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Debate Club: Slow Cooking or Stove-Top Efficient?


What’s So Great About Slow Cookers?

by Rebecca Lang

I understand the allure of the slow cooker. Come home from a long day and, like magic, dinner is ready to eat. Except, it’s not magic.

It takes planning and preparation to make the meal come together, and I’ve never found it to be the indispensable kitchen appliance that other people do. I’d rather just spend 30 minutes cooking a meal and serving it right away than making it a whole day affair.

I really wanted to like my slow cooker. I’ve used it several times, in fact, and with each effort, I was hopeful, almost giddy, to taste the end result. However, I was always disappointed and so was my family. Besides being a handy vessel to keep my spinach and artichoke dip warm at a potluck, I simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.

Now, if you invite me over for a dinner party, I won’t boycott a meal you’ve prepared in your slow cooker. In fact, I’ll probably ask for seconds. But if you come visit me, you can bet your favorite ladle that I’ll be serving you either a stove- or oven-made dish, and here’s why:

It’s efficient

I learned to cook in college by watching Rachael Ray and copying my mother’s easy Italian recipes. I embrace their style of quick and tasty cooking, where no pocket of time is wasted. My go-to recipes let me take care of chopping veggies and even some clean-up within a thirty minute window.

Why would I want to go through all of that ingredient prep work, and then wait six to eight hours to actually eat?

Not to mention that slow cooker recipes often recommend browning meats before they’re placed in the slow cooker. This step adds a really important layer of flavor to the dish, and…I’m just going to say it: If you don’t do it, then your slow cooker dish is not going to taste as good as my stove top version.

Besides flavor, for efficiency’s sake, I’d rather finish cooking the meal in the same pot I used to brown the meat. Transferring it to the slow cooker and adding an extra pot to my sink just doesn’t make sense to me.

I can make dinner on the fly

I know slow cooker enthusiasts talk about the joy of “setting it and forgetting it,” but there’s no guarantee I’ll remember to start my slow cooker in the first place. Mornings in my house are just as busy as the witching hours between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. And I’m not a morning person. Thinking about dinner – not to mention prepping all the components of the dish – before I’ve even eaten breakfast is my idea of a nightmare.

Plus, many recipes require ingredients, like noodles and potatoes, to be added at later stages of the cooking process, so that they don’t get too mushy. This ends up being another step I have to remember, if I want to eat on time. Instead, I have a staple of pantry ingredients that let me put something decently healthy in front of my family in a pinch.

Meals are flexible

My husband and daughter will happily eat what I make, but my son is still developing his taste preferences, which is a nice way of saying he’s picky. Serving meals that have separate components gives me peace of mind that he’ll eat at least one thing on his plate. I don’t care if it’s only a few roasted carrots. At least I know his tummy is full of something, because I’m definitely not making him an entirely different meal.

The other benefit of meal separates is that I can better control how much of each type of food I’m eating. In my personal version of heaven, I will eat my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs every day for every meal. In the real world, I can’t eat like that and still fit into my jeans, so eating separates lets me keep an eye on how many servings of protein, carbs, veggies, and fats I’m really having. This has proven to be a huge component of healthy eating for me.

I still get to enjoy slow-cooked meals

The rich flavors of soups and stews are comforting and hard to beat. Plus, the cuts of meat that do so well in low and slow settings can feed an army and are inexpensive. So, I make big batches – bigger than what could fit in my slow cooker – when I have time on a weekend. Then I freeze them in portions to heat up on busier nights of the week.

If you have a slow cooker recipe that you think will prove me wrong, please share it in the comments. I’d love to find more uses for my fancy spinach dip warmer. 

Why You’ll Have to Pry My Slow Cooker Out of my Cold, Dead Hands

by Jody Allard

Some people think slow cookers are a waste of time. They say they only produce mushy food and that everything that is cooked in one tastes the same. Those people are wrong.

My slow cooker is akin to an extra limb. Next to my children, it’s my most beloved family member. It feeds my family of eight – three sets of twins and a spare, plus myself – with little to no effort on my part, and contrary to what some naysayers think, my slow-cooked meals are straight up delicious.

It’s easy to see why the slow cooker takes so much heat; many online recipes rely on the same tired mix of meat, canned soups, and veggies. When you take the lid off your slow cooker eight hours later, all you can see is mush, and it’s anyone’s guess whether they’re eating chicken or beef that night. Ew.

But those monstrous creations aren’t the fault of the poor slow cooker. With a little effort, you can find recipes with nary a canned soup in sight and your crew will be begging for seconds. Soups and stews are always a hit in the Crock-Pot – and the meat is always more tender and flavorful than when it’s cooked in the oven – but my absolute favorite slow cooker meals are Indian curries. Slow cooking allows more time for the flavors to mesh, and doing the prep work beforehand makes them practical for even the busiest week nights.

Speaking of prep work, let’s talk about the abject misery that is dinner. Every single night, without fail, my kids expect me to feed them. This entails creating a weekly menu, preparing shopping lists, and going to at least three different stores to get stocked up. But then, as if that’s not enough, my kids expect me to actually cook all of this food. I know, it’s really just unacceptable.

That’s where my slow cooker comes in. The beauty of it is that you can pre-make ingredients, freeze them, and have a stockpile for anytime you know you’re just not going to want to cook the next day. If you can’t quite get it together to prep that much in advance (guilty!), keeping a few simple ingredients on hand means that you can make dinner happen in minutes by dumping them into a slow cooker when you leave for work.

