Slow Cookers: A Must-Have for Healthy Eating

Before I delve into this week’s topic, I just wanted to comment on last week’s survey results. The survey, entitled "Small Changes" was based upon my post last week about small steps you can make to better manage your diabetes. More than 1,000 votes were cast, which is great! Also, I noticed that most people chose to set a goal to check their blood glucose two hours after meals more often, take their medication as prescribed by their provider, or keep appointments with their providers.

To some, these goals may appear too easy or insignificant. Yet, it’s often these “simple” management steps that can be the most challenging to follow through on. So congratulations to all who took the survey. And as we move forward through 2009, let me know how you’re doing with your goal!

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Many of us resolve to eat healthier, especially when the New Year rolls around. However, healthier eating sometimes requires a little bit of work — making sure you have the right ingredients on hand, taking the time to prepare the meal, and cooking the meal in a healthful way. Well, if you haven’t done so already, give slow cooking a try.

OK, I admit that the concept of slow cooking can dredge up memories of “Crock-Pots” from the 1970’s (my mother still has hers — in Harvest Gold, too!). Stifle the snickers and keep an open mind. Crock-Pots have morphed into slow cookers, and these kitchen tools are just the ticket for easy, healthy cooking. My mother gave me a slow cooker a few years ago for Christmas, and I’ve turned into a big fan.

Slow cookers come in several sizes, ranging from one-quart models (great for one or two people) to 12-quart models (good for a large family or cooking for a crowd). Most major kitchen and cooking companies have their version of a slow cooker, including All-Clad, Cuisinart, KitchenAid, and Hamilton Beach. They come in different colors, as well, to coordinate with your kitchen color scheme.

Why Use a Slow Cooker?

  • It can save you time. You can start a stew, soup, or chicken dish in the morning and forget about it until dinner time. And when you get home from work or school, your meal is ready for you!
  • It can save you money. Rather than getting take-out or stopping at the grocery store for a prepared meal, you can make your own soups, casseroles, stews, and even desserts. And you can turn cheaper, less tender cuts of meat into melt-in-your mouth main dishes. Slow cookers use less electricity than an oven, too.
  • It’s good for you. Because foods are cooked slowly at a lower temperature, the vitamin and mineral content of foods are preserved. And since you control the ingredients, you can make soups and stews using lower-fat, lower-sodium broths and lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry; include more whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa in your meals; and even make desserts a little healthier by cutting back on some of the sugar and fat.

Tips for Slow-Cooking Success

  • Always thaw frozen food before cooking in a slow cooker.
  • Only fill up the slow cooker one-half to two-thirds full. Any more than that and the food may not cook thoroughly; any less and the food may cook too quickly.
  • Cook ground beef in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker.
  • Add tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and zucchini, only during the last 45 minutes or so of cooking to avoid mushiness.
  • Add spices and seasonings during the last hour of cooking for better flavor.
  • Don’t lift the lid too often — every time you take off the lid, you extend the cooking time by 20-30 minutes.

Resources
You can try this DSM recipe for “Slow-cooked Southwestern chicken chili.”

You can sign up for Prevention magazine’s free “Slow Cooker Smarts” newsletter for recipes and tips here.

Check out these cookbooks for easy, healthy recipes:

  • The Everything Slow Cooker Cookbook by Margaret Kaeter
  • The Healthy Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson

And if you’re a slow cooker fan, please share tips and recipe ideas with us!

  • tmana

    I use the slow-cooker to make chilis and soups… I try to make enough to last for a week’s worth of lunches, store in portions, and freeze what I won’t use in the next 2-3 days. This way, I always have something I can take to work and heat in the microwave… quick lunch of known nutritional value… and cheaper than eating out, to boot!

  • Celebrin

    I use my slow cooker all the time, but I have to disagree with you on one thing.

    “always thaw frozen food before cooking in a slow cooker.”

    No. Seriously no. Chicken should always be frozen when it hits the slow cooker, even if the recipe says to cook it earlier. Cook it, and freeze it. It makes the difference between yummy juicy chicken and chicken so dry it makes the Sahara look like a rain-forest.

    Also google 365 days of crock pot and find amazing recipes.

  • acampbell

    Hi Celebrin,

    Actually, I’d have to disagree with you from a food safety standpoint. Most of what I’ve read about slow cooking firmly emphasizes that one shouldn’t put frozen meat or poultry directly into a slow cooker. The reason is that, because the slow cooker cooks at fairly low temperatures, it takes longer for the meat/chicken to reach cooking temperature, increasing the risk for bacterial contamination. Starting off with frozen meat also cools down the other ingredients in the cooker. So, just be aware of the risk of food borne illness if you decide to start off with frozen meat or poultry. To be on the safe side, I wouldn’t recommend it.

