As I discussed last week, cooking meals yourself with real ingredients is optimal for health, can save you money, and with a little practice will most likely be tastier. As I wrote though, many people are busy and feel they do not have time to cook at home. Cooking homemade healthy meals does not need to be a time drain; there are a number of methods to save time and still cook nourishing meals at home. Once you’re good at it, you may find that cooking more at home can actually save time over running out for food. This week I discuss one great time saver- the slow cooker / Crock Pot.
The basic premise of a slow cooker is a number of ingredients are added to a cooking pot with a lid, (surrounded by a metal/plastic housing), and an electric heating element cooks the ingredients at a low temperature for a relatively long period of time (8-12 hours) while unattended. Slow cookers use very low power and cook the ingredients slowly which give the slow cooker a number of advantages:
The slow cooker can be a huge time saver and be great for people who may get home late or do not know when they will get home / be able to cook. With some practice, it only takes about 10 minutes before work/school in the morning to throw some meat, a bunch of veggies, and some spices into a slow cooker pot. If no time is available in the morning, the ingredients can be put into the slow cooker pot the night before and stored in the fridge. Some recipes call for quickly browning the meat before putting in, but many recipes skip this step. To cook, the slow cooker is turned on and the food simmers all day. When done with the cooking time the slow cooker goes into warming mode and keeps the food warm until ready to serve. If you’re running late from work, studying for school, other activities, your meal cannot overcook- it will simply be sitting there staying warm for you when you finally get home. When done with the meal, clean up is very easy- only the slow cooker pot to clean!
Using a slow cooker can also be a time saver because a large of amount of food can be cooked at once and divided up for lunches/dinners that can eaten the next day or frozen and heated up later for more quick easy meals. Because you controlled all the ingredients that went into the meal you do not need to worry about possible questionable ingredients found in most convenience frozen meals.
The slow cooker can be an economical way to cook as well. Cheaper cuts of meat that are tougher and may not be as enjoyable grilled or seared will be delicious when cooked slowly with spices and vegetables. Tougher cuts fall apart and are very tender, and lots of flavor is imparted into the meat and veggies after simmering all day.
There has also been some research that cooking foods at lower temperatures is healthier vs. cooking at very high temperatures. While eating nutrient dense foods and avoiding processed food is more important than worrying over exact cooking methods, it may be a good idea to incorporate low temperature cooking methods into your repertoire sometimes. Here is a Robb Wolf article on possible risks with grilling meat too often: http://robbwolf.com/2012/06/20/grill-barbecuing-worse/ (As a side note, I love grilling and grill meat about 2-3 times per week).
There are a ton of free paleo slow cooker recipes available online. For the folks who like paper, Amazon sells a great slow cooker cookbook that I reference often for recipes (not all recipes are paleo, but can be modified as needed): Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen. I’m sure there are other good cookbooks too available.
You do not need a fancy top of the line slow cooker for easy cooking; they are relatively inexpensive online. My one piece of advice for buying a slow cooker would be to get one big enough to cook a large meal so leftovers can be saved/frozen, and to ensure that the slow cooker has the ability to warm the food after cooking is completed instead of just staying on / turning off. Some cheaper models only have an Off/Low/High/Warm setting and will not go into warming mode after cooking, which makes it much less practical.
In 12 Minutes..
Run 1 mile
Clean and Jerks (155,105)
Level 3 (135,95)
Level 2 (115,70)
Level 1 (75,45) -1200m