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Healthy Slow Cooker

Chapter 9

Top Tips for Slow-Cooker Meals & Casseroles

Instead of heavy, calorie-rich dishes topped with fatty cheese and crumbs, we turned to the slow cooker for hearty but healthy casseroles. While not every successful casserole follows the same hard-and-fast rules, there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind. Here’s what you should know.

Prepare Your Slow Cooker

Most slow cookers have a hotter side (typically the back side, opposite the side with the controls) that can cause dense casseroles like baked ziti to burn. To solve this problem we lined the slow-cooker insert with an aluminum foil collar. For recipes that we wanted to lift out of the insert intact, we first lined the slow cooker with a foil collar, then lined it completely with foil.

How to Make a Slow Cooker Foil Collar

Fold sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil until you have a six-layered foil rectangle that measures roughly 16 inches long by 4 inches wide. (Depending on the width of the foil, you will need either two or three sheets of foil.) Then press the collar into the back side of the slow-cooker insert; the food will help hold the collar in place during cooking.

Slow Cooker Foil Collar

How to Make a Slow Cooker Foil Liner

Line the slow-cooker insert with a foil collar, then fit two large sheets of heavy-duty foil in the slow cooker, perpendicular to one another, with the extra foil hanging over the edges. Before serving, these overhanging edges can be used as handles to pull the food out of the slow cooker fully intact and transfer it to a platter for serving.

Slow Cooker Foil Sling

Drive Off Excess Moisture

In the moist environment of a slow cooker, there is no opportunity to drive off moisture as there is in an oven, so excess moisture in the form of sauce or liquid that has leached out of vegetables can cause havoc when it comes to casseroles that need cohesiveness. In addition to controlling the amount and thickness of our sauces and fillings, in some cases we also found it important to precook vegetables in order to drive out moisture.

Everyone's Favorite

Recipe Spaghetti with Meatballs Florentine

This healthy twist on classic spaghetti and meatballs features tender, lean meatballs made ultraflavorful with a mixture of spinach, garlic, and Parmesan and a robust marinara.


Don't Overcook Slow-Cooker Casseroles

Our casseroles have relatively short cooking times; otherwise, we ended up with mushy pasta, bland vegetables, and dry meat. You’ll find a range of cooking times for casseroles; be sure to follow our guidance on the times and settings for vibrant flavors and properly cooked casseroles.

Making Slow-Cooker Ziti

Pasta: Raw or Cooked?

When making slow-cooker casseroles with pasta, how you handle the pasta makes a huge difference in the success of the dish. For baked ziti, raw or partially cooked pasta did not work, but toasting it with oil in the microwave did, and it prevented the pasta from becoming bloated. We found that microwaving the pasta at 50 percent power, and stirring it occasionally, gently toasted the pasta; note that only a portion will look toasted and blistered.

Toast pasta in the microwave

Use Cheese Smartly

Many healthy casserole recipes wouldn’t be complete without some cheese to boost flavor. Low-fat options like light cheddar gave our fillings the richness we wanted but became waxy when used as toppings, so we folded the cheese into the filling instead. For a cheesy finish we often chose to use a full-fat cheese (with the exception of mozzarella where part-skim worked fine), or a hard cheese like Parmesan or Asiago, or a soft cheese naturally low in fat like queso fresco or feta.


Fresh Meals From A Slow Cooker Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution

200 flavorful, fuss-free recipes featuring leaner cuts of meat, fresh vegetables, and hearty grains. Discover the test kitchen’s easy tricks for building flavor with less fat.

“It’s packed with recipes for familiar favorites, but with a more healthful twist. And couldn’t we all stand a little more of that?”

Santa Cruz Sentinel