Most cooks have tried a recipe that did not turn out how they planned. Sometimes it’s a cake that collapses on the counter, other times it’s a roast that ended up raw in the middle. The best thing to do when this happens is to try to learn from the mistake, so it does not happen again. We have rounded up a few common mistakes people make with slow cookers to try to help you avoid them in your kitchen.
- Be sure your slow cooker is working properly. It is critical that your slow cooker get to the right temperature to avoid problems with food safety. If you’re like me, you may have your grandmother’s old slow cooker. The good news is – you can test it. Just fill your slow cooker halfway with water and turn it on. It needs to heat to at least 170 degrees within two hours. You can test it with a food thermometer. If after two hours, the water is cooler than 170 degrees, your slow cooker is likely not heating your food fast enough and should not be used.
- Prep ahead the smart way. It is helpful to prep ingredients ahead so you can drop them into your slow cooker in the morning. However, do not mix raw meat and other ingredients together in advance. The safest approach is to keep meat separate from other ingredients until you are ready to cook.
- Cook foods to their usual safe temperatures. This helpful guide shows safe temperatures for meat, poultry, casseroles and more. You can measure temperatures using a food thermometer. Once foods reach a safe temperature, you can hold them in the slow cooker at or above 140 degrees.
Follow these simple tips to make safe and tasty meals in your slow cooker. Happy slow cooking from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!
I love using my slow cooker for many reasons. Right now, the main reason I love my slow cooker is the timing. There are usually two or three nights each week when someone in our family needs to be somewhere by 6 or 6:30. It is really hard for me to make a meal, feed everyone, and then get three children out the door on time. These are the nights when I rely on my slow cooker. I can do the prep for a meal the night before, load the slow cooker in the morning, and then have a great meal ready in the evening.
Over the years, I have gradually converted some of my family’s favorite stove top recipes into slow cooker recipes. It can take some trial and error, especially with the cooking time, but it is worth it in the end. Here are some pointers for converting your own recipes into slow cooker recipes:
- Choose recipes that simmer on the stove top or roast in the oven.
- Reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/3 to 1/2. You need to do this because the slow cooker creates its own liquid.
- Adjust the cooking time. This website has a convenient conversion chart.
If you have questions or concerns about your slow cooker, contact AnswerLine. They are a great resource for your home and family questions.
Good luck converting some of your favorites into slow cooker recipes!
We love our slow cookers at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. It is such a delight to come home from a busy day to a home-cooked meal that is ready to eat. At our holiday potluck, three of us made slow cooker dishes!
Here are some of our favorite slow cooker recipes:
- Chicken and Broth: This simple dish will leave you with delicious homemade chicken broth as well as cooked chicken to use in other dishes.
- Slow Cooker Black Eyed Pea Soup: It’s our recipe of the month and it’s perfect for this time of year. It is a tasty option for a meatless meal.
- Slow Cooker Pork Chili: This rich, flavorful chili will warm you up on the chilliest winter day. Best of all, the leftover pork from this recipe can be transformed into Shredded Pork Sandwiches. Nothing beats cooking once and eating twice!
I hope you give these recipes a try this winter. Next week Justine will share how you can get creative by converting recipes to work in a slow cooker.
Have a great week!
We often get request for recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. It’s not surprising since you can add the ingredients to the slow cooker, turn it on, and then go about your day while the food cooks. No need to spend a lot of time in the kitchen when you have other things you need to do! Here are some tips to keep food safe when using a slow cooker.
- Cook foods using the low or high heat setting. If possible, turn the cooker on the highest setting for the first hour of cooking time and then to low or the setting called for in your recipe. However, it’s safe to cook foods on low the entire time. Do not use the warm setting to cook food. It is designed to keep cooked food hot.
- Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. If frozen pieces are used, they will not reach 140°F quick enough and could possibly result in a foodborne illness. If possible, cut the meat into small chunks. The temperature danger zone is between 40°F and 140°. If food is in this temperature zone for more than 2 hours, harmful bacteria may grow to unsafe levels.
- Place vegetables on the bottom and near the sides of the slow cooker. Vegetables cook the slowest, so you want them near the heat.
- Keep the lid in place. Each time the lid is raised, the internal temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees and the cooking process is slowed by 30 minutes.
- Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate. Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the slow cooker.
- Reheat food on the stove top or microwave and transfer to a slow cooker to keep warm (140°F or above). Do not reheat food or leftovers in a slow cooker.
For additional information on slow cookers and food safety, visit:
As a dietitian I’m often asked which is better, fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables? My response is they all have benefits and can all fit into a healthy eating plan.
You want to buy fresh vegetables when they are in season. They cost less and are likely to be at their peak flavor. However, when not in season, frozen or canned versions are often a smarter buy. For example, buy fresh sweet corn in the summer but frozen or canned corn during other months.
Commercially frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of picking. Therefore, their flavor is retained and nutrient loss is reduced. Buy plain frozen vegetables instead of those with special sauces or seasonings, which can add calories, fat and sodium, as well as cost.
Canned vegetables tend to be the least expensive. And if you don’t end up using them, they won’t go bad quickly. When buying canned vegetables, buy those that have reduced or no sodium. Or drain and rinse regular canned vegetables to reduce the sodium.
When deciding whether to buy fresh, canned or frozen vegetables, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Which kind of vegetable is most appropriate for your needs? If you are making a soup or stew, canned tomatoes might make more sense than fresh.
- How much waste is there? If you are buying fresh carrots or broccoli, consider that you’ll pay for the entire weight, but you’ll throw away the stems/peels. You’ll need to have a plan to eat fresh vegetables before they spoil while frozen and canned vegetables can be stored for longer periods of time.
