Best Kitchen Appliances for Real Family Dinners

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Considering a small kitchen appliance purchase? Read about which ones are the best investment for cooking real family dinners on busy nights.

A black air fryer has just finished baking frozen french fries.

Small kitchen appliances are so popular for a very good reason--busy families are desperate for just about anything that will help get dinner to the table a little bit easier or faster.

But is investing in air fryer worth it? Will an Instant Pot really give you an instant dinner?

The set of small kitchen appliances you need all depends on what you plan to do with them.

After testing hundreds of family-friendly recipes on my own family, I've narrowed down the top favorite appliances that actually help you get a real family dinner on the table that:

  • tastes great
  • has the best texture
  • helps you cut corners on the dinner prep
  • is worthy of your kitchen storage space

You can use the table of contents below to jump to the review of each kitchen appliance you are most interested in, but don't miss the shopping list at the bottom of the post!

Jump to:

Full Size Instant Pot

Has anyone else noticed the Instant Pot trend may be slowing down in favor of air fryers?

Our family still relies on this amazing gadget to get dinner on the table at least once a week.

Why I LOVE the Instant Pot

I work from home most days and I don't prefer to smell our dinner for 7 hours as it simmers in a slowcooker.

I love that I can pop into the kitchen and get a slowcooked taste and texture in just minutes using an Instant Pot.

It's also super helpful for the days when you might forget to put the dinner in the Crock Pot early enough and you still need to cook the dish.

But one of my very favorite features of the Instant Pot is the Saute function.

Being able to brown ground meat or saute vegetables like onions right in the pot saves me dirty dishes when I'm using it for building soups and sauces, too.

Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker
This is the original, classic full-size Instant Pot we've used for years.
Newer models promise all kinds of crazy features, but I can't think of anything this model wouldn't do that our family would need.
Saute Right in Pot
Delay Start
Large Capacity for Big Batch: Necessary if you plan to cook pasta inside the pot or make soups or a whole chicken
Slowcooker taste in 5 - 30 minutes depending on the recipe

Favorite Full Size Instant Pot Recipes

An Instant Pot definitely gives meat a very tender texture. It is perfect for shredded meats or fall-apart chicken.

We love the full size Instant Pot for making vegetable soups or big batches of food that I want to prep for the freezer.

Some of our family's favorite Instant Pot recipes are:

Mini Instant Pot

This is my husband's favorite appliance in the kitchen.

This smaller sized Instant Pot is often running any time we need rice for our meal, whether the bigger Instant Pot is cooking the main dish or something else entirely.

We use it several times a week for rice or absolutely perfect hard boiled eggs in just 5 minutes.

My husband is often in charge of prepping the rice while I work on the rest of the meal and we love how the Instant Pot just keeps it warm and ready for whenever the dinner finishes.

Instant Pot Mini 3QT Pressure Cooker
This is our secondary mini-sized Instant Pot. It is an essential cooking tool and we'd immediately replace it if something happened to it!
Saute Right in Pot
Delay Start
Smaller Capacity: Perfect for making rice side dishes, 8 - 10 hard boiled eggs in one batch, small batches of shredded chicken.
Faster Pressurization: The smaller size definitely seems to come to pressure faster than the bigger pot. Slowcooker taste in 5 - 30 minutes depending on the recipe
NOT GOOD FOR: Anything with pasta made in the pot or larger soups.
The product photo for the Instant Pot Mini

Favorite Mini Instant Pot Recipes

We make so much more than just plain white rice in our Instant Pot. Don't miss my favorite recipes that are perfectly sized for the smaller Instant Pot:

Air Fryer

My husband bought me an air fryer as an unexpected gift and it was the hit of my Christmas season.

Now we use this for making everything from salmon and chicken to vegetables and potatoes.

I love having a quick and easy way to get a crispy side dish or main entree cooking while I use my oven for something else.

An air fryer is perfect for cooking something that needs a different temperature than whatever is in my oven.

But the truth is, we often prefer the texture of the air fryer food over oven baked anyway!

In the summer months, you'd often find both the air fryer and an Instant Pot working on my counter at the same time so I could avoid turning on the oven and heating up my kitchen.

CHEFMAN 2 in 1 8QT Air Fryer
This is the current model of the air fryer my husband purchased for me.
Large Capacity for family dinners: We can fit enough chicken or salmon in ours for the whole family at one time.
Large Basket for making a big batch of french fries
Basket Divider: Our older model doesn't have this feature but it looks fantastic for being able to stir just one portion of the food. Peppers and onions on one side, chicken on the other?

Favorite Air Fryer Recipes

I love how crispy the edges get on anything we cook in the air fryer and yet meats and fish remain delicate and tender on the inside.

The air fryer is responsible for getting my kids to LOVE green beans, too.

Crock Pot Slowcooker

You can't talk about busy family dinners and not mention a Crock Pot.

When we're out and about all day, it is amazing to come home to dinner ready in this magic appliance. I definitely use it when we're going to be out of the house and not around to smell the food cooking for too many hours.

