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A slow cooker can be a welcome addition to any busy household, especially if you have an adult or teen with special needs. So, when purchasing cooking devices make sure that they are as simple as possible with not a lot of bells and whistles, like the crock pot that I have featured in this article. The features are straight forward and simple: Off, On, High, Low and Warm. From my own experience as a mom of a special needs child, the simpler the steps, then the easier the recipe. When there are too many steps, melt downs ensue and neither party gets anything done.
The slow cooker is ideal for two reasons. Firstly, you can set it up on the morning and have a hot meal waiting for you when you get home at night. The second reason is that it won’t make the entire kitchen hot, so it is ideal in summer months for people who want hot food but don’t want to heat up the whole house.
If you already have a slow cooker, try to find the instructions that go with it. Read it from cover to cover with your special needs son/daughter and of course when they are mature enough and ready to start cooking. Make sure you know how large the slow cooker can hold- that is, how many cups it holds. Also consider buying the largest one if you would like to batch cook make-and-freeze meals. Eat one meal fresh and pack up the rest into the freezer, so you will always have healthy homemade food on hand.
- Start with room temperature ingredients
- Don’t open the lid once you have started the cooking process
- Place the hard root vegetables on the bottom near the heat source
- Follow the recipe carefully
Don’t try to get creative because depending on where your son/daughter is emotionally and mentally, while starting out this may be more frustrating for them because of not being able to get the recipe ‘just right’. So, try to refrain from over correcting and see what they can do instead of what they can’t. Suggest that they should follow the recipe exactly as written and if they don’t have the ingredients on hand, then they can substitute it with something else. They just need to make sure that the ingredient swap will work with their recipes.
- Always brown your meat before cooking in the slow cooker
This seals in flavor. Don’t discard the bits in the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of red wine, stir and scrape to loosen, and add to the slow cooker.
- Dredge the meat before browning if you want a thicker sauce
Flouring the meat, browning, and adding everything to the slow cooker will make the sauce thicker, for creamier soups and stews.
- Aim for your optimal temperature
Food needs to be cooked above 140 degrees F in order to kill bacteria. If you have tried to cook on the warm setting or the slow cooker has been unplugged, do not eat it. Discard and explore other options.
- Don’t use frozen food
Loading a slow cooker with icy ingredients will keep food in the danger zone where bacteria can flourish (40 to 140 degrees F). So, make sure your meat and vegetables are fully thawed before turning the cooker on. The exception is prepackaged slow-cooker meals sold in the freezer case; these are fine to use as long as you follow the package’s directions.
- Don’t overfill
For the best results, fill between one-half and two-thirds full. Don’t make it brim up to the top — it will boil over.
- Trim all fat
This will prevent your liquid from becoming a greasy mess. Remove poultry skin as well, for the same reason.
- Cut pieces evenly
Try to keep all cut-up meat and vegetables roughly the same size so you don’t get any hard or chewy bits.
- Add dairy last
If you are going to add sour cream, milk, cheese or yogurt to the recipe, stir them in during the last 15 minutes of cooking so they don’t break down and curdle or ooze.
Follow these life skill tips, and you will soon have mastered the art of cooking with a slow cooker.
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Mandu Usoro is a lifestyle blogger, freelance writer, experienced homeschooler and US Army Veteran with a BS Degree in Social Work and AA Degrees in Psychology as well as Health Care Administration. She enjoys spending time with her family, advocating for her special needs son and writing for fun and inspiration. You can get in touch with her on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and at https://www.homeschoolspecneedstidbits.com/contact-us