January 2020 Issue

Culinary Corner: Slow Cooking
By Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 22, No. 1, P. 66

This easy method can help encourage clients to cook more at home.

Eating at home is associated with many benefits. A 2017 study found that those who ate at home at least five times per week for their main meal consumed more fruits and vegetables and were less likely to have a high BMI or excess body fat compared with those who ate their main meal at home less than three times per week.1 According to the 2017 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends report from the Food Marketing Institute, 88% of shoppers believe eating at home is more healthful than eating at a restaurant. So why aren’t people eating at home more frequently? One of the top three barriers to dinners at home with family is a lack of time to prepare meals.

As dietitians, we can help our clients set goals related to eating at home more often and help them reduce potential barriers. When it comes to saving time, a slow cooker can be a useful tool for preparing a meal while at work or doing something else. Many slow cooker recipes require just one step, reducing prep time. Clients can even combine the ingredients in the slow cooker insert the night before, refrigerate the entire insert overnight, and begin cooking in the morning. To save time scrubbing the insert, clients can use a liner or coat the insert with cooking spray before use.

A primary food safety concern when cooking with slow cookers is ensuring meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Clients should never cook frozen meat in a slow cooker, as it may spend too long in the “danger zone” of 40° F to 140° F, the temperature range in which bacteria can grow. Thawing frozen meat in the refrigerator before cooking will avoid this hazard. Clients should make sure to fill the slow cooker at least half full and no more than two-thirds full, and resist the urge to lift the lid, which lengthens cooking time. Slow cookers vary widely, so even when using a recipe, it’s important to check the temperature of meat before serving to ensure it’s done.

This hearty beef stew is warm and comforting, with a subtle sweetness thanks to the addition of sweet potatoes and parsnips. Serve it on a cold night with hot, crusty bread.

— Jessica Ivey, RDN, LDN, is a dietitian and chef with a passion for teaching people to eat healthfully for a happy and delicious life. Ivey offers approachable healthful living tips, from fast recipes to meal prep guides and ways to enjoy exercise on her website, JessicaIveyRDN.com.


1. Mills S, Brown H, Wrieden W, White M, Adams J. Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):109.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew With Sweet Potatoes

Makes 8 1 1/2-cup servings

3 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed and divided
3/4 tsp pepper, divided
2 1/4 lb bottom round roast, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 11/2-inch pieces
1 T canola oil
21/2 cups low-sodium beef broth, divided
1 14.4-oz package frozen pearl onions (about 3 cups)
11/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/2 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 T minced garlic
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. Combine flour, 1/2 tsp rosemary, and 1/4 tsp pepper, and lightly coat beef with mixture. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the beef, and cook, turning occasionally, about 8 minutes, or until beef is browned on all sides. Transfer beef to a 6-quart slow cooker, and repeat with remaining beef. Add 1/2 cup beef broth to skillet and bring to a simmer. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, scraping pan to release browned bits. Pour broth mixture over beef in slow cooker.

2. In a medium-size bowl, stir together onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, 2 cups broth, the tomato paste, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, 1/2 tsp rosemary, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Pour mixture over beef in slow cooker.

3. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce to low heat and cook 6 hours longer or until beef is tender. Garnish each serving with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 330; Total fat: 9 g; Sat fat: 2.5 g; Cholesterol: 75 mg; Sodium: 330 mg; Total carbohydrate: 31 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 11 g; Protein: 30 g