stick pots and pans.

– Two cutting boards, and the basic accessories that you need.

Almost every recipe can be done with a blender and a pressure cooker. If you have an electric pressure cooker like an Instant Pot, you could get away with not owning an oven, which would give you extra counter and storing space.

2) Focus your recipes on a few simple, low-cost items.

In my book “How to Eat Well For Under $100 a Month on a Plant-Based Diet,” I showed how it was possible to eat for really cheap by following a few simple rules:

– Never pay more than 99 cents a pound for produce (Mainly mainly shopping at supermarkets and buying their advertised loss-leaders).
– Find a few staples that are healthy and nutritious and cook them from scratch (beans, sweet potatoes and brown rice comes to mind).

Of course, this plan will vary from country to country and you don’t have to follow it strictly. But the idea is that it’s possible to significantly lower your grocery bill.

Beans, cooked from scratch, cost pennies a per serving, and they are extremely nutritious. Dr. Joel Fuhrman even makes them the foundation of a healthy diet.

Beans can be cooked from scratch in very little time using a pressure cooker. For example, take black beans, rinse them (no soaking), cover with water, throw in a few cloves of peeled garlic and a bay leaf or two, and cook under pressure for 20 to 30 minutes, letting the pressure release naturally (timing will depend on the type of pressure cooker you have). And BOOM — you have beans ready to go. Make a batch and keep in the fridge.

3) As soon as you get produce, do something with it. Fruits can take up a lot of space in the kitchen. So, as soon as your fruits are ripe or must be refrigerated, cut them up and keep them in separate containers in the fridge. I personally make a giant fruit salad every 3-4 days. That way, I have fruit always ready to go, and there’s not a ton of fruit ripening on the counters of my small kitchen.

4) Limit the number of spices and condiments. Do you really need that bottle of exotic sherry wine vinegar that you’ve used once for a recipe and never used again? What about those ethiopian Ethiopian spices or preserved lemons that also gather dust in your pantry?

Only buy and keep spices and condiments that get used ALL the time. If a spice is only going to be used once or twice a year in a recipe, get rid of it. Instead, find a substitute from a few basic spices that you love and use over and over again.

If you like flavored vinegars, like fig vinegar, buy one small bottle, and get a new one every other week! You’ll get tired of the flavor and be ready for something new anyway!

5) Keep everything super clean and neat. The smaller your kitchen, the cleaner you must keep it. You must also regularly inventory everything that’s in it, every few months, and ask yourself: do I really need this? Consider gifting or selling unnecessary items (or putting them in storage), and only keeping the basics.

I personally like having a big refrigerator. I don’t know how Europeans manage with their tiny fridges. If space is an issue, get rid of your oven and use the extra space for a bigger fridge and some extra storage and counter space! Everything can be cooked using an electric pressure cooker and if necessary, a counter-top small oven and/or skillet.

Do you have any tips for cooking in small spaces and on a budget? Share them by commenting on this article.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

24 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Suzanne says:

    My husband and I are currently traveling for the next few months in our tiny 24′ motorhome. Aside from having to shop more often for our fruits and greens it is similar to our kitchen at home in our 700sf house. I love it as everything is within an arm’s reach. The Vita-Mix always comes with us and we do have a toaster oven as well as a microwave (never use). I compartmentalize a lot by putting foods in plastic dishpans, so all I have to do is pull the tub out of the cupboard and look for what I need in there. I shop with those green plastic bags when choosing my greens, so all I have to do is put in frig without transferring bags/containers. (Those are the bags that keep vegies fresh longer.) My supplements all go in plastic tub also to just be pulled out. I write on the top of the lid what each is, making it easier to find instantly what I need. Dishes are kept simple. We have 2 dinner plates, but end up using the oversized Corelle soup bowls for almost every meal. One drinking glass for each, a couple of mugs, 3 pots, 2 frying pans.

  2. I love that you mention the pressure cooker and especially the Instant Pot which is so versatile. I have a pressure cooking cookbook and have also helped people change their lives through eating whole food.

    Now I am wondering how much I spend on food each month. I consider food a necessity and buy “real” food and cook it.

    Even though I use a pressure cooker, I still soak my beans because I find them more digestible, soaking uses NO energy and the beans cook in about one third of the time of the unsoaked beans.

    Thanks for this post.

  3. I love using my magnetic containers on the frig for spices and numerous other thincs that I use frequently

  4. Joe says:

    I have wanted a non-stick pan for years, but was concerned that they weren’t safe. Could you please address this? It might be better in a separate article/post so more people would see it. TIA

    • t says:

      Non-stick is not healthy, on the contrary.
      Not only does the teflon scratch off and sticks to the food, but teflon also emits toxic gas at cooking temperatures. This gas kills birds within 15 minutes.

