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Slow-Cook Your Way To Slim

Slow cookers are cheap, easy to use, and can transform lean ingredients into something special by dinnertime. Here are five protein-packed dishes you'll want to make again and again.

It's 4 p.m. and chances are you're wondering what's for dinner. Again. If you'd started a slow-cooker meal this morning, you'd have the answer. "The best thing about slow cookers is that you fix a meal, walk away, and it's ready when you want it," says Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, and co-author of Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking.

After a long day or a tough workout, it's hard to muster the motivation to make a nourishing meal. Most of our slow-cooker dishes are meals in themselves, and they require little fuss to prepare. Even better: Slow cookers simplify cleanup, a big plus for busy people.

1 Moroccan Spiced Salmon

Didn't plan ahead? Fish cooks quickly, so it can be ready for lunch or dinner even when you don't get a head start. Salmon is brimming with omega-3 fats, the kind that tamp down inflammation and play a role in joint and muscle pain. Omega-3s also get kudos for helping reduce the risk of heart disease.

This zesty, no-carb dish gets its zip from cumin, coriander, and turmeric: spices with antioxidant properties that protect your cells from everyday damage. No salmon? Halibut and cod fillets work just fine. Marinate the fish the night before or in the morning.

  1. Put the marinade ingredients in a large ziplock bag, then place the fish in the bag, making sure that the marinade coats both sides of the fish. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
  2. Add 2 tbsp water to the slow cooker. Cover and cook 2 hours on low. When done, let the fish sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes before serving.
  3. Use a spatula to remove the fish from the slow cooker and transfer to a plate. Gently remove any bones from the fish.
  4. To serve, divide the fish between plates, serve it on top of couscous or rice, and garnish each portion with cilantro.

Adapted with permission from Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking by Kimberly Mayone and Kitty Broihier, M.S., R.D. (Sterling, 2012)

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size (Makes 4 Servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 412
Total Fat 28 g
Saturated Fat 5 g
Total Carbs 0 g
Protein 38 g
Fiber 0 g
Cholesterol 107 mg
Sodium 540 mg

Moroccan-Spiced Salmon PDF (15 KB)

2 Easy Pulled Pork

Pork tenderloin has no bone and very little fat to trim. It's also a zinc powerhouse, and one serving provides 20 percent of the suggested daily intake for zinc, which regulates blood sugar levels. Pork contains thiamin, too, which insures your muscles and nervous system work properly.

  1. Place onion in a slow cooker.
  2. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, paprika, salt, and pepper, mixing thoroughly.
  3. Rub the mixture on the meat, coating evenly. Place the pork in the slow cooker.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, and cayenne pepper, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Add to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
  6. Remove the meat. Using two forks, shred the meat and onions coarsely and discard the fat.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size (Makes 8 Servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 200
Total Fat 4 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Total Carbs 7 g
Protein 33 g
Fiber 0 g
Cholesterol 100 mg
Sodium 397 mg

Easy Pulled Pork PDF (13.8 KB)

3 Beef With Root Vegetables

Lower-cost cuts of beef are well suited to slow cookers, since they require longer cooking times at low temperatures, which also allows the flavors to blend better. As for nutrition, root vegetables contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which are the nutrients that give orange produce its bright hue and serve as the raw materials for the body's production of vitamin A. (If you're watching your carbs, you can omit the veggies).

And there's no shortage of iron here, with nearly 60 percent of your daily target in one serving. Iron is especially crucial for active women, since a shortage of it can lead to fatigue, and it helps form the part of the red blood cell that ferries oxygen around the body.

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium turnips, peeled and chopped
  • 3-lb bottom round roast, trimmed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 15-oz can no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mustard powder sprigs, roughly chopped
  1. Arrange onion, potatoes, carrots, and turnips in bottom of slow cooker.
  2. Season beef with salt and black pepper. Rub flour on the beef. Place the beef on top of the vegetables.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the tomato sauce, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, and mustard powder, stirring well. Pour the mixture over the beef.
  4. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours or on high for 8 hours.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size (Makes 6 Servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 266
Total Fat 12 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Total Carbs 24 g
Protein 18 g
Fiber 4 g
Cholesterol 8 mg
Sodium 340 mg

Beef with Root Vegetables PDF (55.2 KB)

4 Thai Peanut Chicken

Peanut-butter fanatics will love this delicious slow cooker dish. Peanut butter lends creaminess and great taste, along with heart-healthy unsaturated fat, niacin, and vitamin E. It's also the primary reason this entrée supplies nearly 20 percent of your daily requirements for vitamin E, necessary for guarding against cell damage and supporting your immune system, and nearly half of your daily requirement for niacin, necessary to convert the protein, fat, and carbohydrates you consume into fuel your cells can use.

Chicken contains choline, an essential nutrient that supports your heart, liver, and brain, and helps prevent neural-tube defects in early pregnancy; a serving of Thai Peanut Chicken supplies nearly 25 percent of your daily needs. You can substitute boneless chicken breast as well.

  1. Season chicken with fresh ground black pepper and place in slow cooker.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine remaining ingredients except cilantro.
  3. Pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and place on serving platter. Pour sauce over chicken.
  5. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size (Makes 4 Servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 302
Total Fat 20 g
Saturated Fat 4 g
Total Carbs 10 g
Protein 25 g
Fiber 3 g
Cholesterol 68 mg
Sodium 643 mg

Thai Peanut Chicken PDF (54.4 KB)

5 Quinoa And Bean Chili

This cholesterol-free vegetarian chili is high in fiber and low in saturated fat, a dynamic duo that keeps your blood flowing to your muscles and organs. Plus, one serving packs about one-third of your daily potassium need, which keeps blood pressure in check and your heart and muscles in working order.

Quinoa, a gluten-free, easily digested grain with all of the essential amino acids you need to make muscle and other lean tissue, is also a source of fiber. Kidney beans supply protein and fiber, too, and they're loaded with manganese, a mineral your body requires to produce energy, make collagen, and help defend against cell damage.

No worries about leftovers, as this chili freezes well.

  1. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook 8-10 hours on low (or 4-5 hours on high).
  3. Remove bay leaf and stir well before serving.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size (Makes 6 Servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 315
Total Fat 7 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Total Carbs 54 g
Protein 13 g
Fiber 12 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 490 mg

Quinoa and Bean Chili PDF (28.4 KB)