Minivan-Friendly Munchies, Part 1

I am now, officially, a ‘soccer mom’. Just a little bit, though–one kid, one practice, one game a week.  But darned if they don’t have that one practice smack in the middle of dinnertime. In this house, you don’t mess with dinner! About the time I started to think about how we’re going to handle this midweek inconvenience, my sister called me looking for inspiration and ideas because she’s looking at more like FOUR nights a week of practices, games and activities! So, big sis, and all you other crazed moms running taxi services….this is for you  ;  )

Fall (Back) in Love with Your Crockpot
Now, I love the idea of a crockpot. Dump it all in and go, then you’ve got dinner waiting when all’s done (or even if you’ve got time for just a quick pit stop at home in between activities). What I could never reconcile, though, was compromising my good-eating sensibilities by pouring in a can of gloppy condensed soup or some high-sodium seasoning packet as most recipes call for. That’s OK here and there, but if I was going to really take advantage of my crock pot then that meant consuming that stuff regularly, and that doesn’t fly when my goal is to eat and enjoy good, whole foods with my family. So I started re-inventing…

What you’ve got to do is take a fresh look at that old friend. The basic concept is combining your meat and/or vegetables with seasoning and some moisture. So…your seasoning doesn’t have to come from a packet. You’ve got spices and dried herbs in your cabinet. You’ve got rich flavored veggies like sweet potatoes and bell peppers in your fridge. You’ve got things like lemon juice and balsamic vinegar and peanut butter that all provide flavor. And, really, that condensed soup was just short-cutting the seasoning and the moisture step. But how hard is it to pour in some low-sodium chicken broth, or some diced tomatoes instead? With just a little effort, you can find recipes to slip into your repertoire that are just as quick and easy, but with the added bonus of knowing you’re eating real ingredients that are nourishing your little sports stars at the same time!

Start by taking a look at some of the crock pot recipes you already make and love and look at how you can replace the processed ingredients with the fresh versions and spices of your own. Another way is to (yikes!) search for some vegetarian crock pot recipes online. Find some where you like the flavors. Hang with me here a minute! These recipes tend to call for natural, healthy ingredients anyway, so that’s a head start to your recipe. Then, if you’d like, go ahead and either add meat to it at the beginning (browning it first and adding a little extra liquid than called for) or; at the very end, turn the crockpot to “high” and slice up some leftover chicken breasts, or steak, and add them in there to heat through. Either way, look for the leanest cuts of meat you can, trimming off visible fat before hand (make up for it with more flavorful ingredients!) and try to add in more veggies wherever you can that pack a punch nutritionally, like tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes or butternut squash. Fresh spinach can always be stirred in at the very end of the cooking time. And remember, too, crock pots tend to “mellow out” flavors over the day so be sure to keep the quantities of spices a little more aggressive than you might normally do, or add some in towards the end before serving.

Right here on my blog, check out Asian Crock Pot Pork or Turkey Meatloaf with BBQ/Cranberry Sauce (which can be done in the crockpot as well–you can even throw in the sweet potatoes!) for a few ideas.

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