Tips for Successful Slow Cooker Meals

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 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 four or five days.

A slow cooker 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 that have less fat and 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 slow cooker.
  • 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 slow cooker 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 slow cooker.
  • 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 adding them to the recipe. Cover the beans with three 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 slow cooker recipe.
  • Cook pasta, rice and noodles until just tender. Add to the slow cooker toward the end of cooking.
  • Uncooked meat and vegetable combinations require eight to 10 hours on low or four to five hours on high.
  • One hour of simmering on a range, or baking at 350 degrees in an oven, is equivalent to eight to 10 hours on low or four to five 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 slow cooker 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 slow cooker on the high, 300-degree setting for the first hour, and then turn it down to the low setting.
  • Put the removable stoneware pot and the food contents in the microwave. Microwave on high for five to 10 minutes, stir and then place in the slow cooker on the low setting.
  • Never use frozen vegetables in the slow cooker. 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.