We live in a world of hurry-up food—drive-throughs and fast food, microwave entrées and instant soups. Quick cooking has its obvious appeal: there’s no preparation time and little mess to clean. All that cumbersome crafting of a fine dish, the pesky smell of a home-cooked meal, the burdensome time involved in bonding with family over dinner? Not necessary. We can eat our dinner out of a box, tray, or paper bag on our laps as we drive home from work or as we shuttle our children between after-school events. But as we toss the crumpled-paper remains of our hurried meal into the trash bin, we have to ask ourselves: are we missing something?
We hardly need list the perils of fast food: studies continue to show a link between fast-food consumption, weight gain, insulin resistance, heart disease, and diabetes risk. Packaged, instant, microwavable foods have similar dangers; they’re higher in sodium and fat than home-cooked meals, low in fiber, and often contain sugar, additives, and preservatives.
Home-cooked meals force us to slow down. They require some attention. As a bonus, we know what ingredients were used. But who has time for slowing and knowing?
The middle way might just be tucked behind some of the other seldom-used tools in your kitchen cabinets: it’s the slow cooker—and it’s perfect for these harried times. We can have a home-cooked meal ready as soon as we finish our daily dash.
Using a slow cooker is also about taste. Slow cooking allows flavors to fully develop, coaxing the natural sugars in vegetables, and incorporating oils and spices into the ingredients. Here’s another plus: many studies show that cooking meats at high temperatures creates heterocyclic amines, carcinogenic chemicals formed from the heating of muscle tissues.
Though they’re the antithesis of fast, slow-cooker recipes can be simple and convenient. Brown the vegetables and spices the night before or in the morning, put them in the slow cooker, turn it on, and dinner will be done by the time you get home for the evening. If you’re pressed for time, you can skip the browning step with little sacrifice in flavor.
Cozy Crock-Pot Meals
Rosemary-scented Chicken and Vegetables
1½ cups organic chicken broth
1 cup pearl onions, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 large sweet potato, chopped
4 small bone-in chicken breasts, washed and patted dry
1½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper, divided
2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic; 4 peeled, 2 minced
1 tsp. sweet paprika
4 large sprigs fresh rosemary, more for garnish
PER SERVING: 397 CAL; 33 G PROT; 21 G TOTAL FAT (5 G SAT FAT); 20 G CARB; 95 MG CHOL; 332 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 6 G SUGARS
Moroccan Winter Squash Stew
3 Tbs. coconut oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbs. grated fresh ginger
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 small acorn squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup chopped dried figs
½ cup chopped dates
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in
5 cups filtered water
1 cup very coarsely chopped raw almonds
¼ cup finely chopped raw almonds, plus more for garnish
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
PER SERVING: 339 CAL; 11 G PROT; 14 G TOTAL FAT (4 G SAT FAT); 49 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 57 MG SOD; 10 G FIBER; 22 G SUGARS