Too Hot in the Kitchen?

14 07 2015

Balsamic Chicken IMG_1016Summer heat getting to you? Don’t want to turn on the oven or the stove and turn your kitchen into a summer sauna?

Well, the answer to your meal prep woes is likely hiding in your cupboard or closet…your slow cooker or crock pot (see the difference here: http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-a-crockpot-and-a-slow-cooker-word-of-mouth-217582)

I was honestly never a crock pot cook before I started working evening hours a couple of times a week. Throw that on top of 2 children actively involved in sports, and a husband who works and coaches too, I figured if I was going to put healthy meals on the agenda, I was going to have to learn how to use this little piece of kitchen wizardry. I can tell you it has saved my sanity and kept my family well fed with great mid-week meals, without mom even being there!

On days I know there will be no one home to cook an evening meal (which could be 3 nights a week, sometimes more, during fall and spring sports), I plan crock pot meals for 1-2 nights, as well as at least 1 night of making quick new meals out of the leftovers. It is so easy! I just plan my grocery list on Sunday to make sure I have ingredients on hand (and really, anything can be made into a crock pot meal, so you likely have many things on hand). I prep what I can ahead of time (on Sunday evening or the night before I need things for the recipe, I chop veggies, thaw meat, prep rice, etc). Then, all I need to do the day of, is put it in the pot and turn it on. My family comes home, and voila, dinner is ready!

Now, of course I would be a neglectful dietitian if I didn’t add a couple of things as necessary to make sure we have a balanced meal. We may add a serving of whole grain such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, a nice whole grain artisan bread (if there is none in the recipe), and a serving of fruit to end the meal on a sweet note. Things that are quick and easy. Toss in a glass of milk for the kiddos, and we are set!

Another bonus- there are great crock pot recipes for year round cooking. I choose lighter recipes for spring and summer such as poultry or lean pork with lots of vegetables, or bean dishes that are light and flavorful. This is a great place to cook meat and/or vegetables for tacos, fajitas, gyros, and other sandwiches. In the fall and winter I choose warm, savory meals, like chilis and stews, sauces and soups (ground turkey sloppy joes are also a fave). You can even do warm beverages (such as cider) for holiday gatherings!

So, break out that crock pot hiding in your closet and put it to good use! Let it help you plan delicious, healthy meals for you and your family to fix and forget.

Tips for crock pot cooking from fitbottemedeats.com, Lid Pocket, and Rival:

  1. Don’t overfill or underfill your slow cooker! Make sure it is ½-3/4 full. Too full and it will not cook properly. Too empty and your dinner will burn!
  2. Try it before you go. If you are unsure about a recipe, try it one day while you are at home so you can check on it and make adjustments. Next time, plug in and go!
  3. Don’t add frozen meat. Safely thaw meat and poultry before adding to your slow cooker. Frozen meat could potentially be in the danger zone (40-140 degrees F) too long and increase risk of food borne illness.
  4. Stay safe. Always check your meat with a meat thermometer to make sure it is cooked to proper temperature.
  5. Tender veggies go on top (tomato, zucchini, mushrooms). Hearty veggies can go on the bottom (potatoes, sweet potatoes, root veggies).
  6. Keep a lid on it! Resist the urge to lift the lid- this lets heat escape, and slows the cooking process. If possible, only check foods ~30-45 min before cooking time is up.
  7. Browning meat and sautéing vegetables before crocking can help maximize flavor (but it is not totally necessary).
  8. Soak raw beans overnight and rinse well before adding to your crock.
  9. Add dairy last. Add cream, milk, cheeses to recipes during the last 10-15min of cooking (unless the recipe says otherwise)
  10. If timing is important, opt for a programmable crock pot that switches to a setting that keeps food at a safe temperature until you are ready to eat.

Recipes you will love:

Balsamic Chicken: http://www.hungryhealthyhappy.com/slow-cooker-balsamic-chicken/ We put this over whole wheat pasta, or try it on top of a nice slice of artisan bread. (It is a “brothy” dish. If you want to make it thicker or more “saucy”, use Roma tomatoes which have less juice and seeds, or take some of the tomatoes out towards the end of cooking, puree and return to the pot)

Crock Pot Bolognese: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2012/01/crock-pot-bolognese-sauce.html

Jerk Pork with Caribbean Salsa: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/02/slow-cooked-jerk-pork-with-caribbean_19.html

Cathy head shotCathy Shaw is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with the PEIA Weight Management Program

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