A visit to nearly any recipe site will likely yield numerous recipes for slow cooked meals, desserts, and even snacks. Slow cooking may seem like a relatively recent phenomenon, but it actually has its roots in Jewish culture. Because no cooking could be done on the Sabbath, food was put into a hot oven the day before. The oven was shut off, but the residual heat slowly cooked the food over time. Eventually, an inventor who grew up eating his mother’s bean stew, which was cooked in this manner, invented what is now known as the Crock Pot. Since the late 1930s, people have been using this device to cook a wide variety of different meals, and it’s estimated that as many as 83% of households have at least one.
Unfortunately, many people may not be taking advantage of this cooking technique as often as they could be. There are a lot of benefits to cooking your food in a slow cooker, many of which go far beyond the original use it was intended for.
Meals for Busy Families
In the 1970s when Rival Manufacturing purchased the patent for the Crock Pot, they quickly landed on what is probably the best benefit that the device has to offer; an easy way to cook meals for busy families. With more women and families with both spouses working than ever before, dinnertime can be a rush, particularly for families with children. By the time everyone arrives home, homework is seen to, chores are done, and sports practices have been attended, there isn’t a lot of time left in the day to eat dinner, let alone to make a hot, nourishing meal.
That’s what makes a slow cooker such a beneficial tool for busy families. At the start of the day – or even the night before if the inner chamber is refrigerated – it’s easy to put everything needed for that night’s meal into the slow cooker and turn it on. On a low setting, the appliance will slowly cook food for between 8 and 10 hours, and then keep it warm for several hours after that if desired. So a hot meal can be waiting when the family arrives home at the end of the day, rather than needing to be prepared. This frees up valuable time for family members who usually do the cooking or prep work in the evening, which can lead to less stress, as well as to more quality time spent together as a family.
Meals for New Moms
New moms have a lot to contend with. Little sleep, the constant holding, feeding, and rocking, not to mention the potential chasing after of older children and any housework that needs to be done each day. And if the baby doesn’t handle evenings well, needing to be held between the hours of five and seven when dinner is usually prepared, it can make dinnertime a difficult proposition for the whole family.
That’s what makes a slow cooker so advantageous. Slow cookers can cook food over the course of 10 hours, but they can also be set to a higher temperature, allowing them to cook food over just a few hours as well. So a new mom who finds some time on her hands in the middle of the afternoon while the baby is napping can take just a few minutes to throw together a slow cooker meal that will be ready during the witching hour when it’s a lot harder for her to break away.
One Pot Meals Mean Fewer Dishes
Slow cookers not only take some of the stress out of preparing a meal; they can also take some of the stress out of the meal’s clean up as well. Many slow cooker recipes are one pot or one dish meals, meaning that the main dish and the sides are usually cooked together. Soups, stews, chicken and squash, lasagna, chili, and countless other meals that can be made in the slow cooker don’t require a second pot or pan to cook. This makes clean up much faster and simpler at the end of the day. And for those that truly hate cleaning up at the end of a meal, there are even liners made of aluminum foil that can be placed inside the slow cooker, sitting between the ceramic chamber and the food. Once the meal is done, just pull the liner out and there’s no clean up from the meal at all.
Less Stress on Holidays
It seems like the more time that goes by, the bigger and more involved most holiday dinners seem to become. This in turn leads to more dishes needing to be prepared, along with more chaos as the cook tries to
coordinate the entire effort at once
Slow cookers can help to ease some of this holiday meal planning stress. While not every traditional holiday dish can be created in a slow cooker, many things like an Easter lamb or a pot of Christmas meatballs can be placed in the slow cooker at the start of the day, before the rest of the meal needs to get going. This frees up valuable oven or stove top space for other dishes, and takes one thing off the plate of the holiday chef who only has to remember the slow cooker dish before serving. Very few slow cooker recipes require much interference once they begin cooking and the initial prep work is done, so it’s easy to get at least one component of the holiday meal out of the way early on, then relax because that step is done.
Don’t Forget the Flavor
Of course one of the best reasons to begin slow cooking is the food itself. Tough cuts of meat become tender when cooked for long periods of time. Stews and soups take on extra flavor over the course of the day. Dried beans and grains require no soaking before being placed in the slow cooker with liquid. All of this adds up to tender, flavorful meals that are less stressful and time consuming than most traditional recipes and cooking methods. So stop hesitating to use that slow cooker and instead start adding it to the weekly menu rotation to begin reaping the many benefits of slow cooking food today.