Nutrition Articles

Slow and Easy Crockpot Cooking

You DO Have Time for Home Cooked Meals

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How often do you find yourself starving when you get home at night? And how often, as a result, do you grab anything and everything in sight? Why does it seem like we can stay true to our diets so well during the day only to derail when we get home?

A delicious and healthy ready-to-eat meal awaiting your arrival can help you stay on track (and NOT eat that box of crackers for dinner).

Cooking in the Crockpot (or the slow cooker) can be easy, fun and healthy. These handy kitchen appliances allow you to prepare food ahead of time and cook it without any attention. Instead of worrying all day about what to make for dinner, you know a hot meal will be ready when you get home. It's also perfect for batch cooking a healthy meal that will last 4-5 days.

A Crockpot can be a great help in preparing wholesome, nutritious meals that are veggie-rich, packed with complex carbs, and low in fat and calories. Long cooking on low heat tenderizes meat, so it is an excellent way to cook those cuts of meat that have less fat, are less tender, but are also less expensive.

Adapting Recipes
  • Brown and drain the fat from high-fat meats (like ground beef), before adding it to the Crockpot. Leaner meats such as stew beef, poultry, or pork chops do not have to be cooked beforehand.
  • Whole herbs and spices work better than crushed. If using crushed herbs, do not add them until closer to the end of the cooking time.
  • Always fill the Crockpot at least half full.
  • Reduce the liquid in your recipe to about one cup or less. The slow cooking method saves all the food's natural juices and the juices do not cook off.
  • Use canned soups, broths, wine, vegetable juice or water as the liquid in your Crockpot.
  • Add dairy products only during the final 30 minutes of cooking.
  • Vegetables take longer to cook than most meat, so put them on the bottom.

Cooking Time
  • Dried beans should be cooked and softened before you add them to the recipe. Cover the beans with 3 times their volume in unsalted water and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Boil 10 minutes, reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer 1-1/3 hours or until the beans are tender. Discard the water after boiling. The beans can now be added to the Crockpot recipe.
  • Cook pasta, rice and noodles until just tender. Add to the Crockpot toward the end of cooking.
  • Uncooked meat and vegetable combinations require 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
  • One hour of simmering on a range, or baking at 350 degrees in an oven, is equivalent to 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.
  • Fresh vegetables should be added at the beginning of cooking. Canned and frozen vegetables (remember to thaw first) should be added during the last hour of cooking.
  • Do not remove the cover of the crockpot unless it's necessary for stirring, though most recipes don't need stirring. You can lose 30 minutes of cooking time each time the lid is removed.
Safety Concerns 
Although your Crockpot thermometer may be at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, everything in the pot may not be at that temperature. To avoid problems, follow one or more of these tips:
  • If you plan to cook on the low, 200 degree setting, run the Crockpot on the high, 300 degree setting, for the first hour. Then turn it down to the low setting.
  • Put the removable stoneware pot and the food contents in the microwave. Microwave on high for 5-10 minutes, stir and then place in the Crockpot on the low setting.
  • Never use frozen vegetables in the crockpot. Always thaw them in the microwave or on the stove first.
  • If you start with chilled meat, make sure the liquid you add is boiling.
  • Warm meat before adding it. Either brown the meat on the stove or use the microwave.

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Member Comments

  • I love my crock pot!
  • I love my crock pot. Just got a smaller one because 6 qt is too much for just hubby and I.
  • CLAY10237
    Why not use canned, drained and rinsed beans? Isn't the point of a slow-cooker reduction in effort and ease in preparation? Using canned beans also reduces power usage. Why turn on 220V when you're already going to use 110V?
  • In 34 years married my husband and I have loved crockpots. Made Sunday dinner in 2 cps just to cut down on heat in the house -- which is a big summer motivator! Our microwave died recently and I now use a very small cp to reheat frozen bread, biscuits, muffins, etc - just wrap in a little foil and set the cp on low. We also use Chef Meg's ideas on how to cook brown rice. Works well for potluck style dinners, too. Thanks for an encouraging article and all comments!
  • I really enjoy the slow cooker, saves on dishes and the house smells wonderful when you return in the evening, dinner is done. I also give a crock pot for wedding presents. The newlyweds look at it strange at first, then once the children come along. They appreciate the time saver.
  • I find new uses for my crockpot all the time. Now that I have a pressure cooker/crockpot combo it is even more versatile. Broth from the bones and veg in the pressure cooker in large quantities quickly for the freezer. Then make soups and stews with it in the slow cooker. It has a stainless steel insert for cooking so browning and cooking all in one. I don't loose all of the good brown sticky bits. They get incorporated into the recipe when I add the liquid and stir it up.
  • Love my crock pot - have had it for about 40 years - and it still cooks great. Use it most every week.
    I was a single, working Mom - so it was a life-savior. Many times my little ones arrived home before me, so there was dinner already fixed for them.
    The article had some "new" ideas for me.
    Thanks,
    barb

  • I love cooking in the crockpot. Great ideas about the different ways to set up your meal. I didn't know about cooking the frozen veggies first.. :D Thanks for the information :D
  • I love using my crockpot. When I cook chicken I cook extra chicken to use for a meal later in the week. 2 meals for 1 cooking time.
  • BRENDAKAYTOEWS
    I often cook frozen meat in my crock pot. You have to allow plenty of time for it to get cooked through, of course.
  • RDDY4CHANGE2
    I am always lifted the lid! Peeking in the oven, dishwasher...wash
    ing machine. My husbands will tell me that I just cut the efficiency by "whatever" percent...I might leave the lid on now! 30 minutes per time the lid it taken off! Yikes.
  • I love cooking in my slow cooker. Thanks
  • I love my slow cooker! I don't know why I didn't get one much sooner.
  • My favorite crockpot recipe is dumping some frozen skinless boneless chicken breasts and jarred pasta sauce to cover, then leave it on low all day. Once you come home, you can have it over pasta, quinoa, or even veggies.

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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