Slow Cooker Meals
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Do you wish you could come home after a busy day to the comforting smell of dinner cooking? Using a slow cooker not only makes this possible, but saves you time and money as well. Slow cookers allow for the family to sit together and relax after a busy day while enjoying a fresh meal. It is a great option for cooking stew, soup, casserole, or chili.
This cooking method is useful for those on a budget. Meat can be an expensive ingredient to add to meals. Slow cookers help in tenderizing cheaper cuts of meat. You can also use vegetables and beans as a base for meat dishes to help stretch your food dollar. And, not only does a slow cooker use less electricity than an oven, it also heats up the house less during the hot summer months.
The ingredients for the meal can be prepared the night before and kept refrigerated until you are ready to start cooking in the morning. Vegetables such as carrots, onions, and potatoes tend to take longer to cook compared to meats. Because of this, it is best to put the vegetables in the bottom, followed by cubed or cut meat, and finally topped with a liquid. Boost the nutritional value of your meal by using lean meats, a variety of vegetables, and low sodium seasonings.
Keep in mind that it is important to practice safe food handling to prevent foodborne diseases. Food should be heated quickly to 140 degrees to prevent the growth of harmful pathogens. Do not use frozen food because it will delay the heating process. Instead, thaw any frozen ingredients in the refrigerator prior to cooking. The pot should be between half-way to two-thirds full; different sizes are available to help meet your family’s needs. Try to remove the lid as little as possible as it cooks. Opening the lid lowers the temperature and extends the cooking time. Soups, stews, and sauces should reach an end temperature of 165 degrees.
Once the meal is complete, refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within two hours. Place food in small shallow containers to help speed up the cooling process. Use the refrigerated leftovers within a couple of days and the frozen leftovers within two months. Never use a slow cooker to reheat meals.
Taking the time to plan and prepare meals can help save time in your overall week. It also helps to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Share your favorite slow cooker meal with us on Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag “NCFoodLee.”
The Lee County Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN, at 919-775-5624.