What are some of the most common pitfalls to eating healthy throughout the week? The big ones are lack of time or energy, low vegetable intake, or even lack of cooking skills. What can help families and even the most novice of cooks improve in getting healthier meals on the dinner table throughout the week?
Slow cooker meals are a great solution! Either the night before or the morning of, simply assemble all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Then, with the simple push of a button, your meal will be ready when you are (in as little as 3 or up to 6 hours, depending on the setting).
Slow Cooker Safety
Does slow cooking destroy nutrients? It turns out lower temperatures used for a longer period of time may help retain more nutrients than cooking at high temperatures for a short period of time. As a plus, most of the liquid or broth used for cooking the food is retained; this way, no nutrients that seeped into the liquid will be discarded.
Another concern that arises with the cooking process is the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs are harmful compounds that form when cooking foods at high temperatures. They accumulate in the body as we age and can interfere with normal cell function. Since AGEs are a major cause of inflammation, they have been linked to a higher risk of chronic metabolic disease (such as type 2 diabetes) but even Alzheimer's disease.
The most AGE-prone food is meats because of the high protein and fat content. Sugary and excessively processed foods are also high in AGEs. Of all the cooking methods out there, browning and charring methods at high temperatures produce the greatest amount of AGEs (grilling, roasting, broiling).
Therefore, behold another advantage of the slow-cooker - it produces less AGEs than other cooking methods and thus minimizes your exposure to them. This is because moist cooking methods at low temperatures have been shown to significantly reduce AGE production.
Slow Cooking 101
For optimal results when cooking meat, make sure leaner cuts stay completely submerged in the cooking liquid so that stay tender and juicy. Lean cuts are best cooked on high so they do not dry out as quickly. Fattier cuts of meat will cook better on low settings.
Use more dried beans, lentils, and pulses. These plant proteins love the slow and low heat of a slow cooker. As a plus, you typically do not need to presoak them when using a slow cooker.
After you've covered your food and started the cooking process, try to keep the lid on. As tempting as it may be, refrain from taking a peek. Each peek can cost you up to an extra 20 minutes of cooking.
Getting More Veggies in your Day the Slow Cooker Way
Another plus of slow cookers is how versatile they are to cook with. Slow cookers work well with fresh, frozen and even canned foods. They can help you boost the amount and variety of your family's veggie intake.
When assembling ingredients in your slow cooker, arrange the vegetables wisely to preserve a palatable texture. Even though the slow cooker is an empty pot, imagine it has shelves. Focus on placing pulses or denser, heavier vegetables (squash, sweet potato, potato) at the bottom of the slow cooker.
Veggies that work well in the middle section of the slow cooker include onions, bell peppers, celery, carrots, or tomatoes. Delicate or tender vegetables, however, such as herbs, mushrooms, zucchini, peas, corn, cauliflower or leafy greens are best added during the final 30 minutes to 1 hour of cooking to preserve their delicate structure.
As with most recipes, make sure to chop the vegetables at about the same size for even heating and cooking.
Start Slow Cooking
You don't need a personal chef. You don't need to order take-out every night. You don't need to spend hours in the kitchen every weeknight.
Grab a pen and paper. Make a list of about 5-10 different slow cooker meals you think you or your family would be interested in. You now have up to 2 weeks worth of weeknight dinners planned.
Benefits of Slow Cooker
- - Less AGE Eexposure
- - Budget-friendly
- - Easy to Use
- - Time-saving
- - Encourages Greater Intake of Nutrient-Dense Foods (i.e. vegetables)
- - Less Oil Needed for Cooking
- - Greater Nutrient Retention