Using a slow cooker may be the answer to getting a healthy home-cooked meal on the table even on your busiest days.

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Using a slow cooker may be the answer to getting a healthy home-cooked meal on the table even on your busiest days.

Routt County CSU Extension: Dust off that slow cooker

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— Planning dinner on your way home from work is never a good idea. I hate to admit how often I wait until someone asks, “What’s for dinner?” before I start thinking through the list of possibilities. While there may be plenty of quick and convenient options for dinner, hastily prepared food or grab-and-go meals are often are less nutritious and more expensive than planned, home-prepared meals.

Imagine a more satisfying evening when you return home from a hectic day to the delectable aroma of a hearty simmering stew. A slow cooker might just be the answer to getting a healthy home cooked meal on the table even on the busiest days. So let’s explore the benefits of dusting off that old Crock-Pot in your cupboard and putting it to use. Consider these benefits:

• Save time: Slow cookers can save time, allowing you to prepare the ingredients in the morning and cook while you are gone. This one-pot meal can cut down on cleanup time, too.

• Save money: Slow cookers help tenderize less-expensive cuts of meat as a result of moist cooking at a low temperature for a long time. It also uses very little electricity.

• Add variety: Choose from a mixture of recipes such as soups, stews, meats and casseroles.

• Improve nutritional value: Use low-sodium, low-fat ingredients and add extra vegetables and whole grains to your final product.

So I am going to challenge you to get to know your slow cooker. Most slow cookers have two or three temperature settings. The experts have discovered that it is best to kick-start your cooker by turning the slow cooker on the high setting for the first hour of cooking time and then turn it back to use the setting that fits your needs. This helps the cooker quickly reach a safe temperature and assures food safety. Because it takes slow cookers time to heat, you never should start with frozen meats. Instead, thaw meat on the stove, oven or in the microwave, then place it in the slow cooker to cook.

Now, go dig out your favorite slow cooker recipe or search for one on the Internet. Send me your family’s favorite healthy, slow-cooker meals, and we can share them in the future. I promise, you and your family will be greatly rewarded when you arrive home on a cold evening and all you have to do is serve up your yummy slow-cooker meal, toss a simple salad and slice a loaf of whole-wheat bread. Dinner is served — you’re eating a healthy meal that costs less than anything you would have grabbed, and it is so much more satisfying.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email karen.massey@colostate.edu with questions.

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