Why slow cooking is so healthy

At New Year I want to feel healthier and say goodbye to the food and alcohol excesses of December. I resolve to eat better and, given our massive credit card bills, eat cheaper. A detox is a great healthy start to the year but buying liver friendly, out of season foods and supplements can ironically end up as an expensive start to January.

Winter isn’t the best time for a detox – spring or early summer is a more logical choice, when we feel more like snacking on liver-friendly radishes, rocket salads and starting the day with a green smoothie. In winter, warming casseroles, soups, and comforting root vegetables are much more enticing. Which is why I’m beginning the year with a focus on slow cooking.

There are lots of reasons for slow cooking: it’s healthy, and cheaper as we can use in-season (i.e. cheap) veggies and budget-friendly cuts of meat and pulses.
Until two years ago, I had no idea what a slow cooker or ‘crock pot’ was. We had builders in and were without a kitchen for ten weeks; I was struggling to think how, with just a camping stove to cook on, we would survive. We couldn’t afford to eat out every day, and I wanted to keep takeaways for when we really ‘needed’ one. My mum offered to loan me her slow cooker and the way I cook family meals changed for good.

Slow cookers are cheap to buy – I spotted one recently for just £12 in a supermarket. The basic versions cook just as well as the  pricier ones. They use less electricity than a conventional oven – so you’re saving on bills with only a small initial outlay. You generally use cheaper food in them – pulses, seasonal veg and cheaper cuts of meat. And you just have one pot to wash up. Big bonus.

I now slow cook meals at least a couple of times a week. The food is tasty, nutritious, healthier, cheaper and helps me to manage my time better:

Healthier: in a slow cooker, food cooks gently at a temperature of under 100°c. Meat cooked at high temperatures such as grilling or barbequing, forms HCAs – Heterocyclic Amines, and PAHs (Polycyclic Armoatic Hydrocarbons) which are carcinogenic. In fact people who eat well-done meat have a threefold increase in stomach cancer risk than those who eat it medium-rare or rare.  Cooking meat at less than 100 degrees (like in a slow cooker) creates negligible HCAs.

Cheaper: slow cooking is great for the purse. Cheaper cuts of meat, cooked for a long time, are tasty and tender so there’s no need to spend unnecessary money on expensive meat. Chicken thighs for instance, with bone and skin on can be under half the price of skinless, boneless ones.
Beans and pulses also slow cook well; having a slow cooker is more of an incentive to eat more healthy, fibre-rich veggie meals. This can significantly cut your weekly food budget, particularly if you use dried rather than canned beans. I made a fab Indian black bean dahl recently with dried turtle beans – most good slow cooker recipe books have bean recipes that go far beyond veggie chilli.

Time Management: I have two children, and work as well. Slow cooking means that I can manage my time better. I can prepare food earlier in the day when I do have a spare few minutes and energy to prepare a meal. It’s perfect if the kids have after-school activities, or I know I have a tiring day ahead and I won’t feel like cooking in the evening. It’s also great when friends come to dinner and I don’t want to be in the kitchen all evening.

The beauty of slow cooked food is that an extra hour cooking isn’t going to be a disaster – the food will still taste great. Whether it goes on at breakfast time, mid-morning or lunchtime, slow cookers can cope.  Most have at least two settings so you can cook food in four hours or ten hours – whichever suits your day better.

On top of the health, budget and time benefits, slow cooking makes the house smell nice and gives the illusion that I am perhaps occasionally doing ok on the domestic front: the dinner is in the oven, and the kitchen is clean-ish when my husband walks through the door.  If I were to be happily playing a game with the children, with them bathed and already in their pyjamas it would complete the picture – but that’s probably one step too far for me.


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