While the Florida heat says otherwise, the summer season is coming to an end. The kids are back in school, and the warm days are drawing to a close. Between baseball practice, dance class, and back to school shopping, it can be difficult to find the time to cook healthy meals for the family. Sometimes our hectic schedules cause us to rely more on convenience than our health. Fortunately, there is an essential kitchen appliance that can save time and money. Dust off the slow cooker that has been hibernating in the back of the cabinet, and let the pot do the cooking.
Here are a few tips to ensure the perfect slow cooker meal:
Make a Pinterest Board – Now I know this may seem silly to list as the number one tip, but we are all about saving time in this post. Create a separate pin board for slow cooker meals. Then, instead of scouring the internet for that single recipe you found months ago, you can simply look through your board to find a delicious meal. Check out my slow cooker favorites Pinterest board to get started!
Prep the meals – Slow cooker meals are extremely easy to prep. Look up the recipes, throw all of the ingredients in a freezer bag with basic instructions written in permanent marker, and thaw for about 24 hours before you throw it in the slow cooker!
Make leftovers – Another great way to meal prep is to cook the fresh ingredients in the crockpot (not previously frozen), and place the contents in freezer safe containers. Most of the recipes make more than enough food. Instead of having split pea soup for 3 days straight, throw the leftovers in the freezer for another cold night.
Brown your meat – For additional flavor complexity, brown your meats (and/or vegetables) prior to cooking them in the slow cooker. It ensures that the meat is cooked thoroughly and cuts down on the amount of fat. This isn’t necessary, but does taste delicious!
Don’t overfill – To avoid spillage and uneven cooking, only fill the crockpot 1/2-3/4 full.
Cook the grains later – Rice can take about 2 hours to cook in the slow cooker. You should add this within the last two hours of the cooking process. If you will not be home to do this, simply cook the rice prior to serving. You can even store cooked rice in the freezer for up to one month to save time for future meals. Pasta should be cooked in a pot until tender and then added to the slow cooker for the last 30 minutes.
Bring on the beans – For meatless options, add a variety of beans. Use the canned variety to save time. Try to find low sodium varieties, and rinse the beans prior to adding them to the crockpot.
Veggies before meat – Always place the vegetables on the bottom of the slow cooker, and the meat on the top. They tend to cook slower than the meat.
Dried vs. fresh herbs – If you are short on time, use dried herbs. They are well suited to the long cooking times in the slow cooker. If you prefer to use fresh herbs, add them toward the end of the cooking time to avoid loss of flavor.
Don’t drown the soup – Many recipes call for a great amount of liquid. To avoid watery soups, add the liquid after all of the other ingredients are placed in the crockpot. Add just enough water to cover the ingredients. If a thinner texture is desired, add additional liquid at the end of the cooking time.
Have a crockpot meal exchange party! – It’s like a cookie exchange party, but with crockpot meals! Each person makes a meal that serves 4 people and replicates the recipe for however many people are participating in the exchange. The meals are placed in freezer bags with the cooking directions and date written on the front. Freeze the meals and voila! You have a wide variety of meals prepped and ready to be defrosted.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of Mexican crockpot dishes…. What is your favorite meal to cook in the crockpot?
Hi I’m Kristina LaRue, registered dietitian and millennial mom of two active and hungry boys. Here on Love & Zest, you’ll find (mostly) healthy recipes to fuel the whole family and real life stories of modern motherhood. I’m all about veggie-filled breakfast meal prep recipes, healthier sweets, and easy weeknight dinners made in the Instant Pot or sheet pan.
Did you make one of my recipes?? Leave a review in the comments and tag @loveandzest #loveandzest on Instagram!
If you’re a modern mama– I’d love for you to join my Facebook group A Modern Motherhood Collective!