By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Slow cookers such as Sunbeam’s Crock-Pot may be used for far more than beef roasts with carrots and potatoes. Especially for busy people, the slow cooker can make it easier to eat better and maintain healthful weight. It can encourage more careful meal planning instead of swinging through the drive-through on the way home from work.
Maureen Berical, registered dietitian and clinical dietitian with Crouse Health, likes that slow cookers help people do more of their own cooking.
“With homemade meals you have more control and can use minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods,” Berical said. “You could set aside a time each week to plan according to your schedule.”
To make it even easier, items like sliced mushrooms, pre-washed baby carrots, frozen vegetables and pre-cut skinless chicken breast tenders can streamline preparation. Many ingredients may be prepared on the weekend and stored in the fridge or freezer until they’re used. Lining the inside of the cooking well — the part where the food goes — with a cooking bag makes clean-up a breeze. Berical said that liners don’t affect the quality or nutrient value of slow cooker meals.
“Crock-Pot cooking is awesome because you can have it ready when you get home,” said Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian and nutritionist and educator for Carlson Laboratories.
She said that busyness and the allure of grab-and-go food can make it tempting to skip cooking; however, slow cooking can prevent these often unhealthful standbys.
Using plenty of vegetables and beans boost nutrition and also lowers calories in soup. Sterling likes making dishes in her slow cooker like stew with beans, turkey chili with lots of vegetables and kale or other veggie soups.
“Some recipes are nutrient packed, along with fat-burning,” Sterling said.
Making overnight baked oatmeal with steel cut oats, which take longer to cook, along with a few egg whites for protein, can provide a healthful breakfast — a much better way to start the day than grabbing a doughnut or other unhealthful item.
Julie Mellen, registered dietitian with Upstate Medical University, said that she uses her slow cooker frequently.
“You can throw in a medley of vegetables and less expensive cuts of meat, which end up tender,” she said. “It’s a great way to incorporate different food groups and have it hot and ready when you get home. It’s less stressful.”
She recommends leaner cuts of meat, vegetables and whole grains.
Mellen added that slow cookers have a few caveats, too, such as high-fat additions like creamy sauces and fatty cuts of meat.
Though slow-cooking meat does make it very tender — even the cheapest cuts — people who want to lose weight and include more vegetables in their diet should use meat as a seasoning instead of the star of the show. The nature of slow cooking causes any meat or seasoning used in the recipe to permeate the vegetables in the crock. People who aren’t so fond of vegetables tend to eat more of them when they’re slow-cooked with some meat.
Scaling back certain other ingredients also helps. Sterling said to avoid loading up the crock with pasta, potatoes and starchy items and to limit ingredients that add saturated fat. Those include fatty meats.
Pre-made sauces tend to be high in sodium, as are seasoning mixes and canned beans. Rinsing beans can help reduce the sodium. Or, use dried beans that have been prepared according to package directions.
If you need inspiration for using your slow cooker more, visit www.crock-pot.com/recipes.html.