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Healthy and Safe Meals Using a Slow Cooker

Americans' busy lifestyles often show up in their cooking and eating habits. More than 54% of food dollars are spent on food away from home, which is typically higher in calories and fat and lower in calcium, fiber, and iron. When families eat together, meals are likely to be more nutritious. Family meals also provide a great time for children and parents to reconnect. One way to increase meals at home is to use a slow cooker. Check out the following information on slow cooker benefits, food safety, and recipe ideas.

Slow cooker benefits. They use less electricity than an oven and can be used year-round. Because of the long, low-temperature cooking, slow cookers help tenderize less-expensive cuts of meat. They usually allow for one-step preparation; putting all the ingredients in the slow cooker saves time and reduces cleanup. A variety of foods can be cooked in a slow cooker, including soups, stews, side dishes, main dishes, meats, poultry, and desserts.

Know your slow cooker. Most slow cookers have 2-3 settings. Food typically cooks in 6-10 hours on the low setting and 4-6 hours on the high setting. If possible, turn the slow cooker on the high setting for the first hour of cooking time and then use the setting that fits your needs. Read your slow cooker instruction manual and follow manufacturers' directions. Slow cookers are available in different sizes, so instructions will vary.

Slow cookers and food safety. Begin with a clean cooker, utensils and work area. Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Store cut-up meat and vegetables separately in the fridge. Always thaw meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Vegetables cook slower than meat and poultry, so if using them, put vegetables in first. Then add meat and liquid suggested in the recipe, such as broth, water or sauce. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.

Safely handle leftovers. Do not store leftovers in a deep container, such as the slow cooker. Store leftovers in shallow covered containers and refrigerate within 2 hours after cooking is completed. Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Cooked food should be reheated on the stove, in a microwave, or in a conventional oven until it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (F).

Recipe conversions. Most recipes can be converted. Because liquids do not boil away in a slow cooker, you can usually reduce liquids by one-third to one-half. This reduction in liquid does not apply to soups. Pasta may become mushy if added too early, so it could be added at the end of the cooking process or cooked separately and added just before serving. Milk, cheese and cream may be added one hour before serving. For more information: UNL Food Calendar.

Recipe – Crockpot Vegetable Beef Soup (Source-Eating on a Dime)

Ingredients: 2 pounds ground beef (browned and drained), ½ medium onion (diced), 3 potatoes (peeled and diced into 1” pieces), 16 oz frozen mixed vegetables, 3 cans diced tomatoes (14.5 oz cans), 4 cups beef broth, 2 tsp Italian Seasoning, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper

Directions: Place all ingredients in a 6-quart crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. Serve hot and enjoy!

Visit our homepage at www.extension.purdue.edu/putnam or you can contact the local office by calling 765.653.8411 for more information regarding this week’s column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events. Office hours are Monday thru Friday from 8:00am-12:00pm and 1:00pm-4:00pm. Evening and lunch appointments are available, upon request. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs. While many publications are free, some do have a fee. All times listed are Eastern Time. Purdue University is an equal access/equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.

Upcoming Events

January 13, 20, 27, Feb. 3, 10, 17, 24 – Winter Walking group, 9-10am, Putnam Co. Fairgrounds, register at 765-653-8411

January 20 & 27 – “So You’ve Inherited a Farm, Now What?”, virtual program, 6:30-8:30pm, $25, register at https://cvent.me/a8NVYZ

January 21 – Grow Your Farm Fridays, 9-11:30am, Extension Office, $100, register by Jan. 17th at https://cvent.me/l7RdwB 

January 25 – Garden Conference, 6pm, The Beef House, $50, register by Jan. 18th at https://cvent.me/Wr5GyE 

January 27 – Putnam County Extension & SWCD Annual Dinner, $5, 6pm, Putnam Co. Fairgrounds, register by Jan. 20th

February 1 – Indiana 4-H Day, Indiana Statehouse, contact office for registration info

February 12 – 4-H Grows Knowledge, Cloverdale High School

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