Slow Cooker: Your Best Friend for Plant-based Meals

Slow cookers are popular and an easy dinner option. Slow cooking is exactly what it sounds like—a process of cooking slowly. Using a slow cooker can retain some of the nutrients typically lost when frying or boiling.

Plant-based slow cooker meals focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. Plant-based meals are a great way to focus on choosing foods from plant sources, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop eating meat and dairy.

Research has shown plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers (specifically colon, breast, and prostate cancer), depression, and a decreased risk of frailty, along with better mental and physical function.

Here are a few tips to get started with a plant-based slow cooker meal:

  • Add a whole grain with root vegetables, like potatoes and turnips, for soups and stews.
  • Try dry beans for soups and stews.
  • Layer vegetables, starches, and sauces for a casserole-style meal.
  • Use a variety of herbs and spices to add flavor.

Enjoy a nutritious and delicious plant-based recipe perfect for slow cooking at Spend Smart. Eat Smart.,

Source: Harvard School of Public Health,

Cooking in a Hurry

When time is short for cooking, having a stocked pantry and freezer can be a game-changer. By keeping healthy staple ingredients on hand, you can shorten a meal’s cook time and save money. Try these tips to save time and money the next time you need a meal in a hurry.

Use Quick and Easy Recipes: Planning and purchasing ingredients for easy recipes that only need a few ingredients can simplify cooking. Many healthy, quick recipes can be found at
Spend Smart. Eat Smart.,, and MyPlate,

Purchase Pantry Staples: Nonperishable food items are budget friendly, and their long shelf life reduces food waste. Many delicious meals only need a few canned goods, a protein, and a whole grain pasta or rice. Some canned foods are very high in sodium, so choose low-sodium or no-salt-added options when available.

Soups in a Snap: Many quick meals can center around a nutritious bowl of soup. Make it a meal when served with a salad, whole-grain bread, and a glass of low-fat milk.

Use Frozen Vegetables: Frozen vegetables are a great way to add flavor, nutrients, and color to your meals. Frozen vegetables have nearly the same nutritional benefits as fresh, and many entrees and side dishes can be planned around a frozen vegetable.

Spend Smart. Eat Smart.,

Fiesta Skillet Dinner

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 5

Fiesta Skillet Dinner, carrots, celery, banana pudding on a plate


  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) Mexican style tomatoes
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 cup frozen (or canned) corn
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, diced
  • 1 cup prepared instant brown rice (1/2 cup uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup 2% reduced fat cheddar cheese, shredded


  1. Mix the tomatoes, black beans, corn, chili powder, and chicken in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until heated through.
  2. Add the cooked rice and stir thoroughly. Top with shredded cheddar cheese.
  3. Serve hot.

Nutrition information per serving:
360 calories, 4.5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 55mg cholesterol, 790mg sodium, 50g total carbohydrate, 10g fiber, 6g sugar, 31g protein. This recipe is courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. For more information, recipes, and videos, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart.,

White Bean Dip

Serving Size: 2 tablespoons | Serves: 8

Bowl of crackers with white bean dip and vegetables


  • 1 can (15 ounces) white beans (drained and rinsed) (cannellini, great northern, or navy)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or olive)
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried herb (basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary)


  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
  2. Serve right away or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 4 days.


  • Serve with cut up vegetables or crackers. Use as a spread for a wrap or sandwich.

Nutrition information per serving:
90 calories, 3.5g total fat, 0.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 180mg sodium, 11g total carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 0g sugar, 4g protein.

This recipe is courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.
For more information, recipes, and videos, visit

Load up on these nutrients to fuel your brain!

Magnesium: spinach, pumpkin and chia seeds, soy milk, black beans, almonds, cashews, peanuts

Omega-3 fatty acids: walnuts, chia and flaxseeds, salmon, herring, sardines

Folate: beef liver, rice, fortified cereals, black-eyed peas, spinach, asparagus, brussels sprouts

Iron: oysters, beef liver, fortified cereals, spinach, dark chocolate, white beans, lentils, tofu

Zinc: oysters, chicken, pork chops, beef roast, Alaska king crab, lobster, pumpkin seeds

B vitamins: chicken breast, beef liver, clams, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, potatoes, bananas

Vitamin A: beef liver, herring, cow’s milk, ricotta cheese, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe

Fermented foods: yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut

Remember the quality of your diet is more powerful than any one decision you make in a day. Foods play an important role in mental health, but they won’t have a significant impact on their own if you aren’t prioritizing overall diet quality, self-care, and other stress management strategies.

