Slow cookers are an indispensable part of any frugal kitchen. They can make even the toughest meat tender and have a set-it-and-forget-it type of operation. Not only that, but they tend to make more than a family can eat at any one sitting which means left overs. Let take a look at some of the benefits and uses of slow cookers.
In truth, a slow cooker doesn't so much save time but move it. It allows you to do the prep work for an evening meal earlier in the day.
Here's an example. Let's say that we know that a given evening is going to be very busy. One child has soccer practice, another child has dance practice, and my wife has to stay late for an after-work meeting. Our solutions for dinner are now limited. We're either going to eat out, get take-out, or prepare something very quick and dirty at home.
A slow cooker solves this problem. Whenever we arrive home, a good home-cooked meal made from basic ingredients is sitting there fully cooked, hot, and waiting for us. We just set the table and eat - it's far faster than even eating out.
Simply put, a slow cooker moves your food preparation from a point where there are a lot of demands on your time to a point when there are many fewer demands on your time.
Since you're able to make the time transition described above, you've suddenly made it possible to cook at home when it previously didn't really work all that well.
You've either turned a meal eaten out to one eaten at home, or you've turned a prepackaged meal into a fresh, healthier, and probably tastier meal.
In either case, that's a net gain. The gain is clearer when compared to a meal eaten out, but it's still prevalent when compared to a prepackaged meal, as the costs on those are often quite high compared to what you get. Even if your costs are equivalent, the meal you've prepared is of better quality than the prepackaged one.
We also save money by using a slow cooker to prepare other ingredients, such as making shredded chicken, chicken stock, and vegetable stock.
For your first slow cooker, I'd suggest picking up a very low-end cooker, just to see if you'll use it or not. A low-end slow cooker (or crock pot, as they're often labeled) usually just has a dial on the front that enables you to choose warm, low, or high for settings and is "on" whenever it's plugged in. Straightforward, indeed.
If you find you're using that one a lot, it's worthwhile to invest in one with some more sophisticated features. A timer is a very useful feature, as is a programmable slow cooker that allows you to have the slow cooker adjust from low to high at a designated time. This enables you to put in the ingredients, have the dish start a few hours after you leave, and kick up to high just before you're planning on returning, resulting in a perfect meal. This really adds to your flexibility with using this for family meals when you're out for the day. A good example of this type is the Hamilton-Beach 6 quart programmable model.
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