Preparing and cooking meals can require a great amount of time and planning. This can lead to eating out for convenience, which is usually more expensive and definitely less healthy than eating at home. Brace yourself for a great solution. The slow cooker.
Historically the most popular wedding gift, utilizing a slow cooker to create healthy dishes is perfect for those with a busy schedule, as it requires little work beyond preparation. Simply organize your ingredients (which can be done the night or morning before), add to your slow cooker and press start.
This kitchen essential is not limited to cooking the main course of your meal, but can also be used to create healthy desserts. The words ‘healthy’ and ‘dessert’ may seem they wouldn’t be friends, but in moderation and with the right portions and ingredients, desserts can be a great occasional addition to mealtime.
There are several factors to consider when deciding on a dessert that is better for you. If you have a favorite recipe, consider modifying ingredients for healthier and less calorically dense options. For example, instead of traditional butter, try a butter alternative (such as Earth Balance© or Smart Balance©) that is made with unsaturated healthy fats from plant sources, rather than less healthful saturated fats. Also, try substituting egg whites for whole eggs to reduce cholesterol. Choose whole grain flour as an alternative to white flour, and use fat free milk instead of whole milk. Consider adding applesauce when making moist dessert breads to help cut back on the amount of sugar. Realize that those small changes really add up when it comes to calories, fat grams, and added sugars.
Another way to create a healthier option is to always include a fruit or vegetable in your recipe. Consider using your slow cooker to make healthier versions of apple or berry cobbler, banana or zucchini bread, or even a sweet potato dessert. You can even poach pears in your slow cooker.
Add flavor to your desserts with spices such as cinnamon, which only has about 6 calories in a teaspoon. Nuts can also be a satisfying add-in, as they are a good source of healthy fat (just watch the portion size, and try using thinly sliced or chopped nuts). Consider substituting dark chocolate chips for milk chocolate. Get adventurous and try chia seeds or hemp seeds for added nutrients.
Here are some kitchen-tested recipe delights made healthy in the slow cooker.
Healthy Slow Cooker Berry Cobbler
- 1 cup and ¼ cup whole wheat all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 egg whites (or egg substitute equivalent of 1 large egg)
- ¼ cup fat free milk, or substitute soy milk
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups frozen mixed berries of your choice, I recommend raspberries and blackberries
- Mix 1-cup whole-wheat flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and cinnamon together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine the egg whites, milk and oil, then mix into dry ingredients. Place mixture in a greased slow cooker.
- In a third bowl, mix salt and remaining flour and sugar. Add in berries and spread evenly over batter. Cover with lid and cook on high for 2 hours.
- Serve a ½ cup portion with low fat frozen yogurt for a delicious treat.
The berries melt over the flour mixture, creating an amazing combination. This recipe avoids butter & includes heart healthy canola oil (some traditional recipes include a whole stick of butter!). Make sure to use 4 total cups of frozen berries, because as they melt, they cover the flour mixture and add moisture.
Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon and Pecans
- 6 peeled sweet potatoes
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup vegan butter alternative
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2-cup pecan pieces
- Combine sweet potatoes in a slow cooker with the brown sugar, vegan butter alternative, and cinnamon.
- Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low until the potatoes are tender.
- Add pecan pieces after the recipe is fully cooked.
Once you have finished cooking your dessert, make sure to pay attention to how much you are consuming. Try eating from a smaller plate or bowl and familiarize yourself with what portion sizes look like. For example, 1/4th of a large sweet potato (or 3 oz.) is one serving. Often, the correct portion size is smaller than what we think!
When planning and cooking healthy slow cooker desserts, remember the basics – modify ingredients, add fruits and vegetables when possible, use spices and other healthy add ins, and most importantly, watch portion sizes. Utilizing a slow cooker is a great way to create healthy desserts, especially when time is limited.