Harvard Health Publishing,
Mental Health America,
Health Line,

Food and Mood

An emerging field of research is nutritional psychiatry. This examines the relationship between diet and mental wellness or how foods affect our moods. One reason food choices affect our brain so much is our GI system, commonly called “the gut”—which is directly tied to our brain and the way we process emotions.

Common comfort foods (i.e., high-sugar and high-fat) are the least likely to benefit our mental health. Other harmful habits include eating processed foods, alcohol consumption, irregular meals, and lack of sleep.

The best way to support your mental health through diet is to eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and whole grains.

Roasted Vegetables and Kielbasa

Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 4

Plate with roasted vegetables and kielbasa, fruit, roll, drink


  • 5 cups chopped vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, peppers, potatoes, zucchini)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, vegetable)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 turkey kielbasa (13 ounces)


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chopped vegetables, oil, ground black pepper.
  3. Cut kielbasa into round pieces 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Stir kielbasa into vegetables.
  5. Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Spread vegetables & kielbasa evenly over baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir.
  7. Bake for up to 25 minutes more, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Cooking time depends on size of vegetable pieces.

Nutrition information per serving:
250 calories, 12g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 710mg sodium, 22g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 15g protein. This recipe is courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. For more information, recipes, and videos, visit Spend Smart. Eat Smart.,

Pork Loin Roast and Vegetables

Serving Size: 3 oz. meat and 1 cup of vegetables | Serves: 6


  • 2 cups onion, cut in wedges
  • 2 cups potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups baby carrots or 3/4 pound regular carrots, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 pound pork loin
  • For Rub: 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Mix vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil, salt, and black pepper in a bowl.
  3. Lay vegetables around edge of 9”x13”pan. Put in oven.
  4. Using a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, garlic powder, ground black pepper, and salt in the bowl.
  5. Sprinkle the mixture over the loin. Press gently so it sticks to the roast. Wash your hands.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add the loin. Brown the sides of meat. Cook about 2–3 minutes per side.
  7. Transfer the pork to the center of the pan with vegetables. Bake for about 40 minutes. Check the temperature after 30 minutes in the oven.
  8. Remove from oven when meat thermometer reads 145ºF. Let set for 5minutes. Slice and serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 8g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 55mg cholesterol, 310mg sodium, 19g total carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 7g sugar, 22g protein.

Meal Planning to Save Money

Fruits, vegetables, and a notepad and pen for planning

Want to take the guesswork out of meals for the week? Here are some tips for creating a meal plan.

  • Use a meal planning worksheet: Print a 5-day meal planning worksheet,
  • Look at your calendar. Think about school, work, and other events you have scheduled and include those in your plans.
  • What do you already have at home? Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for food you already have on hand and write those on your meal plan worksheet.
  • Use grocery store ads. Check grocery store ads and write in sale items that pair with foods you already have on hand to make a meal.
  • Include all food groups. Review your meal plan to make sure you have a good variety of each food group throughout your meals and snacks. Explore MyPlate,, to learn more about what to include.

It’s okay to be flexible with this plan and make adjustments on the fly. Stock simple foods, like fruits and veggies you prepped over the weekend, to grab on those busier days. Include leftovers in your meal plan by making a double batch of a recipe and serve it again the next day or freeze to use later. Using freezer meals are great for busy days when you don’t have time to cook.

Summer Bounty Salad


Serving Size: 1 cup | Serves: 8


7 cups vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, carrots, radishes, green onions)
1 pepper (green, red, or yellow)
2 tomatoes (red, yellow, or mixed)
2/3 cup light or fat free salad dressing


  1. Wash and prepare the vegetables as follows:
    • Cut broccoli into florets.
    • Chop zucchini, carrots, radishes, and green onions.
    • Slice pepper (1 to 1 1/2 cups)
    • Chop tomatoes.
  2. Combine vegetables and salad dressing in a bowl, stirring to coat vegetables with dressing.
  3. Cover and refrigerate 1–3 hours to blend flavors. Store any leftovers in refrigerator and use within 3 days.

We have a video for you! Make Summer Bounty Salad, This is a recipe,, that is easy, delicious, and perfect for this time of year.

Nutrition information per serving:
60 calories, 1.5g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 220mg sodium, 10g total carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 6g sugar, 2g protein