This guide on slow cooker savings teaches you how to stretch your budget without sacrificing nutrition and taste – all with the help of one simple appliance!
Cooking food in a slow cooker can be an energy-efficient way to save money on groceries without compromising taste or nutrition while at the same time, saving money on energy costs. With minimal energy use, you can enjoy delicious and budget-friendly meals at home whether you are cooking meat-free dishes or not. Find out more about the benefits of using a slow cooker including my top tips for making healthy slow cooker meals on a budget.
Advantages of slow cookers
It is no wonder that they are so popular, They are great at creating delicious meals with minimal effort. By cooking food at a low temperature over a long period of time, slow cookers not only offer cost-effective and time-saving advantages compared to other methods of cooking but also extract maximum flavour out of simple ingredients.
+ Convenient, Time-Saving Meals
Slow cookers offer a convenient and nutritious way to cook delicious recipes without spending lots of time in the kitchen. They suit busy lifestyles and with flexible heat settings offer the flexibility to prepare meals either a day or a few hours ahead. They have 2 main heat settings, low and high, as well as a keep warm function. Some are also fitted with a timer.
Depending on the recipe, you simply need to put the ingredients in at the start of the day and switch your slow cooker on – most will have a timer so you can leave it cooking in peace. Meals cooked in a slow cooker also stay warm for several hours, giving you even more convenience. You can come home after work with dinner ready and waiting!
The high-heat setting will enable you to cook dishes in 3 to 4 hours on high-heat settings, an ideal afternoon slot to prepare dinner ahead of time.
I find my slow cooker ideal to batch cook packed lunches overnight, as they are warm enough the next morning to fit directly into thermos food flasks.
+ Low Cost and Energy Efficient
According to the Energy Saving Trust, around 4% of energy bills is spent on powering kitchen appliances, including hob, oven, kettle and microwave. Electric ovens can be particularly energy hungry using on average 2000 to 3000 watts, or 2 to 3 kilowatts per hour.
By comparison, slow cookers are an affordable and energy-efficient way to cook, so they can help you save money. This is because they run on lower wattage than electric ovens. For example, the Salter 3.5 L Chalkboard Slow Cooker below uses up to 170W per hour, and for example, according to Salter, saves 81% off energy bills when comparing the energy used to cook pork in a 1.8 kilowatts electric oven.
A slow cooker is also great if you love to experiment with different recipes – stews, soups, pasta, beans, pulses, casseroles, and so on are all excellent choices for slow cookers. If you are cooking meat, a slow cooker will often give tender results that an oven will find hard to match.
One of the many advantages of slow cooking is that it is a hands-off cooking method that appeals equally to novice or seasoned cooks. Most of the active time consists of chopping or browning ingredients. To suit different household sizes, slow cookers come in different capacities from 1.5 to 7 litres. An average 3 to 4.5 litres slow cooker will serve 4 people.
+ Healthy Homemade Meals
When preparing homemade dishes, you have more control over the ingredients used and can be sure to limit those unhealthy fats and sodium in favour of nutrient-rich foods. Consequently, home-cooked meals are usually tastier, healthier, and lower in both fat and salt compared to ready-made meals.
This is particularly true with slow cookers as they offer a low-fat and tasty alternative to pre-packaged convenience food. The low cooking temperature over a prolonged period of time is ideal to retain moisture and nutritional value while extracting maximum flavour.
My top tips for making healthy slow cooker meals on a budget
Slow cookers are one of the best kitchen gadgets for creating healthy, delicious, budget-friendly meals. When slow cooking, you can omit expensive and hard-to-find ingredients while still creating an amazing meal. Here are some tips to help make the most of your slow cooker without breaking the bank.
Cooking cheaper cuts of meat
A slow cooker is a great appliance for cooking meat and comes especially handy when you want to cook with less meat.
The low and gentle heat of the slow cooker allows meat to break down gradually, tenderizing even the toughest cuts of meat over time. If you are trying to cut down on food costs this is the ideal way to cook cheaper cuts of meats such as pork shoulder, beef chuck, brisket, ribs, or chicken thighs. Whatever meat you decide to buy, make sure the animal has been raised under higher welfare standards.
Slow cook cheaper cuts of meat. For maximum flavour, don’t forget to brown the meat first.
Cooking with less meat
Slow cooking helps to lock in flavour and moisture, so you can use less meat and still enjoy a flavoursome meaty taste. Try to bulk up your meat dishes with plant-based ingredients instead.
If you are cooking on low heat, it is best to add pre-cooked beans rather than dry ones as the temperature will not be high enough to kill off lectin, a natural toxin present in high levels in some beans – especially in kidney beans. According to the WHO, eating raw or undercooked beans can lead to serious illness and it is best to soak the dry beans for at least 12 hours and then boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes in water. Tinned kidney beans have already had this process applied and so can be used without further treatment.
Swap 50% of the meat content of stews, chillis, casseroles and so on with wholesome grains, beans and pulses.
It is a shame that slow cookers are not associated more often with vegetarian and vegan dishes. They are in fact perfect for plant-based cooking as vegetables gently simmered with pulses, beans or whole grains make simply fabulous healthy dishes. The slow cooking process is ideal to infuse them with plenty of flavourful spices and herbs and create warm, comforting vegan stews, casseroles, chilis and curries.
While root vegetables are perfect for hearty slow cooker recipes, tender vegetables like courgettes, tomatoes and mushrooms work equally well for lighter dishes. My favourites include timeless classics such as slow-cooked ratatouille, mushroom stroganoff, sweet potato curry, apple butter, the Simple Vegetarian Chilli (included in the Salter 3.5 L Chalkboard Slow Cooker’s leaflet) or my Butternut and Spinach Tagine below.
For maximum flavour, saute a base of onion, garlic and spices first, before adding them to the slow cooker. The longer ingredients simmer, the more concentrated their aroma will be – so keep in mind that you might need fewer herbs and spices but still get a real punch of flavour.
I am a big fan of preparing large quantities of food as once as it saves me time and money. Slow cookers are perfect to cook big-batch dishes that can stretch over several dinners, and lunches or be frozen for later use. They come particularly handy on evenings when I have no time or desire of cooking.
Cooking for one or two people can be difficult at times, but a smaller-capacity slow cooker gives the flexibility to easily prepare standard family-size recipes.
Meal prep at the weekend and prepare bigger batches of food to enjoy whenever you like, freezing any leftovers in portion-sized containers to eat on busy days.
To minimise food waste and make the most of the food I have at home, I often use my slow cooker to create delicious meals such as soups, stews, curries, pasta, or rice out of whatever odds and ends are in the fridge!
Every couple of weeks have a fridge raid to ensure that nothing that is still good to eat goes to waste.