Slow-cooking for the fast-paced family

By admin
February 22, 2012

By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

More than a decade of research proves that spending time gathered at the kitchen table is a valuable way to strengthen family bonds. Research shows that children who eat family meals get more fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat. They also weigh less. Furthermore, the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.

Yet, how do we fit the elusive home-cooked meal into the crazy, busy reality of our lives?

Providing quick and healthy meals is the ultimate challenge. Family life can be chaotic and many of us despair that we don’t have the luxury of preparing meals. But, a Crock-Pot® or slow-cooker can make it possible to preserve family mealtime and maintain a hectic schedule. It’s like having a personal chef!

Traditional slow-cooker recipes often rely on canned or condensed soups, pre-mixed seasonings, and big chunks of meat. In other words, a Crock-Pot® can become a salt minefield! No worries, simple tweaks can makeover your favorite slow-cooker recipes so they are lower in sodium, nutrient rich, and lower in fat. What do I mean by nutrient rich? It means serving your family more vitamins and minerals with fewer calories.

No matter the meal, the number one key for quick and nutrient rich dishes is planning. You can’t build a house if you don’t have the tools. A well-stocked kitchen doesn’t mean you make every dish from scratch all the time. Cook once; eat twice by preparing a double batch and use leftovers for the next few days.

Here are some simple tips to help you get a quick, nutrient rich slow-cooker meal on the table in no time.

  • For food safety, preheat your Crock-Pot® while you prep your recipe.
  • Always choose lower sodium and lower fat ingredients.
  • Refrigerate canned broths overnight. Remove the congealed fat on top before you add it.
  • Brown and drain the fat from high-fat meats (like ground beef) before adding it to the cooker.
  • Trim visible fat and skin from beef, poultry and pork before cooking.
  • Try vegetarian recipes or half the meat and add extra veggies to any slow-cooker recipe.
  • Substitute sweet potatoes for regular potatoes to increase the vitamin A content.
  • Use brown rice instead of white rice to double the fiber content.
  • Do not remove the cover of the pot until the dish has finished cooking. You lose 30 minutes of cooking time each time the lid is removed!

Finally, don’t forget the rest of the plate. Pair slow-cooked favorites with ready-to-steam vegetables, a side salad or fresh fruit. Don’t forget, the Crock-Pot® is not just for dinner. Try cooking up nutrient rich breakfast, side dishes or even a heart healthy dessert! Plug in and get simmering!

Rebecca Turner is a registered dietitian and a certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD) with the American Dietetic Association. She serves as nutrition affairs program manager for the Southeast Dairy Association. In addition, Rebecca is the co-chair for the Mississippi Action for Healthy Kids Team which addresses childhood undernourishment, obesity and prevention in the schools.

Hearty and Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes

Slow Cooker Fresh Veggie Lasagna

Ease: Moderate Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 hours Yield: 6 servings

nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup part-skim Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup low-sodium, fat-free marinara sauce (plus additional for serving)
1 medium zucchini, diced
4 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 bag baby spinach
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
fresh basil leaves (optional)

Spray crockery pot of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together Mozzarella, Ricotta, Parmesan, egg, oregano and garlic powder.

Spread 2 tablespoons of pasta sauce in bottom of pot. Sprinkle 1/2 of zucchini over sauce and top with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Break 2 noodles into pieces to cover cheese. Spread 2 tablespoons of sauce and then layer 1/2 of the spinach and 1/2 of the mushrooms. Repeat layering, ending with cheese and the remaining sauce. Firmly press ingredients into pot.

Cover and cook over low heat for 4-5 hours. Allow lasagna to rest 20 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve. Spoon a little extra sauce over each serving and top with a basil leaf, if desired.

Nutrition Information:

  • Calories: 240
  • Total Fat: 10 g
  • Saturated Fat: 6 g
  • Cholesterol: 60 mg
  • Sodium: 380 mg
  • Calcium: 35% Daily Value
  • Protein: 16 g (11.4 g dairy protein)
  • Carbohydrates: 21 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3 g


Slow Cooker Creamy Vegetable Barley Soup

Ease: Easy Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 180 min Yield: 4 servings

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 cup medium pearl barley
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano or Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups cold fat-free milk
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 teaspoons reduced-fat shredded Parmesan cheese

In a 3 1/2- to 5-quart slow cooker, place beans, corn, barley, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, oregano, salt (if desired) and pepper. Pour in broth, stir and cover and cook on low heat for 8-9 hours (or on high heat for 4-5 hours).

Near end of cooking time, stir cornstarch into milk. Stir milk mixture into slow cooker until well blended. Continue cooking 20-30 minutes or until soup has thickened. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and cheese at serving time.

Nutrition Information:

  • Calories: 390
  • Total Fat: 2.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 5 mg
  • Sodium: 610 mg
  • Calcium: 35% Daily Value
  • Protein: 22 g
  • Carbohydrates: 75 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 13 g


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