SLOW COOKERS, A Crohnie’s BFF in the Kitchen

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With all the cooking methods out there these days for making meal preparation as exciting and dramatic as the images we see on the Food Network, we sometimes overlook the tested and best approach that ensures we always have something nutritious to eat. This can leave my “should-be” BFF in the kitchen a bit abandoned at times. Who is this seemly forgotten friend of mine?  Well, it’s my trusty old crockpot. If your grandmother’s old way of cooking with a crockpot doesn’t seem as fun as a “Chopped” challenge, it is time to seriously rethink and re-vamp your slow cooker use with Crohn’s, and here’s why:

Making Sure You always Have Something You Can Eat is ESSENTIAL.

With Crohn’s Disease, constantly searching for something you can actually eat can get exhausting. Finding yourself late at night or after work without meal options is depressing and risky. Bad decisions can happen, and you can eat foods you know you shouldn’t out of desperation (and often painfully regret.)  Getting into the habit of planning at least one slow cooker meal a week, (how about “Slow Cooker Sunday”, eh?) is a great way to start. Make a big portion with ingredients that work specifically for your dietary needs. (If you are sharing a meal with family or friends, allow the toppings and sides for others to vary, but make sure the main meal works for you.) Enjoy your hot meal that same day, and baggie up the rest into several individual single-meal sized bags to stash in the freezer. Pretty soon you will have your own variety of personal “Crohn’s Friendly” options right at home for those moments of desperation.  (Soup seems to freeze best. Check out these great freezing TIPS.)

Digestion

Clearly, this is a daily struggle and always on the mind for those with Crohn’s. So why not get into the habit of cooking foods for hours on end that will give your digestive system a head start? Why not let the slow cooker do the work for us, and give the breakdown process of food a huge boost? Easier to eat and full of great flavor…. Sounds like a no brainer to me!

Nutrition: Broth Is A Great Way to Get In Those Nutrients That Are Difficult To Digest

Nutrient deficiency is always a concern with Crohn’s because of all the foods we have to avoid. Letting foods cook for long periods of time, (and even straining out the solids if you can’t easily tolerate them,) can leave some much needed nutrients behind in the crockpot to drink up in a delicious broth.

Crockpot Tips

Cooking with a crockpot has been a mainstay for home chefs everywhere because is super easy with delicious results. But here are a few tips to keep in mind to make your meals even better:

  1. Beware of the Danger Zone. Remember learning about the “Danger Zone” of food temperatures?  Leaving food out at room temperature (between the temperature range of 40 degrees F  to  140 degrees F) for an extended period of time can cause bacteria to grow on your food, and make all kinds of trouble for your stomach- especially when you have Crohn’s. Although we may not realize it, plopping food straight from the freezer into the crockpot may leave you vulnerable to these bacteria during the time it takes your frozen food to actually get above 140 degrees F.  If you plan on using meats and foods that are frozen for your crockpot meal, better be safe than sorry, and let the frozen food thaw out in the fridge the night before.
  2. Leave the lid on.  As tempting as it is to lift open the lid and smell all the goodness that is happening in there, try to resist as much as possible. Just one lift of the lid may add up to 30 minutes of additional cooking time. If a recipe calls for adding ingredients throughout the cooking process, the time is most likely taken into consideration.  Keep those other sneaky sniffs to a minimum.
  3. Layer the food Correctly. With the source of the heat coming from the bottom of the slow cooker, make sure to place the ingredients that need to cook the longest at the bottom of the pot. Meats and hearty vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots, should be placed at the base, while more delicate veggies, like peas, should be placed on the top (added only for the last 30 min or so) to not overcook.
  4. Use Bones Whenever Possible. Yep, you probably have heard me say it before, but I will say it again. Bone broth is liquid gold magic, like a leprechaun jumping over a rainbow on a unicorn. It is seriously good stuff for you. It supports the immune system, and the collagen extracted from the bones can help heal your gut lining and reduce intestinal inflammation. (Not that any of these things are issues for people with Crohn’s….Ha.) Even if your dish doesn’t call for meat with bones, throwing any left over chicken bones (that you are hopefully hanging on t0 and stockpiling in your freezer at all times) into the pot can easily be discarded when the meal is ready to be served. (More on the Health Benefits of Bone Broth.) 
  5. Think Outside of “Dinner.” Crockpot cooking has traditionally been used almost exclusively for dinner meals. Well, things have changed big time over the last few years, and people have been getting crazy creative, coming up with all sorts of uses for this almighty cooker. When dealing with Crohn’s, slow cooking food for several meal options is a win-win. Overnight Oats or Slow Cooker Sliced Apples are a great way to start off the day.  Feel a cold coming on?  Brew up a batch of Ginger Tea or better yet, make up a drink that works best for your digestive system. The options are endless. Think about your individual “digestion and nutrition,” and you can never go wrong.
  6. Prep a few “Make-Ahead” Freezer Dump Meals. There are so many great recipe options for making crockpot meals to store in the freezer. (Check out these easy Freezer Dump Meals.) If you know you are going to have a busy day tomorrow, place your frozen meal baggie in the fridge to thaw out overnight, throw it in the crockpot in the morning, and your day just got a WHOLE lot easier.
  7. SAVE, SAVE, SAVE those Delicious Leftovers. As mentioned above, don’t forget to make extra and hang onto those delicious leftovers. Even if you don’t have much left, you’ll be thrilled when you can drizzle the rest of your soup over a baked potato for lunch or add last night’s chicken into some leftover broth. Being prepared with Crohn’s is key.

Question Time:

  1. What is your favorite crockpot recipe?
  2. Do you feel like cooking food for an extended period of time helps with your digestion?
  3. What non-dinner way do you like to use a slow cooker?
  4. Are there foods you can tolerate (such as onions and other veggies) when cooked for long periods of time that you might not otherwise?
  5. How do you like to use your leftovers from slow cooker meals?
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