For lazy dieters looking to shed belly fat, a slow cooker is a total savior. You just pop everything into the machine, set it, and forget it! And then, just a few hours later, you're gifted with a wholesome, delicious meal—or at least that's what you think you're getting.
While slow cooker meals are relatively simple to make (you just pour everything into the pot, after all) they can be a bit fickle. There are a number of recipe staples that, surprisingly, don't fare very well once they've been exposed to long stretches of heat (like salmon and wine, for example). And then there are the things that so many of us commonly cook with that are simply no good for our health.
To help you make your home cooked meals even more delicious and slimming, we've drummed up a list of 15 things that should never find their way into your crock pot. Commit these items to memory—and then be sure to avoid any slow cooker recipe that calls for them. Looking for even more tips to help you create the best slow cooker meal in all the land? Don't miss these 20 Smart Slow Cooker Tips for a Flat Belly.
It may be a potent and tasty source of protein and healthy fats, but fish can become very rubbery after a trip through the slow cooker—mainly because they cook so quickly. You're better off baking fish or searing it on the stove. Not sure which types are the best bets for your waistline and health? Don't miss our report, Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits.
Long Grain & White Rice
While tons of slow cooker recipes call for long grain and white rice, we suggest steering clear. Not only is white rice basically void of nutrition, it essentially turns to mush in a crock pot. Long grain varieties, on the other hand, tend to become dry on their outer layers, while remaining undercooked in the center. Thankfully, the solution is a simple one: When a recipe calls for rice, simple use sturdier—and more nutrient dense—grains like farro and barley, instead. The taste and textures of these grains will be more pleasing and you'll be consuming more protein- and fiber-rich sources of energy, too. It's a win-win!
Many Italian-inspired crock pot recipes called for jarred tomato sauce. Unfortunately for your waistline, the jarred concoction is one that's overflowing with added sugar. Look for recipes that don't rely so heavily on the sugary stuff for flavor or try to find a no-sugar-added sauce. Not sure which jars fit the mold? Check out our incredible report on The 40 Best and Worst Pasta Sauces!
Slicing and dicing carrots and meat can be a total pain, so it makes sense you'd prefer to use frozen fare in your slow cooker meals. But make sure you fully thaw everything before tossing it into the cooker. If you don't, the temperature of your dish will likely stay between 40 to 140 degrees fahrenheit—the ideal environment for bacteria to flourish. And if you happen to stock up on too much frozen fare, use it all up with the help of these 17 Surprisingly Delicious Things to Do with Frozen Produce
Tender, Lean Cuts of Meat
Not only can crock pots save you time, they can also save you money. Since they cook everything so slowly, they can transform cheaper, tough pieces of meat into tender slices of heaven. But that also means that tender and lean cuts of meat will easily become overcooked. Pork shoulders, lamb shanks, and brisket (opt for grass fed to save calories!) will taste far better than pork tenderloin, for example, which will taste better when cooked over an open flame or in the oven. That said, if you're going to be making fattier meat for dinner, be sure to avoid drenching your meal with other sources of fat like cheese or creamy sauces. (These 17 Ingredients that Nutritionists Say to Avoid Cooking With should be no-gos, too.) It's okay to indulge a bit, but when it comes to health and weight maintenance, it's best to keep things balanced by dialing back on the extras.
White Meat Poultry
If you tend to be attracted to chicken and turkey recipes, know this: dark meat like thighs and drumsticks will remain juicier and tastier in the slow cooker than white meat. Stick to these cuts for a more delectable meal.
Peas & Asparagus
Have you ever noticed that most crock pot recipes call for hearty veggies like sweet potatoes and carrots? This isn't just a random coincidence; sturdy produce holds up better in a slow cooker than quick-cooking veggies like peas and asparagus. If you really want to add them to your dish, only do so towards the very end of the cooking process so they don't wind up overdone.
There's no denying it: Bacon can make just about any dish taste ten times better. But if you think you're making the healthy choice by opting for the turkey variety over the pig, you've got things all wrong. Although turkey bacon has about 13 fewer calories per slice, it's higher in sodium—not great news if you have high blood pressure or tend to get bloated. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. (That's why we've named it one of these 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss.
Another issue with bacon? It crisps up pretty quickly and can get dry if it spends too much time in a slow cooker. If you want to sprinkle it onto your dinner, fry it up in a pan and simply add it to the mix right before you're ready to dig in.
Cream & Milk
It may be tempting to make your favorite creamy soup or casserole in the slow cooker, but don't do it! When dairy is exposed to heat for too long, it can get seriously lumpy and gross—especially the low-fat varieties. Heavy cream does a bit better, but if you're a health conscious cooker, you probably don't want to be drenching your entrees in the stuff. So, what can you do to add a bit of creaminess to your dish? Use Greek yogurt; just mix it in towards the very end of the cooking process.
If you love the idea of baking whole chickens or turkeys in your crock pot, know this: you must remove the skin! Otherwise, it will become chewy, rubbery, gelatinous, and just plain gross.
Since a crock pot is totally sealed, alcohol can't evaporate out, which means the resulting flavor will be more aggressive than what you may want. We suggest skipping the boozy stuff altogether or using only a tiny splash—trust us, it will go a long way!
More often than not, pasta + crock pots = a giant mushy mess. And yes, this rule holds true for things like chicken noodle soup, too, where noodles aren't the star of the show. Most pasta recipes are quick and easy to make, so it better to make them using traditional methods. Looking for some noodle recipes that won't derail your weight loss progress? Check out these 20 Fat-Burning Pasta Recipes for Weight Loss.