When we look at the many ways that COVID-19 has impacted our homes and lives, cooking and nutrition have to be included. “Since the start of the pandemic, virtually all appliances have been relied on to keep families nourished and healthy,” observes Jill Notini, vice president and industry spokesperson for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
Notini sees this trend enduring well after Covid has been conquered. “AHAM consumer research of more than 4,000 U.S. households found that preparing food at home was the top-cited activity that will continue after the pandemic.” More than three in 10 respondents purchased small appliances since the first shutdowns last year, she reports.
At that time, many busy professionals and parents who relied heavily on restaurants to help provide drinks and meals had to find home-based solutions. Those included tools like coffee makers, air fryers, slow cookers, toaster ovens, blenders and pressure cookers to make their favorite items at home. Survey respondents told the trade group that they are cooking healthier foods, checking out new ingredients and trying new recipes. (The pandemic also made adults aware that obesity could impact their susceptibility to this serious new health challenge, so healthy meal prep became more of an imperative than an ideal.)
One of the challenges homeowners and professionals alike have faced in the last year and a half has been a shortage of full-sized appliances; it’s still a constant complaint among designers in social media industry groups. There are numerous reasons for these availability issues, but a net result has been difficulty for homeowners who need to replace refrigerators, ranges and other major appliances that broke down during the pandemic.
Small appliances have been helpmates during this time. While the oven isn’t working, a countertop convection oven or multi-cooker can stand in. If the cooktop fails, a portable induction burner and electric grill can do its job.
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Healthy Eating and Small Appliances
Linda Shiue, MD is culinary medicine director for Kaiser Permanente, as well as a professionally-trained chef and the author of Spicebox Kitchen (Hachette Books). She teaches Kaiser members how to cook healthy meals in her Thrive Kitchen classes and appreciates the potential for small appliances in healthy meal preparation.
Shiue’s three favorites, she shares, are small food processors, high speed blenders and electric coffee/spice grinders. The food processor can help make healthy dishes like pesto, she notes, and it can chop ingredients like nuts. The high speed blender makes smoothies, sauces and pureed soups. The grinder can be used for seasonings or coffee beans. All have powerful claims to counter space in a health-centered kitchen.
Placing Small Appliances in a Kitchen
Finding that space in a busy kitchen – especially one that’s multi-tasking as virtual home office or study center – can be a challenge. While they don’t share the installation requirements of their full-sized equivalents, small appliances do take space, need electricity (and possibly water) and can create visual clutter, especially when there is a multitude of them to contend with. Seattle-based interior designer with a passion for healthy cooking Tristan Gary sees their benefit, but also wrestles with these challenges.
“Small appliances are a way for homeowners to have experiences with new foods and feel like they have an upgrade without a remodel,” she comments. Adding them can involve the same conversation as major appliances: “When someone tells me that they are into healthy cooking, I usually ask how many people live in their home and if everyone is on the same page. If we are talking about creating a kitchen or specific zones around healthy cooking, it’s important to know if it’s an individual or a whole family’s passion or focus.”
The Value of Kitchen Zones
Kitchen zones, an update from the traditional work triangle, create an opportunity to design specialty prep areas with small appliances, related storage, major appliances and fixtures. For example, a juicing station could include not just the juicer but refrigerator drawers for the produce, cabinet space with organizers for accessories and utensils, a prep sink and compost bin.
Placement and organization of the small appliance and its related prep needs become an important design decision. “We all know that having a juicer tucked away in a bottom cupboard is similar to a treadmill in the garage… neither get used,” Gary declares.
What does get used are coffee machines, she adds. “We have clients requesting breakfast or coffee stations during most consultations. These consolidate a morning routine and provide a really good coffee experience from home. And trust me, those $6 lattes really add up and a good espresso machine pays for itself quickly!” she muses.
“Another station we are having fun with lately are baking/pizza stations. Portable home pizza ovens have been a big request lately and I love it!” Gary states. She also includes sous vide appliances and air fryers to healthy kitchen projects. “An air fryer can give a healthier alternative to fried chicken and still get delicious result. For less than $100 you can get a healthy cooking appliance without a full kitchen reno.” There are also countertop versions of convection-steam ovens, which otherwise usually entail a kitchen remodel, and wine captains to create the basis of a wine bar.
As AHAM’s Notini observes, “We all have become better at cooking and baking healthier foods.” Since large appliances are still in short supply and retailers say they see no sign of relief on the horizon, having handy cooking tools available while waiting for your renovation or replacement appliances can mean a suite of new small versions. They will complement their installed counterparts when the kitchen project is complete.
Author’s Note: Notini, Shiue and Gary will be participating in a Clubhouse conversation Wednesday, October 6 at 4 pm Eastern (1 PM Pacific) to share more advice and trends, and answer participant questions. This session is open to design industry, cooking and nutrition professionals, as well as enthusiasts interested in those areas. Those who miss the live event can find a recording the following Wednesday on the Gold Notes blog.