But, in the last few years I've discovered that my slowcooker is actually the perfect way for keeping an already-cooked dinner warm on a busy afterschool activities night.

Sometimes I'll cook the dish on the stovetop first, particularly if it requires browning. Then I'll pop it into the slowcooker to keep it ready for a later dinnertime.

Crock Pots are also amazing tools for hosting large parties or holiday feasts. There are so many side dishes you can keep warm for long periods of time in a slowcooker and just have them ready for your guests to help themselves.

Which Crock Pot Capacity is Best?

As a food blogger that specializes in family dinners, I hope it doesn't shock you to learn that I own all three of these sizes of Crock Pots.

I use them all for different reasons, but if I had to pick just one, it would be the 2 qt capacity for keeping dinner warm (like one of these 16 slowcooker sandwich fillings) or making a small batch of my very favorite CrockPot hot chocolate at Christmas time.

7 QT Slowcooker

This is a very generous sized slowcooker that is essential for making a large pulled pork or big batch of any recipe that you want to prep for the freezer or serve a crowd.

If you're cooking IN the slowcooker, this bigger size is super handy for soups, stews, or large quantity recipes.

Crock Pot 7 QT Slow Cooker
This basic 7 qt slowcooker is an affordable option for family dinners. It doesn't have any of the bells and whistles that other models offer, so it is best for using when you're able to put the food in on time and let it cook on schedule.
For the larger size, the extra cost isn't worth those fancy features like delayed start, etc. This is just a solid, basic appliance that will be a sturdy tool.

4 QT Slowcooker

This size slowcooker is better suited for most smaller families or using as a side dish prepper for the holiday season.

I make my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes right in here and they keep warm while I finish the turkey.

Hamilton Beach Programmable Slow Cooker, 4 QT
On the smaller model of slowcooker, the increased cost for buying an appliance with programable delayed starts is worth the expense.
This size slowcooker is super practical for smaller family dinners on busy weeknights. This is a perfect option for working parents.
A product photo of a 4qt slowcooker.

2 QT Slowcooker

I confess this is my favorite size. It is small and easy to store in my kitchen and has proved itself to be so practical for how I like using a Crock Pot.

I was able to fit my entire batch of Crock Pot sloppy joes inside to keep warm on a busy night.

Crock Pot Small 2 QT Slow Cooker
This no-frills Crock Pot is my favorite size. It doesn't need any fancy features because I use it to keep things warm for parties and holiday meals.
Easy to store, very affordable, and surprisingly versatile.

Favorite Crock Pot Recipes

Want to see how I use my three sizes of slowcookers? Here are some of my favorite recipes:

Electric Griddle

Breakfast for Dinner anyone?

In all honesty, this griddle is perfect for making a big batch of grilled sandwiches for a family meal, too.

It is so nice to get them all done at once vs. just 1 or 2 at a time in a skillet on the stove top.

My mom gave me a griddle for Christmas when my first daughter was born and we've used it for years and years for so much more than pancakes!

Presto 22-inch Electric Griddle
Don't overlook this handy tool for making big batches of sandwiches for the family on a weeknight.
Put a soup in the slowcooker or Instant Pot but make your sandwiches here.
A product photo of a countertop electric griddle.

Bread Machine

    If I tell you my slowcooker is on the counter, you can guess there's a bread machine running right next to it.

    We LOVE warm bread with our cozy crockpot dinners or Instant Pot soups and nothing tastes as great as one that was prepped in less than 5 minutes and comes out crispy and fresh.

    We gave five different bread machines a workout while writing The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook.

    I shared my thoughts on which model works best for different families in my thorough bread machine review article here.

    Still wondering is a bread maker is worth it? Check out some of my favorite bread machine recipes here:

    Food Processor

    While the other appliances help get the final dinner done, this list wouldn't be complete without a mention to a few handy tools that help make my job so much easier.

    My Cuisinart food processor is so wonderful for making a from-scratch pie crust in under a minute and my kids always love our homemade salsa.

    I can't imagine making something that requires a lot of grated vegetables like my make-ahead potato latkes without this amazing tool.

    Cuisinart Pro Food Processor, 11 cup
    My kitchen work horse. The strong motor and metal blades of this appliance can't be beat.
    Metal Blade: For chopping and pulsing, it will cut through any veggie I toss it's way.
    Grating Discs: Fine grate to medium grate, I love running a block of cheese through here!
    PERFECT Pie Crusts: I can make mine in under a minute with this tool. I drizzle the ice water down through the feeder tube while the machine works the dough.
    A product photo of a food processor.

    Hand Held Immersion Blender

    I avoid using my countertop blender like the plague. Absolutely any chance I get, I would rather reach for my hand held immersion blender.

    It is easier to store, easy to clean, and makes quick work of pureed soups and sauces right in the pot where I cooked them so there's less mess in my kitchen.

    Amazon Basics Multi-Speed Immersion Hand Blender
    This budget-friendly hand tool fits right in my kitchen drawer and is so easy to grab, use, and clean.
    You don't need any fancy features, this model will get the job done perfectly.
    A product photo of an immersion blender.

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