Does time seem to speed up this time of year, or is it just me? The days are flying by and I picked my head up long enough to realize that Christmas is less than TWO weeks away. Where did 2014 go?! Seriously doesn’t seem like we should be ushering in a new year yet…wasn’t it just April?
Since I don’t see time slowing down anytime soon (and continue to be consumed with work, food, family, friends and those darn adult responsibilities) it is time to seek some balance. As much as I try to prevent it, when I get busy there are certain things that begin to suffer. This summer I was doing so well with exercise after getting a new bike, however the frigid temperatures DO NOT have me excited to ride. The bike is now hanging in the basement waiting for warmer weather. We did, however, decide to transport the elliptical I bought on a whim during college to our new home, and I am hoping to get into more of a routine at that point. Thanks Mom and Dad for storing it while I moved every year during college and beyond! I value exercise and find my stress level greatly reduced when I take the initiative to squeeze in regular activity (instead of the extra cookie I have been including recently).
Unfortunately this lack of motivation is beginning to extend to other parts of my life and requires me to question my priorities. Dinner, for example, has been more about speed and ease these days; I simply don’t want to spend an hour in the kitchen making dinner every night. Luckily I don’t have to when I plan ahead and use the slow cooker to gently simmer healthy foods while I am at work. There is something so comforting about walking in the door after a long, stressful day to the smell of a home cooked meal; I can instantly feel my stress vanishing and my mood lifting. That is the kind of positivity I crave during these dark days of winter!
I doubt I’m alone in struggling to adapt to shorter days, longer nights, and the busy holiday season, so I want to share some of my favorite slow cooker meals to lessen your load. Some people call it a slow cooker (which it actually is), although I tend to refer to mine as a Crock-pot because it is the name brand I have. In this post I will use both names interchangeably.
My all time favorite slow cooker meal is turkey chili. There are thousands of chili recipes out there but I keep it super simple by using canned beans, a few fresh veggies, and meat. During my vegetarian days I simply eliminated the meat, or used meat substitute, and it was just as delicious and comforting. Beans are a great source of protein and fiber which makes this a satisfying, as well as healthy, meal. Perfectly seasoned chili is just what you need to warm you up on frigid winter evenings. Bonus recipe: if you have leftovers you can easily prepare chili stuffed loaded baked potatoes the next night. I love two night dinner ideas!
Crock-pot stuffed peppers is another keeper! Sausage, rice, and vegetables are mixed together and then stuffed inside enormous green bell peppers and covered with tomato sauce. Growing up my family served mashed potatoes with stuffed peppers; I guess the carb-load wasn’t high enough with rice alone?? Ha. This recipe has stood the test of time and is extremely warm and comforting.
Tonight I made BBQ pork sliders; these are seriously amazing! Four ingredients is all it takes to produce the most tender, juicy, sweet and spicy BBQ pork…all in the slow cooker! How easy is that?! This is another two night wonder; tomorrow I plan on stuffing leftover pork into the center of a baked sweet potato! Yum!
Crock-pot BBQ meatballs are a three ingredient crowd-pleaser. Meatballs are one of my favorite football snacks and can hang out in the slow cooker for a party, too! Sometimes I use grape jelly, sometimes I use orange marmalade; they are both delicious!
I love making Crock-pot split pea soup on the weekends because I can throw all the ingredients in the slow cooker then relax the rest of the day. This soup is full of healthy veggies, fresh herbs, and savory broth but let’s be honest…it doesn’t look pretty. Like those dogs that are just so ugly they’re adorable; I have a soft spot for those fellas. What it lacks in looks it definitely makes up for in flavor! Last winter I made split pea soup during one of the most severe snow storms of the season, and I swear it got me through helping my husband shovel the driveway three times that day. Save the ham bone from your Christmas ham to use in this soup!!!
Slow cooker potato leek soup is a hearty bowl of comfort food at the end of a long day. I snuck an extra vegetable (hint: rutabaga) into the soup increasing the nutrient density and the flavor. Packing in a few extra veggies makes me feel better about the sprinkle of cheese and generous topping of bacon at the end. Healthy food is all about balance, right? Delicious, warm, creamy balance.
Last, but certainly not least, beef and butternut squash stew is a new favorite; it’s both healthy and delicious! There is a little bit of lean beef in the dish, but the bulk of the ingredient list showcases fall and winter root vegetables and warming Indian spices. My version of beef stew is a spin on the classic by adding spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cardamom. I usually serve the stew with a big hunk of baguette for soaking up the delicious broth, but it would also be wonderful served over brown basmati rice. Eating your recommended servings of vegetables has never been so delicious!
Eating dinner on the fly doesn’t have to include fast food, take-out, and unhealthy choices; using your slow cooker for weeknight dinners can take some of the stress out of your day while helping you eat healthier. Most of these recipes can be prepped the day before and simply added to the Crock-pot base and started the day you plan on serving them. I’d love to hear if you try any of these recipes or have a slow cooker favorite that you think I should try! Enjoy!