While slow cooking may have a minimal effect on the nutrient levels in certain kinds of veggies, you don't have to disregard this convenient cooking method completely. When prepared correctly, many slow cooked vegetables retain more of their disease-fighting nutrients than the same vegetables prepared on the stove. A slow-cooking process also helps veggies retain more flavor, making them more appealing to some picky eaters. Choose the right vegetables and the correct slow cooker setting to easily incorporate more vitamin rich vegetables into your family's diet.
Choose the Right Vegetables
To get optimum nutritional benefits from your slow-cooked meal, choose heat-friendly vegetables. These vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, kale and cabbage actually release more healthy vitamins and antioxidants when cooked than their raw counterparts. Since slow cooking heats and cooks vegetables at a low temperature, the process removes fewer vitamins from these heat-friendly vegetables than boiling or simmering. Vegetables like spinach and cucumber, on the other hand, do not cook as well in slow cookers and may become mushy and less nutritious.
The best way to make sure no nutrients escape from your vegetables in the slow cooker is to trap the steam. When you place the water or broth into the cooker with your vegetables, double check to make sure the lid fits the pot as tightly as possible. Check to make sure there are no cracks or openings through which steam might escape, and resist the temptation to remove the lid during the cooking process. As your vegetables cook, any leaked vitamins will be preserved in the broth rather than evaporating.
Eat the Broth
Eat the broth along with your vegetables to make sure you're getting a meal that's as nutrient rich as possible. If you remove your veggies from the slow cooker and strain the water, you cheat yourself and your family out of the benefits of vitamins like vitamin C, which easily leach into cooking water. If you want a slow-cooked meal abundant in veggies, try making a soup, stew or chili. Along with providing an easy-to-prepare one pot meal, you will also guarantee that your family receives all of the nutritional benefits vegetables provide. You can also reserve the vitamin-packed cooking water for use in a sauce or marinade to accompany your meal, or as a soup base.
Use the Lowest Setting
Cook your vegetables on your slow cooker's lowest setting to help keep vitamins, minerals and antioxidants locked inside. On most slow cooking devices, the lowest setting will cook your food at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking a meal on the low setting takes a few hours longer, so you will need to plan ahead. Assemble the ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning, for instance, and come home from work hours later to a fully-cooked stew, soup or casserole.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.