Healthy dinners, cooked low and slow

The slow cooker has long been the unsung savior of weeknight meals everywhere. It is the official kitchen gadget of busy parents, students and professionals, revered for its magical ability to take handfuls of simple ingredients and transform them into aromatic, appetizing meals in the cook’s absence.  Sara Bennett, RDN, CD, CDM, CFPP, registered dietitian nutritionist, Parkview Physicians Group – Cardiology, offered some tips and tried-and-true options for your slow cooking pleasure. It just didn’t get any easier than this.

Sara’s clues to Crock-Pot success:

  • At the beginning of the week (I do this on Sunday), put a couple chicken breasts in the slow cooker with low sodium/low fat chicken broth. You could also add sauce - buffalo sauce with 1/2 dry ranch packet, green salsa and/or spices. Cook until tender and able to shred with a fork. You can use this meat on salads, wraps, soups, and casseroles for your meals throughout the week.
  • Prepare all vegetables and meat, put them in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use in the Crock-Pot. You can put items in the Crock-Pot frozen; just add a couple more hours to the cooking time.
  • After you have made a slow cooker meal, you will likely have leftovers. Either divide them out into portion-controlled containers for lunch or freeze them for future meals.

Crock Pot Balsamic Pork Roast

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2 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast (sirloin roast)
Kosher salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon honey

  1. Season the pork with salt, garlic powder and red pepper flakes, and place it into the slow cooker. Mix together the broth and vinegar and pour it over the pork, then pour the honey over and set the timer for 4 hours on High or 6-8 hours on Low.
  2. Once the pork is cooked and tender remove from slow cooker with tongs and place in a serving dish. Break apart lightly with two forks and put back into the slow cooker. Ladle 1/2 cup sauce over the pork and keep warm until ready to eat.

Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup

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2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups low sodium fat-free chicken broth
8-ounce can tomato sauce
1-2 teaspoons chipotle chili in adobo sauce (or more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (plus more for garnish)
15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
2 cups frozen corn
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 8-ounce skinless chicken breasts (16 ounces total)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, for topping
3/4 cup shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
Fat free sour cream, to taste (optional)
Avocado, to taste (optional)
Tortilla chips, to taste (optional)

  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft, 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the chicken broth, tomato sauce and chipotle adobo sauce and bring to a boil. Add cilantro and remove from heat. Pour into Crock-Pot.
  2. To the Crock-Pot, add drained beans, diced tomatoes, corn, cumin, oregano and stir. Add the chicken breasts; cover and cook on Low for 4-6 hours.
  3. Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Add chicken back into the soup, adjust salt and cumin, to taste. Serve in bowls and top with fat free sour cream, cheese, scallions and cilantro. You can also top with avocado or crushed tortilla chips, if desired.

Crock Pot Chicken Lettuce Wraps

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For the chicken:
24 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast
1 celery stalk
1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic
16 ounces fat free low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup Frank's hot sauce or buffalo sauce

For the wraps:
6 large lettuce leaves, Bibb or Iceberg
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 large celery stalks, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
Dressing of choice, to taste

  1. In a Crock-Pot, combine chicken, onions, celery stalk, garlic and broth (enough to cover your chicken, use water if the can of broth isn't enough). Cover and cook on High for 4 hours.
  2. Remove the chicken from slow cooker, reserve 1/2 cup broth and discard the rest. Shred the chicken with two forks, return to the slow cooker with the 1/2 cup broth and the hot sauce and cook on High for an additional 30 minutes. (Makes 3 cups chicken.)
  3. To prepare lettuce cups, place 1/2 cup buffalo chicken in each leaf, top with 1/4 cup shredded carrots, celery and dressing of your choice.

Slow Cooked Black Eyed Peas with Ham

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1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and soaked overnight
8 ounces smoked lean ham steak, diced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1 tomato, diced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I used chipotle)
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Soak peas overnight in 6 cups of water. The next morning, drain peas and add to slow cooker. Add 4 cups of water, bay leaves and ham. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours or until the beans are tender.
  2. After 6 hours, to a large frying pan, add oil and sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño pepper and tomato until soft, about 6 minutes. Add to the slow cooker and season black eyed peas generously with salt, cumin, chili powder and black pepper. Cover and cook on High for 1 to 1 1/2 more hours. Discard bay leaves and serve.

Looking for more winter warmers?Jump over to our soup recipes post.

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