  5. 1) use wire mesh tri-level baskets that can hang on a ceiling hook and a chain to hold potatoes, onions, fruits and veggies like avocados without taking up counter space.
    2) use the inside of cabinet doors for a spice rack or plastic-baggies-holder or towel hooks to save drawer space.
    3) attach Knives with magnet to thin, oval, wooden block (item sold in kitchen stores ). it can be mounted on (out)side of cupboard by sink to save drawer space.
    4) hang paper towel holder under cupboard to save counter space
    5) use hanging cup hooks for tea and coffee mugs to increase cupboard space. They are shaped like a question mark and screw into underside of a shelf.

  6. Gerry says:

    I have a very small kitchen, too, and after remodeling mine I realized that I could have benefitted by only installing a cooktop (more optional counter space) and a convection-microwave combination instead of an entire stove. I have a microwave-convection oven combination and that is all I really need. I seldom cook for more than two or three and the smaller oven is just fine. I very very seldom use my large oven and wish I had that space for additional drawers or shelves to store dishtowels, appliances, use as a staple pantry, etc.

  7. Susanne says:

    Non Stick Pans! Oh the horror of it! See Mercola for insights on this issue. Produce under 99 cents….not in
    New England and organic! Pesticides made from nerve gas and other chemicals which mess with estrogen…..
    yikes. You hit my hot spot! Otherwise you are great, you have good ideas. I have all those kitchen items
    cuz my kitchen is large….I feel a bit embarrassed….nah….i love the gadgets. Keep up the good work! Love you.

  8. Liam Vogel says:

    Great post, Patrick! I live in a trailer and have VERY little space. I also rely on the Instant Pot (LOVE IT!!!). I have no oven and just a small fridge, but I sure WISH I could fit a bigger one. I agree with most of what you wrote, but would strongly add the word ORGANIC in front of all the veggies and fruits you mentioned (http://www.upinspire.com/inspire/555/this-3rd-grader-shocked-everyo). My other suggestion is in regards to the non-stick pans. My girlfriend and I have been looking for a couple of years for some non-TOXIC non-stick pans, still to no avail. I use only a ceramic coated pot, no oil, no butter, etc. and I NEVER have a problem with food sticking. I long ago stopped thinking about food sticking. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!
    Love,
    Liam

    • Liam Vogel says:

      Apologies, Frederick! I just noticed that I called you Patrick! Please feel free to correct it!
      Love,
      Liam

  9. Yvonne says:

    Beans, peas and lentils, also nuts and seeds, SHOULD be soaked to remove their enzyme inhibitors which otherwise prevent nutrient absorption in the digestive tract and lead in the long term to malnutrition and diseases.

    • Not so fast… I soak most beans but small beans like black beans don’t need to be soaked. As long as they are cooked thoroughly, those enzyme inhibitors are not a problem. Millions of people cook black beans every day without soaking them.

  10. Agnes says:

    Great question! and even better answers.
    Wish I had this article when I was starting out.
    Over the years I’ve had to work out many of the ideas mentioned.

    I too struggled with ‘kitchen real estate’ issues, to the extent that my Vitamix remained in the attic for over a year until I’d mastered the recipes and what worked for me. At that stage I could then bulk up my food preparations and only then felt the Vitamix justified the space it took up along with all the other gadgets.

    Particularly interested in the pressure cooker aspect.
    Frederic, In your travels have you come across the Instant Pot in UK/ Europe
    or a similar good quality brand?

    My guilty pleasure is buying teas and different types of salts rather than lots of other spices.
    I’ll get it organised and under control, then in a month or two later I’ll find I can’t resist buying again 😉 – does anyone else experience that?

    TIP: One thing that did help was using an area’s full height. Invested in mid height separate freestanding fridge and freezer and then used the top to hold less frequently used bulky but light weight items that would stack well. Also, bought an open rack system that was on wheels/castors which is useful for hanging things from and stacking plates/cups/jars or anything that is not light sensitive and is used frequently. That way I can keep cupboards for items that need to be kept in the dark/away from light.

    Think about what you currently use most and what you would like to be able to do in future.
    Best to plan it out or do a mini redesign of your kitchen area on paper and prioritise one area at a time.
    Then if you ever have a procrastination moment you can just tackle one drawer or one cupboard of the overall plan. Works wonders!

