Slow-Cooking on the Kidney Diet 

At times, convenience reigns supreme when it comes to homemade meals. If you’re on a kidney diet, being aware of what you eat can require extra planning and preparation. A slow cooker makes mealtime one less thing to worry about when you have a full schedule. You can start your slow cooker, let it go while you’re at appointments or dialysis and come home to a ready-to-eat meal.

What is a slow cooker? 

A slow cooker is an electric appliance that cooks food at relatively low temperatures, ranging from 170-300 degrees Fahrenheit, over a period of several hours. Although slow cookers vary from model to model, most consist of a raised ceramic pot, a clear lid and an electric heating unit with a high and low setting. Some slow cookers also have a warm setting for holding after food has cooked.

What do the different slow cooker models feature?

Slow cookers come in different varieties and range in size from 1.5 to 7 quarts. Crock-Pot® may be the most recognizable brand of slow cookers, though Hamilton Beach®, Cuisinart® and many others make their own versions. Some models have one knob with a low and high setting; others have elaborate electronic displays and are programmable. Some slow cookers have a removable pot to make serving, storage and cleaning easier. Others feature a probe thermometer that allows you to control the internal temperature of meat. If you transport your meals, look for a model that is equipped with handles that clamp the lid on tightly.

What are the advantages of a slow cooker for the kidney diet?

One of the great benefits of using a slow cooker for your kidney diet recipes is that it can be left unattended for hours while food cooks.  This allows you to place the ingredients in it in the morning, turn it on and then come home later to a ready-to-eat, kidney-friendly meal. Some models also have a “keep warm” feature that automatically switches the unit to its lowest setting after cooking at a higher temperature for a set amount of time. Even if you return home late, your food will still be warm. If the slow cooker does not have this feature, don’t worry. Liquids do not evaporate in a slow cooker, so an extra hour of cooking will not result in a dried-out or burnt meal.

Another advantage of a slow cooker is that it can bring out the best in tougher pieces of meat (which are often less expensive). By cooking over a long period of time, they become tender. Using a slow cooker can also reduce clean-up time; because the entire meal is made in one unit, you’ll have only one pot to clean.

You can even fill your slow cooker pot with ingredients ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to cook. Simply remove the cooker from the refrigerator, plug it in and set it to the recipe’s temperature for an easy meal later.

How do I use a slow cooker?

  • It is important to fill your slow cooker properly. Too much liquid may boil over, and too little may cause the dish to burn. The unit should be between one-half and two-thirds full at all times.
  • Keep the lid in place as much as possible. Steam gathers at the top of the cooker to help cook food from the top. It takes a while to reheat after you remove the lid. If you must uncover your dish, add ingredients or stir quickly and then replace the lid so that you minimize heat loss.
  • Know in advance when you want your food to be ready. This will help you choose the proper recipe and setting (low or high). Most meat and vegetable dishes cook for 4-6 hours on high setting or 8-10 hours on low setting.
  • As with any appliance, read the manual before use.

Additional slow cooker tips

  • For extra flavor, brown meat, vegetables and onion in a skillet before adding to the slow cooker.
  • Add fish or seafood during the last half to one hour of cooking to prevent it from falling apart and overcooking.
  • Thicken gravies, sauces or stews by adding 2-4 tablespoons cornstarch or flour dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water. Place heat setting on high and stir until liquids thicken.
  • Raw vegetables take longer to cook in a slow cooker since the liquid simmers instead of boiling. Place vegetables in the bottom of the cooker or cut into bite-size pieces before adding to the cooker.
  • Cook rice or pasta separately and add at the end of cooking. If uncooked rice or pasta is added during the last hour of cooking, check to ensure there are at least 2 cups of liquid in the slow cooker and stir to prevent pieces from sticking together.
  • To prevent sour cream or cream from separating, add during the last 10 minutes of cooking on high or the last 20 minutes of cooking on low.
  • Adjust herbs and spices, because longer cooking times may increase their flavor.
  • Spray the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray beforehand for easier clean up.

What safety and dietary precautions do I need to take when using a slow cooker? 

In general, the precautions that you’ll want to take while using a slow cooker are the same ones that you’d use for any other method of cooking. Food safety is always important. Always defrost meats or poultry before placing in a slow cooker to avoid extended times at unsafe temperatures. After turning the slow cooker off, serve food in a timely manner and store cooled leftovers in the refrigerator. Never place a full, hot cooker pot in the refrigerator without cooling the contents first.

If you are adapting slow-cooker recipes for your kidney diet, explore ways to limit or substitute high sodium, potassium or phosphorus ingredients. Since slow-cooking uses more liquid for cooking, you may also need to adjust your fluid intake.

Kidney-friendly recipes for a slow cooker

DaVita.com has recipes specifically for slow cookers. Here’s a sampling:

Complete meals

Entrees

Sides

Beverages

Desserts

Summary

If you’ve never used a slow cooker before, you may want to consider adding it to your kitchen appliance collection. A slow cooker offers many conveniences, including time and money savings, and allows you to create home-cooked comfort food while you’re away from home. By utilizing the slow cooker recipes from DaVita.com, you can add variety to your kidney-friendly diet.

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