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Healthy Living - Tasty slow cooker recipes for busy nights

Healthy Living: Tasty slow cooker...

Slow Cooker Tips for Busy Weeknights

It's five o'clock and you’re finally on your way home when the inevitable question arises, "What's for dinner?" If busyness keeps you from cooking more meals at home, the solution may be no further than the slow cooker on your kitchen counter. A slow cooker can be a great resource that allows you to come back at the end of the day to a nice, home-cooked meal.

Eating more homemade meals, and less fast food, can ensure that your family gets the fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy they need. A slow cooker does all the work of cooking for you, minimizing time spent in the kitchen.

Slow cookers aren't just for winter soups and stews — you can make appetizers, side dishes, fillings for sandwiches and tacos, and even desserts in a slow cooker. Unlike the oven or stove, a slow cooker gives off very little heat beyond the base, keeping your kitchen cool when it's hot outside.

Try these simple tips to make the most of this versatile kitchen tool:

  • Prep ingredients in advance: Chop vegetables and trim meats on the weekends when you have extra time. Be sure to cut uniform pieces for even cooking, and store prepped ingredients in airtight containers or plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to three days. To save time, check out our Shortcuts section in the produce department for pre-prepped fruits and vegetables, perfect for crockpot meals.
  • Make-ahead when possible: If your slow cooker has a removable insert, assemble the ingredients the night before and refrigerate the entire insert overnight. Just remember that starting with cool ingredients may lengthen the cooking time.
  • Reinvent leftovers: Instead of serving the same recipe two nights in a row, reinvent last night's dinner into something new. If you make a large pot roast one day, serve the leftovers as a filling for quesadillas or sandwiches another day.

Try these recipes for a slow-cooked meal that's perfect anytime of year.

Chicken Tacos with Salsa Verde

Ingredients

2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 12 thighs)
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 medium jalapeño, sliced into thin rings (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ cups salsa verde (green tomatillo salsa), divided
½ cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas
½ cup crumbled queso fresco cheese*
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 limes, cut into wedges (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt and pepper. Rub mixture evenly over chicken thighs. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken; cook 3 minutes per side or until browned. Transfer to a 5-or 6-quart slow cooker. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken.
  2. Heat remaining ½ tablespoon oil in pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrot, jalapeño and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender and begin to brown. Transfer to slow cooker. Add 2 cups salsa and broth. Cover and cook on low 4 to 6 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a fork.
  3. Remove chicken to a large bowl using a slotted spoon; shred with 2 forks.
  4. Warm tortillas according to package instructions. Fill each tortilla with about ¼ cup chicken mixture, 1 teaspoon cheese, 1 teaspoon salsa and ½ teaspoon cilantro. Serve with lime wedges if desired.

*NOTE: Queso fresco is a mild, crumbly Mexican cheese that can be found in the specialty cheese section in the Deli Department. If you can't find it, feta is a good substitute.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 2 tacos; Serves 6
Calories: 340; Total Fat: 14g; Saturated Fat: 3g; Trans Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 80mg; Sodium: 620mg; Total Carbohydrate: 30g; Dietary Fiber: 4g; Sugars: 7g; Protein: 24g
*Recipes modified by Elizabeth Hall, Food City Registered Dietitian, adapted from eatright.org

Slow-Cooker Minestrone Soup

Assemble this hearty slow cooker soup in just minutes, and come home to a homemade meal after a long day. Bursting with vegetables, beans and whole-grain pasta, this is perfectly balanced vegetarian meal the whole family will enjoy.

Ingredients

6 cups vegetable broth
28-ounce can diced tomatoes
15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups frozen green beans
4 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
1 cup cooked (or 2 ounces of dry) whole-grain elbow pasta
2 cups fresh baby spinach
Garnish: 1¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine ingredients, except pasta and baby spinach, in a 6- or 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.
  2. Increase heat to high. Stir in pasta and spinach. Cover and cook 15 minutes or until pasta is done.
  3. Remove bay leaf before serving. Sprinkle each serving with 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Time-saving tip: Check out our Shortcuts section in the produce department for a wide assortment of pre-prepped vegetables.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 ½ cups; Serves 10
Calories: 134; Total Fat: 0.5g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 860mg; Total Carbohydrate: 26g; Dietary Fiber: 7g; Protein: 6g.

