By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Slow cookers such as Sunbeam’s Crock-Pot may be used for far more than beef roasts with carrots and potatoes. Especially for busy people, the slow cooker can make it easier to eat better and maintain healthful weight. It can encourage more careful meal planning instead of swinging through the drive-through on the way home from work.
Slow cooking takes some preparation; however, the cooking is all done by early evening without any additional work. Using liners inside the cooking well — the part where the food goes — makes clean-up a breeze.
“Traditionally, people think it’s more for comfort meals,” said Natalie Robertello, a registered dietitian and owner of Fit For You in Buffalo who works at UB Orthpaedics.
She said that as long as the slow cooker meals can fill half the plate with veggies, one-quarter with protein and one-quarter with carbohydrates, that’s pretty healthful.
Using plenty of vegetables and beans boosts nutrition and also lowers calories in soup. Robertello likes making dishes in her slow cooker like minestrone soup, spaghetti squash with a meat ragu and turkey chili.
“The Crock-Pot for me is the only way I get through the week with a busy schedule,” Robertello said. “It’s all done for you and the leftovers are great. I make a whole lot of soup.”
She also makes overnight baked oatmeal with steel cut oats, which take longer to cook, along with a few egg whites for protein. That provides her with a healthful breakfast–a much better way to start the day than grabbing a doughnut or other unhealthful item.
Danielle Meyer, clinical director of the dietetic internship program in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, said that slow cookers have many benefits and a few caveats, too.
“Just because it’s in a slow cooker doesn’t mean it’s healthful,” she said. “Look at the cuts of meat. A really cheesy recipe won’t be the healthiest one. Watch creamy sauces. Go with broth-based soups. Chili is something you can make it healthful with beans, 93% beef or turkey. You can cut up all kinds of vegetables, like carrot, sweet potatoes, squash.”
Though slow-cooking meat does make it very tender — even the cheapest cuts — people who want to lose weight and include more vegetables in their diet should use meat as a seasoning instead of the star of the show. Scaling back other certain ingredients also helps.
“What’s important there is not to fall into the trap of heavy, fatty casserole type of dishes in the Crock- Pot,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition and Counseling Services Nutritionist in Buffalo. “If you rely on a lot of pasta, cheeses and butter and heavy ingredients, you’re going to end up with a calorically dense meal which can lend itself to increased weight.”
The nature of slow cooking causes any meat or seasoning used in the recipe to permeate the vegetables in the crock. Parker said that factor can help people who aren’t so fond of vegetables to eat more of them.
Pre-made sauces tend to be high in sodium, as are seasoning mixes and canned beans. Rinsing beans can help reduce the sodium. Or use dried beans that have been prepared according to package directions.
“I encourage patients to think about making soups in the winter,” Parker said. “You can do a lot with low sodium broth. It’s a good start. Add lots of different vegetables. You can puree everything and make it creamier that way without a lot of fat.”
If you need inspiration for using your slow cooker more, visit www.crock-pot.com/recipes.html.