You may know what you should be eating to be healthy and why you need to eat it but what trips most people up is how do you put it all together? Like a Rubix cube to Kim Kardashian, the kitchen is something that throws most people off.
Cooking is a skill that definitely takes some time to master but there’s a secret shortcut that can help you make meals easier, faster and, just like me, cheaper than ever. It’s called the slow cooker or crock pot and I’ll show you the benefits that come from it.
What Is A Slow Cooker?
Slow cookers are often called crock pots, which are actually a brand name that has been associated with slow cookers the same way Kleenex is with facial tissue. A slow cooker is a lidded round or oval cooking pot usually made of ceramic or porcelain and surrounded by a metal housing and has a glass top. It has an electric outlet to it that the pot or “crock” is cooking container and heat reservoir that usually has a low, medium and high setting. With the selected temperature the crock’s contents are at atmospheric pressure and the cooking process is slow and gentle that can take anywhere from 4-8 hours
Benefits Of Cooking At Low Heat
Food that is cooked at too high a temperature is prone to losing a majority of its nutrients and the potential for burning can cause a host of problems as well. High temperature cooking such as frying and barbecuing can create harmful chemicals in the foods that can lead to certain types of cancers. Meat, in particular, can develop polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines that can change your DNA and also cause cancer.
Cooking at a more gentle temperature is not only more beneficial for the nutrients in the food but for your overall health. Slow cooking, along with steaming and poaching, are the most ideal ways to cook food.
Using A Slow Cooker To Save Money
Since I tend to lose all my money betting on March Madness a slow cooker can be your best friend to keep costs down. Since the cooking process is gradual even tough cuts of “undesirable” meat can turn into a super tender dish. These tougher cuts of meat also tend to be the cheapest so opt for:
- Pork belly
- Pork hawk or shank
- Pork shoulder
- Flank steak
- Skirt or hanger steak
- Top rump
- Chuck and blade
- Lamb shank
- Lamb neck and shoulder
When you combine these cuts with vegetables and potatoes you are looking at meals that work out to only a few dollars that provide a good amount of portions.
How A Slow Cooker Improves Your Nutrition & Health
You already have the health benefits of cooking at a lower temperature but also the more tender the meat the easier it is to digest and absorb. The best slow cooker meals are usually traditional and tend to contain real whole foods. The sooner you can get these real foods into your diet the better your health will be. After you have your choice of meat the next main ingredient in a slow cooker recipe is usually some form of broth or stock. Bone broth or stock have some tremendous health benefits including:
- Heals your gut and promotes good digestion
- Inhibits infection (the reason everyone turns to chicken soup when sick)
- Reduces joint pain and inflammation
- Promotes strong bones
- Promotes healthy hair and nails
Now when you start adding in vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, potato or sweet potatoes, onion and lots of herbs you are getting one of the best meals you can eat. You get a great combination of protein, soluble fiber, antioxidants and micronutrients all in one shot.
How To Put This All Together
This is where it gets really easy, there’s really no wrong way to combine different ingredients like I listed above but here’s a good go to recipe to get you started:
- 2 pounds of beef chuck cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound small potatoes halved
- 3 medium carrots cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme and 1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
- Toss the beef with paprika, salt and pepper and coat in flour shaking off excess. Heat oil on medium-high heat in a skillet and cook until all sides are brown, around 3 minutes. Put the beef, potatoes, carrots and onions into slow cooker pot and stir together.
- Heat some more oil in a skillet on medium heat, stir in tomato paste for one minute, and wine and flour and whisk together. Add in beef broth and thyme and whisk together until thick or for around 4 minutes making a gravy.
- Pour the gravy into the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Season with salt and pepper, stir in parsley and can be served in bowls with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of paprika.
- Feel like a hero
Wrapping It Up
A slow cooker is easy, fast and cheap, just like me. You can get them anywhere and they can really help you in the kitchen while at the same time improving your nutrition. Like I mentioned before if you’re looking to save money on food costs this little beauty will be your best friend. If you want to learn more about nutrition, the foods you should look to include in your diet and some more recipes you can get my Healthy Eating Starter Kit as a free download to get you up and running!
Featured photo credit: Janine via flickr.com