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5 Tips for Slow Cooker Meals

When I talk to friends and those living with diabetes about home cooking, the word that seems to keep coming up is “fast.” Many people ask me how they can get a tasty meal on the table as quickly as possible. My answer often surprises them: use a slow cooker! The cooking itself may be slow, but since you do the prep work in the morning, with a little planning the meal can be nearly ready to serve at dinnertime. Dinner in a slow cooker or crockpot can be quick to assemble and then easy to leave cooking while you go about your day.

Here are five ways to make tasty diabetes-friendlier meals in your slow cooker.

1. Go wild with vegetables.
You can make many recipes diabetes-friendlier by upping the vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are filling, low in carbohydrates, and low in calories, allowing you to eat a larger, more satisfying portion of stews, soups, and casseroles for fewer overall calories and carbs. Since slow cookers stew all day, however, they can be hard on vegetables. Knowing when and how to add them to your slow cooker may be the difference between mush and a meal with deliciously tender vegetables.  Try these tips to maximize your vegetables’ taste factor:

  • Add delicate vegetables such as zucchini and kale in the last twenty to thirty minutes, rather than at the beginning.
  • If adding frozen vegetables, wait until the last ten minutes to pop them in the pot. Remember that corn and peas are starchier vegetables, so be sure to account for their extra calories and carbohydrates.
  • Soften bright green vegetables such as snow peas and broccoli by putting them in the microwave just until lightly crunchy. Then add them to your pot in the last five to ten minutes, to help keep their color.
  • Prevent bland and overly soft carrots, parsnips, and potatoes by tossing with a little vegetable oil and wrapping them in aluminum foil. Place the foil packet on top of your stew before cooking. Add in just before you sit down to eat.

2. Choose the right meat.
Slow cookers work wonders with lean cuts of meat such as flank steak, which can be tough in other preparations but usually comes out of the slow cooker tender and easy to shred. If you choose fattier cuts of beef like a chuck-eye roast, trim the visible fat before cooking. Once your stew or pot roast is done, let it sit for a few minutes and remove surface fat with a spoon. Bone-in skinless chicken thighs are a good choice for the slow cooker because their hearty taste stands up well when cooked for up to six hours. Choose bone-in chicken breasts for a more delicate flavor.

3. Or try meatless.
Slow cookers are for more than just carnivorous pot roasts, stews, and chicken. Some delicious vegetarian dishes that can take a lot of prep work – bean soup, vegetarian chili, ratatouille, and braised cabbage, to name a few – require less effort for equally tasty results in a slow cooker. Or consider a crockpot breakfast of perfectly cooked chewy, steel cut oats. Just put the oats and water on before going to sleep.

4. Layer flavors to reduce fat and salt.
Flavors often become washed out in a slow cooker because of the long cooking time and moist environment. While you might be tempted to add salt or fatty sauces to boost flavor, instead try these tips for developing complex flavors, while minimizing salt and fat:

  • If you have time, brown beef or chicken before putting it into the slow cooker.
  • Use ample amounts of onion, garlic, herbs, and spices.
  • Boost flavor with minimal calories by adding a tablespoon of tomato paste. For even more flavor, microwave the tomato paste with some chopped onion and garlic to taste, and any dried herbs and spices you like, then add to your slow cooker.
  • Boost creaminess with Greek yogurt. After cooking is done, turn off the crockpot for ten minutes to cool the meal slightly, then add the yogurt right before serving.
  • Finish the dish with fresh herbs, a squeeze of citrus, or both.

5. Plan ahead.
This is the step that many people most neglect, but it’s also the key to successful crockpot cooking. Dinner can be ready when you come home at the end of the day, but only if you’ve planned it that way! To avoid the morning rush and the risk of having nothing for dinner, I like to get my recipe ready before I close up my kitchen for the night. I chop vegetables, brown meat, measure herbs, and then refrigerate it overnight. I do everything except assemble the ingredients in the slow-cooker insert, which I do in the morning to ensure the proper temperature and food safety. If you really want to save time, consider getting a larger crockpot and making extra of your meals to freeze. Proper planning will give you an extra wholesome family meal, fast!

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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