6 Keys to Healthy Slow Cooker Meals

Many of us grew up thinking that hearty, healthy meals meant hours of prepping and stirring over a hot stove. Even when food wasn’t served every minute, we had to check that it didn’t stick to a pan or dry out in the oven. Before the 70s there were no crock pots or microwaves. A woman had little time to spend outside. That was then.

Today, autumn is here; the air has a freshness of its own. At my home in the Ozarks, the trees show their fall colors while golden blossoms grace the hillsides. This morning the deer grazing in the meadow below the walnut grove seemed to beg me to follow them. I wanted to go out and play!

Yet there are still meals to prepare, clothes to wash, people to care for today. To allow myself time to sit and watch the wildlife, I am learning how to make better use of my slow cooker, my Crock Pot. Cooking meals in the slow cooker has many benefits, including fewer dishes to wash, less time tending to food on the stove, a cooler kitchen, and less energy used.

I am learning to adapt some of my favorite recipes to this way of cooking. I learned early on not to use as much liquid in the slow cooker as it naturally captures moisture and needs little addition. Also, any dairy products should be added near the end of the cooking time so they don’t curdle.

An added benefit, which makes all the difference on the budget, is the ability to cook tougher, cheaper cuts of meat. Even the toughest cuts will turn out tender when simmered for a long period of time. At a time when we are all watching our budgets, this is a real bonus.

If you are using fatty meats or chicken with skin on, it is best to brown the meat first before adding it to the slow cooker. You’ll have low-fat meals because you’re not using oil like you do when you stir-fry or stir-fry. Cut fats out of any liquid you add as well.

Vegetables will surprisingly take longer to cook than meats, so you’ll want to cut them into small, thin pieces. Layer vegetables on the bottom and sides of the pot, where the heat will be, for more even cooking. You will soon learn which vegetables take the longest to cook.

Here are six keys to successful slow cooking:

1. Buy cheaper cuts of meat; tough, lean cuts will cook up tender and juicy.

2. Choose fresh produce, cut into small pieces just before cooking.

3. Skim fats from liquids before adding to pot.

4. Allow plenty of time to cook at a low temperature to get the best flavors and textures.

5. Move cooked food to a clean container and refrigerate as soon as possible.

6. Never use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers.

I look forward to sharing some great recipes with you in future articles as we head into the winter seasons. Did I hear someone say “stews”? Enjoy!