Let's be honest with ourselves for a minute. Fast food/ casual dining places(like Apple bee's or Olive Garden)are not the place to go for healthy meals. We all know that, but we also know that going there means somebody else does the cooking and somebody else does the cleaning up. It's summer here in Florida and that means it's too flipping hot to crank up the stove! We go to these places because of perceived convenience. We're hot, tired, feeling down-right blah. Does eating at these establishments help solve this? Probably not, so why waste the money and take in the absurd amounts of sodium, fat, MSG, etc. (even in salads!) that they provide?
If offered you a way to have a super yummy meal waiting for you when you got home and it would cost you $.05 an hour, the cost of the ingredients and 20 minutes of your time either in the morning before heading out the door or while on your lunch break, would you want it? I'm sure you've guessed that I'm talking about a slow cooker (a.k.a. a crock-pot). Yes, the $.05/ hour is a real statistic!
When we (my husband and I) are deciding to go to dinner we spend about 20-30 minutes deciding where to go.
"What are you in the mood for?"
"How about Italian?"
"OK. Pizza or pasta-type?"
"Eh... Olive Garden ish."
"It's 6:00. The line will be out the door."
"Yeah, I'm not really feeling Olive Garden anyway."
"Well, then what do you want?"
"Applebee's? Nah. Tonight's that crazy drink special offer. The line will be even longer than usual, and we'll have to deal with a bunch of wasted students."
"How about Outback?"
"Oooo. Tonight's that really great special at Leaning Tower (local pizza place... super yummy!)"
"But we went there last time."
Get the idea?
If we transferred the time and energy we spent picking a place to eat to dumping stuff into a crock-pot that morning (or when we were home for lunch), we'd have been eating dinner and relaxing. There are about a billion resources for easy, cheap slow cooker meals.
My favorites are both blogs. The first is Hallee the Homemaker (an amazing resource for homemaking in general): www.halleethehomemaker.com
and A Year of Slow Cooking. (This lady used her slow cooker everyday for a full year! She can cook anything!) http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/
My personal suggestions for recipes from HTH are Root Beer Barbecued Beef Sandwiches and Spinach Lasagna (not a crock pot meal, but very easy and AMAZING!)I haven't tried the recipes from AYOSC, but they are making their way onto our calendar soon.
Crock-pots save you money because you can buy cheap cuts and slow cook them, making them very tender. Beans are super cheap (and good for you), but they can be kind of blah. Most slow cooker recipes fix that. Also, most of the time, you can grab a few ingredients you have in your pantry /fridge(beans, veggies, leftover hamburger, mashed potatoes),and some spices (Salt and pepper, maybe some garlic powder)... dump, pour, sprinkle... and you're good to go. Think what you want about her, but Rachael Ray's measurements (a dollop, a palm full, etc.)are SO easy, and they're perfect for this type of cooking. (I don't really do exact measurements, which is why I don't bake... too much science.) Crock pot meals are PERFECT for teaching teens/ young adults that will be off fending for themselves soon... no tears mom! Perfect for dorms. Oh how I wish I'd had a crock pot when I was in the dorms! *sigh*
Traveling this summer? Take a crock-pot! You'll save a bunch of money by going to a local grocery store and doing a pouring cans into the crock pot (and letting it cook all day while you're out and about) rather than going out to eat. (More money for souvenirs!)You come back to your hotel room and VOILA! Dinner is served!
Of course, crock-pot meals can become far less healthy very quickly (creamed soups, tons of cheese, salt from canned veggies, etc.), so you have to be aware of what you're eating. Lentil and veggie soup is both filling and healthy. Cocktail weinnes with grape jelly and barbecue sauce (seriously, it's delicious!)... not so much, but oh so yummy!