If you love the smell of a home-cooked meal when you walk in the door, a crockery slow cooker can quickly become your favorite kitchen appliance. Whether you crave a hearty meal after a long day of work or want to avoid turning on the stove on a hot summer day, a slow cooker can help you cook healthy and safe meals any time of the year.
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A Hearty Stew
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a healthy meal contains a balance of the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein foods and grains. Use foods from each food group to make a healthy stew in your slow cooker. Start with lean meat, chicken or turkey and add your favorite vegetables, dried fruit, low-fat cheese, low-sodium broth and spices. Serve your stew over a fiber-rich grain, such as whole-wheat pasta, barley or bulgur. For a sweet and savory meal, ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends making a stew from a lean cut of pork, dried cherries, chopped baby carrots, garlic, thyme and 100-percent apple juice. After the pork cooks, serve the stew over a bed of brown rice. For an easy vegetarian option, replace the meat with beans or chopped tofu.
A Fiber-Filled Chili
During busy days, you can easily make a delicious and healthy chili in your slow cooker using ingredients you already have on hand. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, beans count as either a protein or a vegetable serving because they contain protein, the nutrient needed for tissue repair, and fiber, a plant component that lowers blood cholesterol levels and promotes healthy digestion. Make a healthy chili with black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, red pepper, cumin and chili powder. If you use canned beans in your chili, rinse the beans thoroughly to reduce your sodium intake. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, rinsing beans removes approximately 40 percent of the added salt. If you have a can of pumpkin in your cupboard, add it into your chili with a tablespoon of cinnamon. The pumpkin will add a subtle harvest flavor to your chili and provide extra vitamin A, the antioxidant vitamin needed for healthy eyes and skin.
Other Slow-Cooking Ideas
Slow cookers provide a convenient cooking method for stew and chili lovers, but you can also modify your oven-cooked dishes. According to the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, you can easily make a healthy mock lasagna with broken whole-wheat lasagna noodles, lean ground beef, tomato paste, chopped vegetables, cottage cheese, garlic and seasonings. When you crave a spicy meal, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension recommends crockery-cooked enchiladas. Cook your meat or beans with chopped peppers and onions. Add a can of undrained chili peppers, cumin and chili powder and spread this mixture in a layer on the bottom of your slow cooker. Top with a whole-wheat tortilla and low-fat cheese. Continue layering until you use all of the mixture.
Food Safety Tips
According to the USDA, slow cookers cook foods at a safe temperature, between 170 and 280 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria grow fastest between 40 to 140 degrees, otherwise known as the danger zone. Because these appliances heat foods slowly, thaw all ingredients before cooking to limit the time your food spends in the danger zone. Keep perishable ingredients refrigerated before cooking and use a food thermometer to test the temperature of your meal before serving. The USDA states that slow cookers should not be used to reheat leftovers. Cook leftovers in an oven or microwave, and heat your food until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.