Slow cookers great for busy people, families

When my husband and I were married, we received three slow cookers as wedding gifts. The gifts were much appreciated; however, we were fully stocked with the appliances already.

When my husband and I were married, we received three slow cookers as wedding gifts. The gifts were much appreciated; however, we were fully stocked with the appliances already.

My husband had a 4-quart slow cooker and a 1-quart slow cooker from his bachelor days. I brought a 5-quart slow cooker into the marriage. With six slow cookers in our possession, we were set to start a catering business or have a very large family.

We decided to trade in the slow cookers for some other useful kitchen items.

Many years later, our three original slow cookers still work and are used regularly. We didn't start a catering business, nor did we have enough children to star in a reality-TV show.

Our family grew to include three children, and we all appreciate homemade soup, stew, spaghetti sauce and pulled pork made in one of our slow cookers. Just like other families with children, our life has become busy with school activities.


Having food ready when we all arrive home after school and work makes family mealtimes possible. Eating together as a family is well worth the effort.

Children who eat regularly with their families eat more healthfully, do better in school and are less likely to participate in risky behavior, such as smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

Slow cookers were introduced in the early 1970s, and many sizes, shapes and brands of slow cookers now are available. The capacities vary from 2 cups to more than 7 quarts. Many of the brands have several heat settings.

How much do you know about slow cookers and their use? Try this quiz.

    1. True or false: Using a slow cooker uses less electricity than an oven.

    2. True or false: The low cooking temperature allows less expensive cuts of meat to tenderize.

    3. True or false: You should fill the slow cooker no less than half full and no more than two-thirds full because cooking too little or too much food in the slow cooker can affect cooking time and quality.

    4. True or false: Always thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator before cooking in the slow cooker to help ensure complete cooking.

    5. True or false: Keep the lid in place at all times because removing the lid slows cooking time.

    6. True or false: If you are not home during the entire slow-cooking process and the power goes out for an undetermined length of time, throw away the food even if it looks done.

All of these statements are true. While we may think of slow cookers more often during fall and winter months, slow cookers are handy all year long.
Slow cookers allow one-step preparation. You can place all the ingredients in the slow cooker and allow them to cook all day while you are gone. Most slow cookers operate at temperatures between 170 and 280 degrees. The long, slow cooking time tenderizes the meat and allows for less shrinkage.

Be sure to thaw meat or poultry before placing it in the slow cooker because slow cookers may take several hours to reach bacteria-killing temperatures. Cut large chunks of meat into smaller pieces to ensure thorough cooking.

Here's an easy slow cooker recipe to enjoy with corn muffins or baked corn chips:

Slow Cooker Taco Soup


1 pound ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1 (16-ounce) can chili beans, with liquid

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, with liquid

1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, with liquid

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 cups water


2 (14.5-ounce) cans peeled and diced tomatoes

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chili peppers

1 package taco seasoning mix

In a medium skillet, cook the ground beef until browned over medium heat. Drain thoroughly. Place the ground beef, onion, chili beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, green chili peppers and taco seasoning mix in a slow cooker. Mix to blend, and cook on low setting for eight hours.

Makes 10 servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 29 g of carbohydrate, 8 g of fiber and 870 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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