5 Tips for Making Low-Cost Meals in the Slow Cooker
If your slow cooker has been sitting in the pantry collecting dust, it is time to get it out and put it to good use. Once you start cooking more meals with the appliance, you will realize just how useful it can be. Follow these easy tips for making meals in the slow cooker.
Use Less Meat and More Vegetables
The great thing about slow cookers is that they allow you to have a flavorful dish with even minimal ingredients. If you are trying to save money, consider starting with cuts like pork shoulder, chicken thighs and beef brisket. This are cheaper cuts of meat that pack a lot of flavor. Use less of the meat than you normally would, then fill up the rest of the crockpot with more vegetables. So much flavor can be extracted from the meat that is flavors the entire dish and you don’t feel like you are missing out.
Trim the Fat From Your Meat Beforehand
Speaking of preparing meat in the slow cooker, you don’t need to keep the fat on just for juice and moisture. There will be enough moisture without it, so it is a good idea to trim the fat before putting meat into the slow cooker. If you fail to do this, you will end up with too much moisture, most of which is oil from the meat. This can really affect the flavor and consistency of your dish. Trimming the fat also helps to make it a little healthier.
Don’t Overcrowd the Slow Cooker
A common mistake made by people cooking meals in the slow cooker for the first time is adding too much to it. Just because it is a certain size, doesn’t mean you need to fill it up to the top. Try to keep all of the contents, including meat, vegetables, grains, and water, to no more than ½ or ¾ of the way to the top of the slow cooker. If you go beyond this, you might have difficulty getting your food to turn out right.
Brown Your Meat First
When you brown your meat on the stove, it helps to boost the flavor and give you the best results. While this isn’t required for a fully-cooked and tasty dish in the slow cooker, it is often recommended. If you don’t mind taking a little extra time to brown your meat before putting it in the slow cooker, you will be glad you did.
Avoid Loading it With Frozen Food
Unless you are putting a frozen slow cooker meal that is pre-packaged and meant for this purpose, avoid putting in frozen food. Frozen food can create a bacteria-ridden environment if it contains raw meat, so avoid doing this as much as possible. Frozen fruits and vegetables might be okay, though using fresh is always better. Let your meat thaw out before putting it in the slow cooker.
With these simple tips, you will be able to use your slow cooker to make healthy, delicious meals in a breeze. For an easier cleanup process, use slow cooker bags so you don’t have to wash the appliance when you’re done cooking; all you do is throw the bag away.
How to Eat Clean On a Budget
Eating clean is a way to choose foods that don’t contain a lot of preservatives, chemicals, high-fructose corn syrup, and other additives. You replace frozen and processed foods with whole grains, nuts and seeds, heathy fats, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables. Since it might seem like it would be more expensive, you want to learn how to cut costs.
Buy Your Produce In-Season
This is one of the best things you can do when you want to cut costs while on a clean eating diet. With this type of eating regimen, you will be eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. In fact, about half your plate on any given night is going to consist of vegetables and fruits alone. However, buying produce can get pricey when you eat a lot of it, especially if you go organic. In order to curb the costs, try to plan your meals around what is in season. Here are some produce option for each season:
Fall – Cauliflower, cranberries, apples, ginger, grapes, and butternut squash
Winter – Kiwi, kale, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, clementines, and collard greens
Spring – Artichokes, asparagus, mango, green beans, snow peas, and radicchio
Summer – Blackberries, cantaloupe, bell peppers, beets, and garlic
Consume Less Meat
While eating lean protein is a good idea if you are a meat eater, you don’t have to eat a huge slab of sirloin steak or a full three-ounce serving of chicken. You can also reduce your meat and increase your vegetables and whole grains, and still have a well-balanced meal. Meat is going to be one of the most expensive things on your shopping list when you eat clean, making this a great way to cut your grocery bill considerably.
Buy Beans and Grains in Bulk
Many people have never purchased dried rice or beans directly from the bag, soaked it, and then cooked. Don’t feel all alone if this is the case for you. However, being on a clean eating diet and wanting to save money is good motivation to get into this habit. Not only will you save a lot of money this way, but it helps you reduce your processed food intake even further. Try to buy the large bags of beans, rice, and grains that you eat often. This might be a large bag of quinoa or barley, or a bag of brown rice. Pay attention to the instructions on the bag as it will tell you exactly how to cook and prepare it.
Make More Than One Meal’s Worth
Also get into the habit of meal planning, but not just making enough for your family for one meal, but planning on leftovers. Instead of buying a pack of two chicken breasts, buy a larger container that contains 6-8 of them. You can either freeze them individually and save by buying them in bulk, or cook them all at the same time, then save the leftover cooked chicken for soup, chili, sandwiches, or salads.
Now you are on your way to saving money and still remaining on your new clean eating lifestyle.