- How much time will it save overall? Don’t just consider the cooking time but preparation and clean up as well. If your schedule for the week is busy, you might decide to use frozen or canned vegetables if they will save you time.
Thanksgiving is coming up soon and we want our November recipe of the month to make your Thanksgiving menu. Traditional Thanksgiving stuffing can be high in calories and sodium and low on vitamins and minerals. Our Stuffing with Vegetables flips that around for a side dish that is lower in calories and sodium and filled with vegetables that provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
A bag of frozen vegetables is combined with margarine, a low sodium stuffing mix, low-sodium chicken broth, and garlic powder. Microwave the mixture for 10 minutes and you have a perfect Thanksgiving side dish. Adding vegetables to the stuffing mix adds more than just nutrients. The vegetables also add flavor and bright colors that will complement the other foods on your Thanksgiving plate.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
You were expecting us to blog about handing out pencils instead of candy, right? Though non-candy treats are a way to celebrate the holiday without loading up on sugar, most kids don’t get very excited about that approach and we want happy kids on Halloween.
Since we all know the piles of candy are coming, here are a few ideas for dealing with them in a healthy way.
- Eat a healthy and hearty meal before you head out to trick-or-treat. Children will be less likely to overdo it on candy if their tummies are full. Since the evening will be busy, consider a slow-cooker meal that you can put on early in the day like our Slow Cooker Pork Chili.
- Some experts think that limiting candy at Halloween makes children even more fanatical about it. Consider allowing children to eat what they want on Halloween night and then set limits going forward.
- Talk with your child about a plan for all of the candy before they get it. Consider allowing a piece or two every night after they eat supper over the course of a week. If they know the expectations in advance, they may be more likely to cooperate.
- Though we generally avoid wasting food whenever we can, candy is a little different. If your child brings home pounds of candy, it is OK to have them choose the ones they like best, eat them over the course of a week or so and toss the others.
Happy Halloween from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!
Football season is back! With football comes tailgating and lots of yummy foods. Between the sour cream dip with chips and brats on the grill, I find it quite difficult to plan healthy menu options when rooting on my team. It always seems more convenient to run to the store shortly before you leave for the game to grab some treats for the tailgating party. With a little planning and prep work, you can make some quick, easy, and healthy recipes the night before to bring with you.
Here are two nutrition labels comparing our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Mango Salsa recipe and a store bought Peach Mango Salsa.
When comparing the two recipes you notice that the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe offers roughly 50% less sodium per serving than the store bought brand. Although 160 mg per serving is low, that is only for 2 tablespoons of salsa. I know when I am attending a football tailgate I’m not always conscious about the amount of food or even sauces I am consuming so would likely consume more than 2 tablespoons. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Most people consume 3,000 or more milligrams per day. Preparing food at home is one way to keep your sodium intake down. Making the homemade salsa with fresh mangos will also give you 25% of your needed vitamin C intake. The store bought salsa only provides you 4% of your daily Vitamin C needs.
So, this fall when you are planning for your weekend football tailgate party, create a game plan to make some dishes from scratch. This will provide a more healthy option for the rest of your party and a cheaper option for you as you cheer your team on to victory!
Written by Cassie Pappas, ISU Dietetic Intern
With the school year started, families are settling into a new routine. If your family is like many, coordinating school, work, and activities can make it difficult to find time to prepare meals. Here are three tips to help you make mealtime a breeze!
- Have a plan.
Creating a budget and menu for your weekly meals can save time, money, and stress in the long run! Utilize grocery store ads, foods that are in season, and a specific grocery list to get the best bang for your buck while shopping. To save time and eliminate stress, plan out when to cook around other activities. This will also keep you from resorting to eating out (which can be expensive and less nutritious) because you will have food ready when you need it! Spend Smart. Eat Smart. has meal planning tools to help you get started!
- Meal Prep.
Prepare food ahead of time so that meal time is stress free! Cleaning and cutting fresh veggies for the week is an easy way to make sure healthy snacks are always on hand. You can even pre-portion them into containers or bags so they are ready to take on the go! Another way to make sure healthy food is on hand is to batch cook. Cook enough of a main or side dish to last for several meals. Freeze them or store them in the refrigerator for up to four days. Here are some recipes that freeze well. Give them a try and see how easy mealtime can be!
- Create “Planned-Overs”.
Preparing a family dinner can be very satisfying! It can also make following meals a breeze! Casseroles and slow cooker dishes are easy to make for dinner and store for meals throughout the week. If you are making a dish with a whole cut of meat, poultry, or fish for dinner, cook extra to use in salads or sandwiches for lunches. Side dishes like cooked vegetables or grains can also be saved and used for later meals. See (link to my meal plan) for a few examples of how to plan leftovers into a menu.
What has worked for you? How do you plan meals, meal prep, or utilize leftovers at home? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Emily Wisecup, ISU Dietetic Intern
Have you ever bought a melon thinking how wonderful it will taste, only to find that when you cut it up, it doesn’t have any flavor? How frustrating that is! Here are 5 steps to picking a ripe melon.
1. Look for damage.
Choose a melon that’s not damaged on the outside. It should not have any bruises, soft spots, or cracks.
2. Check the color.
When buying watermelon and honeydew, choose a melon with a dull looking appearance. A shiny outside is an indicator of an underripe melon. Honeydew melons should be pale yellow in color, not overly green. For cantaloupe, the skin underneath the net-like texture should be golden or orange in color. Avoid cantaloupes with green or white color skin.
3. Check the size.
Pick up a few melons and see how they feel. Choose a melon that is heavy for its size.
4. Check the stem.
The stem end should give to gentle pressure but not be soft.
5. Smell it.
This works best with cantaloupes and honeydew. Ripe melons should smell sweet but not be overwhelming. If it smells really sweet, it might be overripe.
Good luck choosing your next melon!