*Recipes modified by Elizabeth Hall, Food City Registered Dietitian, adapted from eatright.org

Pulled Mexican Pork Recipe

1 cup 100% orange juice with calcium & vitamin D ½ cup 100% grapefruit juice 3 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed, bone-in 1 cup water 1 medium onion, sliced 1 ounce packet taco seasoning

This simple protein-packed dish can be enjoyed as a taco or burrito filling or served on a whole grain bun.

Ingredients

1 cup 100% orange juice with calcium & vitamin D
½ cup 100% grapefruit juice
3 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed, bone-in
1 cup water
1 medium onion, sliced
1 ounce packet taco seasoning

Directions

  1. Combine the orange and grapefruit juices and pork in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Drain pork and add it to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook on high for 4 hours or until fork tender and your thermometer reads a minimum of 145°F.
  4. While meat is still in the slow cooker, use two forks to pull meat off of the bone and shred the meat into pieces.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: ⅓ cup; Serves 12
Calories: 140; Total Fat: 5g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Trans Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 55mg; Sodium: 350mg; Total Carbohydrate: 5g; Dietary Fiber: 0g; Sugars: 3g: Protein: 17g.

*Recipes modified by Elizabeth Hall, Food City Registered Dietitian, adapted from eatright.org

Barbecue Pulled Chicken

Cook: 25 m; Ready In: 5 h 30 m

This BBQ pulled chicken recipe can serve as a hearty main course, an unbelievable sandwich or even a non-traditional topping over whole wheat spaghetti.

Ingredients

1 8-ounce can reduced-sodium tomato sauce
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Directions

  1. Stir tomato sauce, chiles, vinegar, honey, paprika, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ground chipotle and salt in a 6-quart slow cooker until smooth. Add chicken, onion and garlic; stir to combine.
  2. Put the lid on and cook on low until the chicken can be pulled apart, about 5 hours.
  3. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and shred with a fork. Return the chicken to the sauce, stir well and serve.

For easy cleanup, try a slow-cooker liner. These heat-resistant, disposable liners fit neatly inside the insert and help prevent food from sticking to the bottom and sides of your slow cooker.

Serving size: 2/3 cup; Serves 8
214 calories; 8 g fat(2 g sat); 1 g fiber; 9 g carbohydrates; 25 g protein; 15 mcg folate; 130 mg cholesterol; 321 mg sodium
*Recipes modified by Elizabeth Hall, Food City Registered Dietitian, adapted from eatingwell.com

Super Easy Veggie Crockpot Lasagna

Ingredients

1 ½ 24 ounce jars Food Club traditional pasta sauce
9 thick whole grain lasagna noodles
24 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese OR cottage cheese
3-4 cups chopped vegetables (spinach, kale, onions, peppers, squash, zucchini etc.)
2 cups shredded Mozzarella or Provolone cheese
Parmesan cheese for topping

Directions

  1. Spray the crockpot with nonstick cooking spray. Spread ½ cup tomato sauce on the bottom.
  2. Break noodles so that they fit and mostly cover the bottom. Cover with 1/3 of the ricotta, veggies, sauce, and cheese. Start over with noodles and repeat layers two more times for a total of three complete layers. End with a layer of noodles on top, covered with a thin layer of sauce and rest of shredded cheese.
  3. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 5-6 hours. Turn the crockpot off completely and let the lasagna sit for at least one hour. This allows all the moisture to get soaked up into the noodles.

Time-saving tip: Check out our Shortcuts section in the produce department for a wide assortment of pre-prepped vegetables.

Serves 9
Calories: 322; Total Fat: 11g; Sodium: 389mg; Total Carbohydrate: 19g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Protein: 19g.

*Recipes by Elizabeth Hall, Food City Registered Dietitian


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