For busy people, slow cookers are a fantastic help. First, they cook all day so you don't have to. Second, their high-moisture cooking method turns cheap cuts of meat into mouth-watering delicacies. As an added bonus, they use a lot less energy than your oven does.
Slow cookers have improved in technology and style since their introduction in the 1970s. But if your slow cooker recipes are stuck in the disco era, they're probably packing more salt than the Dead Sea.
Eating foods with too much sodium is bad for your heart and your health in general. Most people eat lots more than the recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon) of sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, experts recommend cutting that to 1,500 milligrams or less.
Let's take a look at what's amping up sodium in your slow cooker meals while looking at where to cut back. You'll cook healthier meals, and you could save a few bucks, too.
Lots of pot roast recipes call for dry soup mix and/or beef bouillon cubes for flavoring. These little seasonings are primarily salt. A single bouillon cube can have as much as 1,110 milligrams of sodium. An envelope of onion soup mix contains 2,440 milligrams of sodium.
You can cut back by substituting a cup of low-sodium canned beef broth (around 440 milligrams of sodium) for each bouillon cube. Or you can completely eliminate this source of salt in your meal by using sodium-free bouillon. Yes, it does exist, and it's in your grocery store right next to the regular bouillon sodium bombs.
Basic Pot Roast Recipe
- Thoroughly wash and cube four medium potatoes and place in bottom of your slow cooker. Leaving the skins on conserves vitamins.
- Wash and slice four carrots into even lengths and place them on top of the potatoes.
- Peel and slice two onions; place half of the slices on the carrots and potatoes.
- Trim any visible fat from a 3- to 4-pound chuck roast; season with pepper and garlic powder (not garlic salt), and place it in the slow cooker on top of your vegetables.
- Place the other half of the onions over the roast.
- Dissolve the sodium-free beef bouillon in 1 cup of boiling water, and pour it over roast.
- Cook the roast on low for 10 hours.
Slow cookers are ideal for vegetable soups, with or without meat. The basic recipe includes bite-sized vegetables and meat simmered all day in stock. The variations are endless.
Basic Vegetable Soup Recipe
- Dice hard vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, winter squash and/or rutabagas), and place them in the bottom of the slow cooker insert.
- Cut any meat you're adding into bite-sized bits and add it on top of the vegetables. Stick with fresh meats; processed meats like ham, corned beef and sausage can contain upwards of 1,000 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- Season with fresh or dried herbs.
- Add tender vegetables like corn, peas and okra.
- Cover with sodium-free bouillon dissolved in water. For creamy soups or chowders, stir in a half cup of heavy whipping cream (liquid, not whipped), or 1 cup of half-and-half or evaporated milk.
- Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours (or on low for 10 to 12 hours).
After a day of raking leaves, there's nothing more comforting than coming inside to a big pot of warm, hearty, ready-to-eat chili. "White" chili recipes use chicken and white beans rather than the traditional red meat and beans. Most also call for canned beans -- which jack up both the sodium and the cost of the meal.
Instead of canned beans, use dried beans. You'll need to soak them overnight, but the dried beans add only 20 milligrams of sodium per half cup of cooked beans, compared to 460 milligrams per half cup of canned beans.
White Chicken Chili Recipe
The night before:
- Cover 3 skinless chicken breasts (with ribs) with water; add 1 teaspoon each of poultry seasoning and white pepper, and boil for one hour. Let the chicken cool, and then remove it from the bones and chop or shred it. Save the broth.
- Place 1 pound of dried Great Northern beans in a large pot; drown them in water, cover the pot with a lid, and let the beans soak overnight.
To prepare the chili:
- Drain the beans and place them in the slow cooker insert.
- Chop up 1 large onion, 4 celery stalks, and 4 to 6 green chili peppers; add them to the beans.
- Place the shredded, cooked chicken on top of the vegetables.
- Measure the broth from boiling the chicken; add water to make the total liquid equal 5 cups.
- Mix one-eighth to one-quarter teaspoon red pepper, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 tablespoon cilantro, 1 bay leaf, and 1 cup commercial sour cream into the liquid; pour everything into the slow cooker.
- Cook on high for 6 to 8 hours (or on low for 10 to 12 hours).
Barbeque is a dish that requires long, slow cooking. But you don't need to sweat over the hot coals of a barbeque pit. This version cooks neatly on your kitchen counter and handles its own basting.
Barbeque Pulled Chicken Recipe
Stir the following together in your slow cooker liner:
- 1 8-ounce can of low-sodium or "no salt added" tomato sauce
- 1 4-ounce can of chopped green chilies, drained
- 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 1 tablespoon of sweet or smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons of dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon of ground chipotle chili
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
When that mixture is smooth, stir in:
- 2 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
Cover and cook on low for five hours, or until the chicken is tender enough to pull apart. Remove the chicken to a plate and shred with two forks. Stir the shredded chicken back into the slow cooker. Spoon onto buns and feed your hungry crew!
This saucy pork stew takes a little extra effort, but it's worth it. Serve over rice and add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of extra cilantro to the top.
Slow Cooker Braised Pork with Salsa Recipe
- Trim the visible fat from a 3-pound, boneless pork shoulder or butt.
- Cut into bite-size cubes, removing and discarding additional fat as you go.
- Rinse the pork pieces in cold water and place them into the slow cooker liner; turn the slow cooker to high to begin cooking the pork as you prepare the remaining ingredients.
In a sauce pan, combine:
- 1 1/2 cups of commercial tomatillo salsa (also called salsa verde or green salsa)
- 1 3/4 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1 thinly-sliced onion
- 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds or ground cumin
Bring this mixture to a boil over high heat, and then pour it over the pork in the slow cooker. Slice three plum tomatoes and gently stir them into the pork. Cover and cook on high for six to seven hours.
When the pork is tender enough to pull apart, spoon it into a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Cover it and keep it warm. Transfer the sauce and vegetables to a large skillet. Skim off and discard the fat, and then bring the sauce to a boil over high heat, removing any froth from time to time. Boil gently for about 20 minutes to thicken and intensify flavors.
Stir the cooked pork and a quarter cup of chopped cilantro into the sauce in the skillet. Heat through before serving, and then you're ready to enjoy!
Looking for tips for creating flavorful low-sodium meals? Visit TLC Cooking to find 5 tips for creating flavorful low-sodium meals.
- American Heart Association. American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook, 3rd Edition. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2006.
- Bunn, Dawn Sabino, and Steve Kolich. "White Chicken Chili." Family recipe, revised 2010.
- EatingWell.com. "Barbeque Pulled Chicken." TLC Cooking. (Nov. 1, 2010) https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/barbecue-pulled-chicken-recipe.htm
- EatingWell.com. "Slow-Cooker Braised Pork with Salsa." TLC Cooking. (Nov. 1, 2010) https://recipes.howstuffworks.com/slow-cooker-braised-pork-salsa-recipe.htm
- Good, Phyllis Pellman, with American Diabetes Association. Fix-It and Forget-It Diabetic Cookbook. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2005.
- Kroger, Keith Bridge Commons, Cumming, GA. Product comparisons. (Oct. 28, 2010)
- Publix, Hammonds Crossing, Cumming, GA. Product comparisons. (Oct. 28, 2010)
- Shames, Tammy Lakatos, R.D., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D. The Secret to Skinny: How Salt Makes You Fat and the 4-Week Plan to Drop a Size and Get Healthier with Simple Low-Sodium Swaps. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2009.