Slow Cooker Meals for the Family
Between work, school, kids, and many other things, it might seem impossible to come home at night and make a delicious family meal. But it is possible! A slow cooker is the perfect tool for busy people with busy schedules. A slow cooker allows you to prepare ingredients very quickly and leave them to cook themselves.
Why Use a Slow Cooker?
- Making meals in a slow cooker at home is cheaper and more nutritious than going out to eat.
- Meal prep is very fast, and clean-up is, too! Most slow cooker recipes only require ingredients to be chopped (if even that!).
- Slow cookers are useful year-round. In the summer, they don’t heat the house like the oven does. In the winter, they are perfect for making soups and stews to chase away the chill.
- Slow cookers are perfect for tenderizing inexpensive cuts of meat.
- Almost anything can be made in a slow cooker, including main dishes, sides, and desserts.
- You use less electricity cooking in a slow cooker than you do while using an oven.
About Slow Cookers
Slow cookers usually have two or three settings. A low heat setting requires a cooking time of between 6 and 8 hours. A high heat setting requires between 4 and 6 hours. One hour in the oven at 350 degrees is the same as 4 hours on high and 8 hours on low.
Slow cookers come in many sizes. Small slow cookers (about 1–3 quarts) are perfect for dips, while larger slow cookers are great for large pieces of meat. Slow cookers that are between 3 and 5 quarts are big enough to feed four people. If you have a family larger than four or you want leftovers, a slow cooker that is between 5 and 7 quarts is best.
Tips and Safety
If you are concerned about leaving the slow cooker on while you are not home, you can find different times to prepare the food, even overnight. After the food is done, make sure to cool down leftovers and store them in the refrigerator.
Here are some basic tips and safety guidelines:
- To make clean-up easy, use a slow cooker liner or grease the inside of the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray or oil.
- Allow frozen meat to thaw in the fridge before putting it in a slow cooker or it will not cook thoroughly.
- Do not over fill or under fill a slow cooker; this will cause improper cooking. Always fill a slow cooker no less than halfway but no more than three-fourths of the way full.
- Most vegetables take longer to cook than meats. Vegetables should be layered at the bottom of the slow cooker with meat or poultry on top of them. Top the mixture with water, broth, or sauce.
- Liquids do not boil away in a slow cooker. If you are converting a recipe from one cooked in the oven to one cooked in a slow cooker, reduce the liquids by one-third to one-half.
- If possible, start your slow cooker on high for about an hour, and then change it to your desired temperature.
- No matter how tempting, do not lift the lid while cooking. Every time the lid is lifted, about 15 minutes of cooking time is lost.
- Add pasta and grains at the very end of the cooking time. They become mushy if they are left in too long. It may be best to cook them separately and add them after the slow cooker has finished cooking the rest of the meal.
- Dairy (milk, cheese, or cream) should be added in the last hour so they won’t curdle.
- Soft or quick-cooking vegetables—including zucchini, mushrooms, and peas—should be added during the last 45 minutes of cooking time.