Preparing your meals ahead of time is a great way to stay accountable, eat perfectly portioned nutritious food, save time and money, and make sure you never have to worry about a grumbling stomach when lunch time hits. Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean spending hours over the weekend chopping, baking and cooking, though. Using a slow cooker (crock pot) can help streamline and simplify weekend meal prep--and provide you with healthy meals for the week to come.
When slow cooking proteins, especially lean animal proteins like chicken, turkey and pork, plan to shred. Shredded chicken, turkey and pork are versatile staples that are perfect for sandwiches or wraps, on top of salads, over rice or enjoyed as is. Pre-prepared proteins can also give you a head start on weeknight cooking too! Shredded meats work well in soups and stews, and in casseroles.
Prep your proteins ahead of time in the slow cooker by following these easy steps. If you’re working with a large piece of meat like a turkey breast or pork shoulder, cut it into smaller chunks. Most boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be added to the slow cooker whole, but if you’re working with particularly large pieces, cutting them down can help them cook faster. Next, add liquid to partially submerge the meat. Chicken broth is usually a good place to start. You can also add in some great flavor at this step. Adding salsa, apple cider (great with pork!), or your other favorite seasonings to the cooking liquid is an easy way to add flavor to your protein.
Cook the protein on high or low for the time specified by your slow cooker’s manufacturer and then remove the meat to a separate dish for shredding. After hours of slow cooking, your meat should shred easily with two forks. For extra flavor, add your shredded meat back into your slow cooker and allow it to soak up some of the cooking liquid.
Grains and Starches
You can also prepare different grains and starches in your slow cooker. If brown rice is a lunch staple or you like oatmeal in the mornings, prep these grains in the slow cooker over the weekend to save time during the week.
For brown or white rice, grease your slow cooker with butter or margarine to prevent sticking, then add rice, water and salt (optional) per package directions. Cook white rice on high for two hours and brown on high for three.
Slow cookers are a great option for steel-cut oatmeal, which takes longer than other oats to prepare. Per one cup of steel-cut oats, add three cups of water or the milk of your choice along with a pinch of salt. Cook on low for three hours. For two cups of oats, coak on low for five to six hours. You can also add raw or dried fruit, like raisins, when adding the oatmeal and water, and top to your tastes after cooking.
Baked white and sweet potatoes can also be made easily in the slow cooker for an easy addition to dinner or for the week ahead. To prepare, wash and prick potatoes with a fork. Rub each lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Cook on low for eight or up to ten hours, then unwrap carefully and serve or allow to cool and refrigerate, wrapped, for up to four days. Avoid letting potatoes sit in your slow cooker in its “Keep Warm” setting as letting potatoes stay warm but below 140°F can lead to a greater food poisoning risk. Also note that the flesh of your potato may darken, but this is a natural chemical process and the potato is perfectly safe to eat.
You can portion each meal for the week individually in refrigerator and microwave-safe containers, or in recipe-ready quantities.
If prepping your lunches, add a side of lightly steamed, roasted or sauteed vegetables or leave space to add in fresh greens for a salad the day you plan to eat the meal. Using your slow cooker to streamline your weekend meal prep can save you hours of standing over the stove, so give it a try next time you’re meal prepping.
Sara Vallejo is a self-confessed happiness, health and self-development junkie from Chicago. She writes professionally in a business development and marketing capacity, and as a volunteer for a digital nonprofit. Miss Vallejo is a passionate mental and holistic health advocate who believes that good health is an ongoing journey best undertaken with supportive peers. Sara’s areas of expertise include nutrition, weight loss, women’s health, mental health and disability issues. She is returning to weight loss and fitness following orthopedic surgery and is excited to encourage and inspire fellow Azumio community members and readers to achieve the best health they can.
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