  11. IH says:

    Very good tips Frederic. I grew up in Europe and lived for 8 years in a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen. How do Europeans manage with their tiny fridges? Well, I guess the globe trotter you are you should know that by now: we have stores and markets for fresh produce on every corner of the street 😉 I never thought about what I was going to eat the next day. I just would walk into a fresh produce store (I had 3 within a 5 minute walk) and make up my mind then. Now I have to “think” to much about food and after living 14 years in North America I’m still not used to that

  12. IH says:

    Just forgot to mention that I through out a long time ago all my non-stick pans. And I was wondering if you could address the issue of safe cookware. I have been wanting to invest in a crock pot but can’t myself get to do it because of the bad rep they have.( lead and such) What’s the sense of bullet proof yourself against all kinds of chemicals (as some articles on this blog do) if you get it through your cookware?

  13. Buz Caaldwell says:

    LOVE IT … at several points in my 63+ year life I have lived with and dealt with a Tiny Kitchen. In the LAST house I intend to build while occupying this particular body … I will quite intentionally build a Tiny Kitchen, as I am very comfortable with cooking and creating in such an environment !! Wasted space is simply arrogantly wasted space. Case closed !!

  14. I agree with Frederic, that we are subjected to way too many gadgets. It’s lovely to have a large open kitchen with everything at your fingertips, but unless you are doing classes and cooking demonstrations, size is not important. This past year was spent traveling through Southern Arizona and living in a tent. And even though my Vita Mix, Cuisinart and Dehydrator where in my car, what was most valuable to me was a quality Chef knife and serrated ceramic knife, a bamboo cutting board, 2 sizes of microplanes, a mini mandoline by Kyocera, a vegetable peeler, a nut milk bag and a lightweight wooden salad bowl. Now that I am renting a space, I have the luxury of a stove and electricity which prompted the purchase of a Caphalon pot, which I use for everything, cooking legumes, beans and sauteing. A pressure cooker would also give you that flexibility as well and you can prepare items much faster while retaining the nutrients. Keeping it simple is key. If you buy fresh quality ingredients, it is their flavor that will shine through in whatever you prepare. A simple pot of beans can be stretched through the week as a soup or used with a tortilla accompanied with avocado, cabbage, radish, jalapeno, lime, tomato, in addition to adding to shredded cabbage or quinoa to create a main dish salad. In colder months I tend to use lentils, garbanzo and black beans as my basic ingredient and add an assortment of fresh uncooked vegetables in a variety of ways to change it up. As for seasonings, select those that represent the flavors you most enjoy. For me it’s cumin, Ceylon cinnamon, cardamon, a curry blend, a mix of dried chiles, bay leaves, fresh black pepper and Himalayan or Celtic salt. If you feel stuck on what or how to prepare food, search in your area for meetup groups such as Vegan, Vegetarian or Omnivore that offer get togethers or look for cooking class events. So it’s about experimenting and learning to eat more simply in regards to ingredients and preparation styles. And even though I can now run my Vita Mix, I often miss the wonderful meals I prepared while living in a tent!

  15. Your list of things to have in the small kitchen includes a few “non stick” pots and pans. Everything I’ve read tells me NOT to use non stick pots and pans because of the chemicals released from the coating during the heating/cooking process. Please explain why you encourage people to use them and most all other “healthy” cooking gurus discourage it.

  16. Elijaray says:

    Fantastic article, enjoyable reading, thank you! You’ve inspired me to clean my kitchen (and keep it neat, yeah right.) Is keeping it clean a fantasy (I’m prone to confuse fantasy with reality sometimes). It’s an ideal worth striving for, I know that. (I cook for three people most of the time). It’s also interesting that you don’t pay more than a dollar a pound for fruit. I’ve cringed watching the prices go progressive up and up and but bite the bullet and splurge for certain organic fruit. I’m glad I opted for a larger fridge and no dishwasher when I had the chance. Best wishes.

  17. B. Salisbury says:

    I have a ridiculously small kitchen with VERY little bench space so when serving food on plates, I create new ‘levels’ ‘by placing some plates on top of other kitchen items such as the toaster or a large storage jar. Another ‘handy-hint’ in the kitchen is to clean, chop and store in containers, regularly used vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, spinach, capsicum, lettuce. This way, when you want to make a quick but nutritious breakfast/snack (e.g. omelettes, scrambled eggs) the ingredients are at hand.

  18. adeline says:

    no need to have additional pots , just use the bottom of the pressure cooker ( get a multi function lid ) , and a all purpose pan .

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