My kids can’t get enough of my three-ingredient pulled pork, and taco night gets even easier when my two-ingredient salsa chicken is hot and ready when I walk in the door. Can you handle dumping a pack of chicken thighs and a jar of salsa in the slow cooker on your way out the door? I thought so.

I don’t live solely on Crock-Pot fare, of course. I make all sorts of elaborate (and absolutely not elaborate) meals for my family, and I pride myself on being something of a foodie. But the reality is that sometimes my kids have competing after-school activities or I have extra work to tackle in the evening, and I would rather stick pencils in my eyeballs than cook a meal. Any meal.

It’s ever-so-easy to order pizza or delivery from local restaurants on those nights, and that’s fine once in awhile, but on a regular basis it’s just not healthy or budget-friendly. Having at least part of the meal already cooked and waiting for me gives me the push I need to stop staring longingly at dinner delivery apps on my phone and get the rest of dinner on the table.

So if everything from curries to chicken pot pie tastes the same to you when they come out of a slow cooker, you should probably get your palate checked. Overcooking is often why these meals get mushy, which is where high-tech cookers come in. Not only do newer models have automatic shut-offs when their cooktime is finished, some of them can even be controlled by your phone. Running late? Switch it to warm and forget about it. It’ll be ready and not even slightly mushy when you get home! Seriously, what’s not to love about this miraculous gadget?

Unless you’re the Barefoot Contessa, meandering through your garden each day to prepare a special dinner party for a friend, learning how to use your slow cooker to maximum advantage will make that dreaded daily question of “what’s for dinner?” a distant memory.

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It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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Last year my sons and I gave my wife the one thing every mom really wants every now and then: the absence of us.

We woke up that morning, kissed her on the cheek, and got out of dodge. Ten hours later we returned to find her eating carrot cake in a bathrobe and listening to podcasts.

Like so many dads when they do any solo-parenting, I posted a picture to Facebook. It got a big response, with more moms than I expected saying that's just what they wanted, too. I'm not an expert in presents or parenting, but consider this my recommendation to dads to make "taking the kids and leaving" this year's gift for moms—and a much bigger part of your regular life.

Don't get me wrong, we love my wife Kate. She's everyone's favorite family member. She's brilliant and funny and full of adventure. She's both the strongest person I know and the most caring. She's amazing at freeze dancing. She can name one million Pokemon. She knows instantly which injuries need Band-aids and which need kisses... and which, like me stabbing my hand trying to open a coconut with a kitchen knife, need the ER.

That's precisely why on her birthday we needed to get out of there. For a few hours Kate didn't have to do our emotional labor or be the default parent. No one asked her to make his brother return a toy or to check the tone in an email. She didn't have to perform appreciation for a breakfast in bed we would have made wrong. For one day, she didn't have to take care of anyone. It's embarrassing this is rare, but I admit in my family it is.

This brings up some big questions.

Why couldn't we have just stayed and taken care of her for a change? Did we really have to leave?

The answer is yes, at least for now. Our family's modes should include times when we're all around and Kate's not working, but they just don't.

When the kids need a Lego separated, it's her name they yell first down the stairs. If they're bored and looking to gin up some interaction, it's her lap they cannonball onto from the back of the couch. And that all goes for me, too, only without the Legos and cannonballs (mostly). That means whenever we're with Kate she has to be at some level of "on."

She shouldn't have to feel like the decision-maker, problem-solver, and nurturer in chief whenever she's in the same house as her husband and children, but she does. That means, for now, the quickest way to free her from that burden is just for us to get out that door.

That brings us to the biggest questions.

Does one day make a difference when there's such an everyday imbalance in the parenting load?

If Kate shoulders so much of the practical and emotional labor in our house that a day on her own can be a *literal* gift, what does that say about us?

It says a lot of things, but here's the main one: we need to change. If you'd asked us on our wedding day if our plan for raising a family was to divide the load unequally, we'd have both said "no way." But here we are.

So what do we do about it?

Well, the better question is what do I do about it. The problem is—I need to transform my share of the work around here. It can't be on Kate to solve that, too. That means I need to step up, to start doing much more not only of the caretaking and meal-planning and cooking, but the playdate-scheduling, doctor appointment-making, and child-life-organizing.

Leaving the house for one day doesn't turn me into a co-primary parent, but maybe it can be a jump-start. Sometimes the best way to begin changing habits is to create situations where those habits are impossible.

I might not have the strength to change our caretaking patterns when all four of us are together, but if it's just me and the boys with mom inaccessible, no one has another choice. The more days where I'm the primary parent, the more all four of us get accustomed to me in the role we're used to just having Mom in.

Kate might be superior to me in every aspect of parenting—which makes sense, given she's been practicing more than I have for eight years—but it's important to remember that a shared load is better for everyone. Of course it's better for her, but it's so much better for the boys, too. And it's better for me.

Our children are wonderful, hilarious and exquisite tiny humans. The focus on my 5-year-old's round face as he tries to make a card tower. The sound of my 7-year-old's boot cracking a puddle of ice as he walks to school. Pokemon. I miss all that when I'm not leaned forward as a parent.

And it's now or never. I've been a father for eight years. In 10 more, if we're lucky, our oldest will be in college. Childhoods go by fast. If don't become a better dad now, when will I?

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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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