  • Ephrenia

    I use my crock pot – yes, the old crockpot, but one with a removable crock for easier cleaning – all the time. I put my stuff in it – including frozen hamhocks when making beans, and cook on high til it is boiling, then turn it down for slow cooking.. Like the first poster, I fill up my 2 quart crock and freeze the food in portions after its done. I love having my own “tv dinners”. I make up my own recipes. I think the next one will include stew meat, mushrooms, onion and barley… I’m debating on whether to add some black beans as well, anybody want to comment? :-)

  • LuvARiddle

    Phyllis Good has a wonderful cookbook written with the ADA for crockpots and diabetics. The Diabetic Fix and Forget Cookbook. It costs about $10.00 and is worth twice that!

  • RandyC

    Ephrenia -
    Yes! YES! A thousand times yes. Add the black beans.

    And send me some.

    Thanks!

  • Ephrenia

    Randy – well, why don’t you just come over instead of me sending some?!!!

  • sisaakfit4d

    I agree, the “Fix-It and Forget-It Diabetic Cookbook: Slow-Cooker Favorites to Include Everyone!” is a wonderful cookbook.

    I also love to cook Great Northern beans in the crock pot too. I can put them in the the morning and they are ready for dinner. A tasty economical addition to our dinner. Even my two year old likes them. An unusual side note: my husband likes them leftover in a sandwich!

    Sherri Isaak, MS,RD,CDE,BC-ADM
    http://www.fit4d.com

  • Jan Chait

    I’ve been eating leftover pinto beans on bread ever sice I can remember. My grandfather taught me. It’s an open-faced sandwich – gotta include some “soup,” too.

    Jan

  • Liza

    I agree with the idea of slow cooker. Sometimes i also does the same. And the Beans are needed to be cooked in slow cooker to get good taste,isn’t it?

    ================

    Liza

    Cooking

  • acampbell

    Hi Liza,

    Beans don’t have to be cooked in a slow cooker. Some people cook beens right on top of the stove. Others use pressure cookers, which speed up the cooking time. But I agree that slow cookers often bring out the flavor of food a little more than faster cooking methods.

  • granny Pat

    My husband has been eating cold bean sandwiches ever since he was a kid (he’s now 72)
    His uncle ran a ferry between Illinois and Indiana. Me, I’d rather save them and make baked beans from the leftover soup beans.

  • jake

    I recently was diagnosed with type2 diabetes. Looking for crock pot recipes, i ran across this site…Hey, guys crockpot is the way to go. The frozen chicken (NO NO) idea makes a lot of sense when using a (slow) cooker. I was in the food business many years, and probably wouldnt do frozen foods in cooker…having food handling safety knowledge..for others pay attention to post by acampbell.. jake

  • Moggy

    I loooove my slow cookers. Yes, cookerS, I have 3 different sizes/styles.

    In fact, I put in a pot roast this morning before I left for work. I clean and chop all the veggies the night before and put them in a ziploc. Then in the morning I just sear the meat and put it in the cooker with several cans of tomatoes, fresh baby carrots, mushrooms, green peppers and onions. Throw in a couple of bay leaves and a couple of packets of no sodium beef bouillon. It makes an awesome dinner, we like ours over brown rice (instead of including potatoes).

    I can’t wait to walk in my door after work and smell a wonderful home cooked meal all ready to eat!

  • Peter Sweeney

    I agree with using a slow cooker they work great but I also know that with artificially prepared market produce such as
    vegetables, fruits, and meat, the individual ingesting
    them are subject to all the pesticides and artificial
    drug enhancers that were used. Some of these harmful
    chemicals embed in the produce and may not be properly
    cleansed until cooking.

    Organically prepared meat and produce are grown
    without the chemicals, pesticides and the like which
    would have been created to kill pests thereby reducing
    the risk of unwanted illness. Common illnesses that
    occur with chemicals accidentally ingested are related
    to the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Hawk

    I agree with Peter, the choice of ingredients is king. If at all possible always go with the ingredients which have seen the least amount of tampering with. You are almost certain to end up with a meal which both tastes better and is better for you.

    http://www.slow-cooker-online.co.uk

  • robyn

    I love my slow cooker,I love being able to throw it all in in the morning and come home and dinner is done.It leaves me more time to play with my kids.And I make better choices and healthier,rather than coming home and just throwing something together quickly.