Tips for Crockpot Meals

Who doesn't welcome the yummy smell of a crock pot meal when you walk into a kitchen?  Whether it's a stew, soup or chicken with vegetables, cooking with a crock pot can make meal preparations easy, save time and help stretch the food budget.

Knowing how to use a crock pot (slow cooker) correctly can bring success to your meals.  Follow
these tips to make meals not only tasty but also healthy.
  1. Know your slow cooker.  Read and follow the guidelines and recipes found in our slow cooker manual.  Those recipes can provide delicious meals.
  2. Give your food space.  For best results, fill a crock pot only one-half to two-thirds full.
  3. Layer food carefully.  For even cooking, cut foods into pieces of the same size.  Place firm, slow cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom of the crock and put meat on the top.
  4. Use thawed food not frozen.  For food safety purposes, thaw your meat and vegetables in the refrigerator before putting them into your crock pot.
  5. Choose the "right" cut of meat.  Save money by using less expensive cuts of meat like chuck roast, pork shoulder or use a whole chicken.  The moist, low heat of a slow cooker makes these cuts very tender.
  6. Trim the fat.  Always cut the fat that you can see from meat and remove chicken skin.  This will make your sauces less oily and much healthier.
  7. Keep the lid closed.  Reduce the urge to look at the foods during the cooking time.  Each time the lid is off it adds 15-20 minutes to the recipe time.  No need to stir either!
  8. Fill up with dried beans and peas.  Use the crock pot for large batches of bean and lentil soups.  Use some now and freeze the rest for later.  A great way to stretch the budget!  Try the following "Slow Cooker Lentil Soup" on a cold day!


Slow Cooker Lentil Soup
Serves:  6


Ingredients
6 cups water
1/4 cup parsley (chopped fresh or 2 Tablespoons dried parsley optional)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon (or 2 beef bullion cubes)
1 1/2 cups lentils (dry)
2 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped


Directions
  1. Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker.
  2. Cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours or on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
  3. Serve hot with crackers or bread.
Recipe adapted from Montana State Extension Service.
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© Eat Smart, Be Fit Maryland!Maira Gall