Not everyone wants or needs a full-sized food processor. If you cook for only one or two, or just want to keep something around to make salsa or hummus, a small food processor will do just fine -- and at a fraction of the price. They're better for small kitchens, too; a full-sized food processor can hog quite a bit of real estate and they can be very heavy to lift.
Ironically, one of the biggest complaints that we see about mini food processers is that they're small. Yes, this makes no sense -- it's like ordering extra hot sauce and then complaining that your food is too spicy -- but there you have it. If you need a food processor that is larger than about seven cups or so, read our discussion of full-sized food processors elsewhere in this report.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that our top pick in this category is a Cuisinart food processor, since that brand is a leader in our full-size category as well. The Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Food Processor (Est. $35) is a terrific little machine, and in at least one expert test it out-performs several full-sized food processors. It has a 3-cup capacity and can chop and grind foods with the best of them. It does not grate or perform other specialty processing tasks, so don't expect discs or dough hooks. For that, you'll need to spring for at least a 5- to 7-cup model.
The Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus is reported as super easy to use and clean, and all parts are dishwasher safe. It's sturdy and stable too, say users, unless you overload it. It's also so powerful that it's easy to over-process foods if you don't keep an eye on it -- so unless you want salsa soup, tend to your mix. Like all the Cuisinart food processors in this report, this model is not affected by the Cuisinart recall.
Another small food processor that gets good reviews from both experts and owners is the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 (Est. $50). It's really sort of a cross between a blender and a food processor, but Ninja classifies it as a food processor, so we've done the same here. ConsumerReports.org gives it their top rating as a "food chopper" which is how many people refer to these small food processors. We don't, and we explain why further down this page. However the Ninja really does chop -- and it mixes, blends and processes. The set includes three jars of different sizes 48 ounces, 40 ounces and a 16 ounce chopping bowl, plus lids, blades and splashguards for each of them. The reason it makes it into this small food processor category is because of that 2-cup chopping bowl. If you only want to buy one appliance and have it do the work of three, this is what you need. However, it gets mediocre reviews for tougher jobs, so is a better fit if you only occasionally need a blender or small food processor.
A lot of people call mini food processors mini food choppers, and there are some small processors with very small motors that are good for chopping nuts or a small quantity of herbs, but none of them get particularly good reviews for performance or durability. Several manual food choppers, on the other hand, get raves for their convenience, ease of use and small size. They're also great for travel -- those who camp or travel in RV's love these gadgets.
The Pampered Chef Cutting Edge Food Chopper (Est. $35) is far and away the best reviewed of these manual choppers by both experts and owners. It's decidedly low tech, you place herbs, nuts or cut up pieces of vegetables in the small rubber lid or on a cutting board, position the chopper over it, and "slap" down on the handle to activate the chopper. It's not something you want to use for big jobs -- your hand would end up pretty battered and bruised -- but it's a heck of a lot faster than using a knife to mince herbs, an onion, or ingredients for a salad-for-one. People who only need to do those small jobs and either have poor knife skills or are uncomfortable using knives love this little chopper. Unlike even the smallest electric food processors, the Cutting Edge Food Chopper stores away in a relatively small space. It also gets great reviews for durability, with some users saying they had it for 10 years and it's still sharp.
We didn't see any expert reviews for the Chef'n VeggiChop Hand-Powered Food Chopper (Est. $20), but it's one of the top-rated manual food choppers on Amazon.com, and it looks intriguing. Instead of "slapping," it works on a torque system, you pull a string and it spins the blade, which chops the food. The more pulls, the finer the chop. It's larger than the Pampered Chef Food Chopper, but not as large as even a small electric food processor. One advantage it does have over the Pampered Chef -- it includes a bowl with a lid for storage if you don't want to use the ingredients right away.