Slow cooker (Crock-Pot) for easy healthy meals
I help many individuals and families with nutrition counseling related to health issues. Part of getting health under control means making a few more meals at home from scratch to control sodium, sugar, or other important nutrients. Concerns about having time for cooking is often related to me as the reason that meals are not prepped at home.
Crock-Pot cooking, or using the slow cooker, is an easy way to have dinner on the table soon after walking in the door at the end of the workday. Food can cook on a low setting all day while you work. A little organization and advance planning can make this happen!
Here are some slow cooker tips:
- Prepare ALL ingredients before adding them to the slow cooker – peel, dice, cut, etc.
- Coat the inside of the Crock-Pot with vegetable cooking spray for easy clean-up.
- Fill the Crock-Pot at least half full for adequate cooking.
- The ingredients can be put into the Crock-Pot insert the night before and stored in the fridge. In the morning, just place the filled insert into the crockpot base and turn on.
- Keep the lid closed throughout the cooking time. If you lift the lid, add on 30 more minutes of cooking time.
Suggestions for the addition of specific foods to the slow cooker:
- Frozen meat requires two additional hours of cooking time.
- Brown ground meats such as beef and turkey first before adding to the crockpot.
- If raw meats are added, three more hours of cooking time needs to be added.
- Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips and carrots need longer time but delicate vegetables should be added in the last 30 minutes of cooking time.
- Dairy ingredients such as milk and cheese should be added at the end.
- Delicate vegetables and fish should be added at the last 30 minutes of cooking - otherwise they will be mushy or overcooked if cooked all day.
- If there is a bit too much liquid at the end of the cooking time, you can add instant tapioca or cornstarch for the last 10 minutes of cooking time to thicken.
- Since using the Crock-Pot is a longer cooking time, maybe 10 hours, use dried herbs rather than the fresh herbs which will lose some flavor. Or if you prefer, stir the fresh herbs into the crockpot five minutes before serving.
While planning your weekly menus, decide which longer-cooking recipes could be adapted to crockpot cooking. Perfect dishes for the slow cooker include soups, spaghetti sauce, chili, dried beans and peas, lentils, beef stew, and red meats such as beef and pork.
Recipes to try:
- Slow Cooker Ground Chicken and White Bean Chili
- Slow Cooker Artichoke-Spinach Dip
- Slow Cooker Beef Brisket (for sandwiches)
About the Author
Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.