Cooking Family

Tips for Healthful Slow Cooking

Slow cooking provides opportunities to save time, improves the odds of a healthful meal being served, and promotes higher vegetable intake in both children and adults.

Creating slow cooker meals is a great way to help novice cooks become more comfortable in the kitchen, and busy parents can benefit from using a slow cooker to easily get healthful homemade meals on the dinner table.

With the use of a slow cooker, clients can quickly prepare a meal the night before (or morning of) and are able to eat as soon as their family returns home. It’s as simple as pushing a button.

Clients can find simple slow cooker recipes that can be made ahead of time and are ready to eat when they are, slashing the chances of heading to the drive-thru or popping in a pizza. Websites such as Allrecipes.com have dedicated sections just for slow cooking recipes. You can find more slow cooker recipes at Crock-Pot.com, Taste of Home, and Create Kids Club.

Along with these benefits, many slow cooker recipes include fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables. In many cases, a variety of vegetables are included, which helps diversify a family’s produce intake.

Other benefits of slow cooking include the decreased need for extra fats in the baking process. For example, clients typically won’t have to brown meat beforehand; often the meat cooks in broth or water.

Also, you might think that slow cooking destroys nutrients, but that’s not the case. In fact, lower temperatures may help preserve nutrients that can be lost when food is cooked rapidly at high temperatures. The added bonus? Usually, the cooking liquids are consumed as part of the dish, so none of the nutrients are discarded.

The following are tips RDs can pass on to clients looking to give slow cooking a try.

Resist the urge to peek—keep the lid on. In meat, keeping the temperature anywhere from 160° to 205° F helps the collagen begin to gelatinize and results in a tender end product. Because the slow cooking process utilizes a little heat and a lot of time, it causes the collagen in the toughest cuts of meat to eventually break down, leaving you with shreds of tender, juicy meat.

Make sure leaner cuts of meat stay submerged in the cooking liquid (eg, broth, water, wine). This will ensure they don’t dry out and stay juicy and tender. Cook lean cuts of meat on high so they don’t dry out as quickly; fattier cuts will do better on low.

No need to presoak most dry beans and lentils. Slow cooking is one of the best ways to cook pulses perfectly every time. This inexpensive protein source is a great option for the slow and steady heat of the slow cooker. Note: Kidney beans contain a toxin that can cause gastrointestinal distress. Clients must bring them to a full boil on the stovetop for 10 minutes before adding them to the slow cooker.

Layer veggies appropriately to preserve their texture. Place hearty veggies like potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes on the bottom of the slow cooker (dry pulses go here as well). Veggies that hold up well in the middle portion of the slow cooker include carrots, onions, and peppers. Delicate vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and fresh herbs do best when added in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Don’t throw out the excess liquid. Simply mix it with a bit of flour, cornstarch, or a cooked roux. The result? Instant gravy.

Have clients try this Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili or Crock-Pot Lasagna recipe and see how easy slow cooking is—and how simple it is to get a nutrient-packed dinner on the table in no time at all.

— Jodi Danen, RDN, is a family nutrition blogger at Create Kids Club and the creator of Lunch Bites lunch box note cards.

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