Homemakers who want to provide healthier meals for their families have two main strategies which complement each other. One is to buy healthier ingredients, the other is to cook them using healthier methods. Steaming, poaching and grilling are often mentioned as healthy cooking methods. Slow cookers have the additional advantage of making more nutrients available in the food. Also, the hands-off nature of slow cooker meals means more time for you.
Replicate the age-old technique of preparing foods in the embers of a fire by using your slow cooker. Preheat the appliance as directed by the manufacturer, or your recipe.
Purchase tough, economical meats such as stewing hens, beef chuck or lamb shanks. They are more flavorful than tender meat, and stay moist when slow cooked.
Brown your meat in a hot skillet, if you wish. This creates additional flavor before your meat goes into the cooker.
Add flavorings to your slow cooker such as onions, celery, carrots, herbs and spices. Take advantage of seasoning mixes and even dry dip mixes. The slow cooker brings out the rich flavors of your ingredients, so you'll use less than with other methods.
Slow-cook the meat as directed in your recipe, usually two to four hours on high or up to 12 hours on low. Slow-cooking softens the tough muscles and melts the connective tissues, making them more digestible and freeing up nutrients.
Fill the remaining space in your slow cooker with the vegetables you plan on serving, about halfway through the cooking time. The vegetables will absorb flavor from the meat, and their fat-soluble vitamins will remain in the cooking liquid.
Remove the meat and vegetables from the slow cooker when done. Cover and keep warm. Strain the cooking juices and place them in a skillet.
Reduce the skimmed cooking juices over medium heat to make a richly flavored sauce that contains many nutrients that have been cooked out of the meat and vegetables. Once the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, carve the meat and serve the meal.
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- Steaming and poaching are best reserved for poultry and fish. Grilling or slow cooking are healthy options for other meats.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.