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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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For the first couple years of a child's life, their feet grow so rapidly that they typically need a new shoe size every two to three months (so, no, you're not imagining how many shoes you've been buying lately!).

Fortunately, things tend to slow down as they start walking and hit school age. Even so, it's important to make sure they're wearing the right size for maximum comfort and healthy development.

That's why we teamed up with the experts at Rack Room Shoes for tips on helping the whole family get back to school on the right foot.

1. Get professionally fitted at least once a year.

We love online shopping as much as anyone, but for the health of your child's feet, it's worth it to make at least an annual trip to a store to get them properly sized on a Brannock Device (yep, those old-school sizers you remember as a kid are still the most reliable indicators of foot length and width!). Back to school is a great time to plan a visit to a store with trained associates who can help ensure your little one is getting the right fit.

2. Remember not all feet (or shoes) are created equally.

Most babies have naturally pudgier feet that thin out as they get older, and many kids need a wider or narrower shoe than their peers. Visiting a store and speaking with a trained associate can help you gauge which shoe brand will best suit your child. Once you have that benchmark, shopping online will be easier.

3. Get good closure.

Shoe closure, that is. Nowadays, there's a variety of ways to fasten kids shoes, from slip-ons to velcro to elastic laces. Provide your child with a few options to find the closure that works best for you both.

4. Watch for tell-tale signs your child has outgrown their shoes.

Children will often be the last ones to tell you their favorite shoes are uncomfortable. If your child is tripping or walking funny, it may be time to size up.

5. Try the push-down toe method.

Think your kid has outgrown their kicks? Push down on the toe of their shoe with your thumb to see how much wiggle room they have. The ideal size is to have about half a thumb's width between the tip of the toe and the end of the shoe. (That space equates to about half a size.)

6. Pick a style they'll want to put on. (Here are some of our favorites!)

Most moms know the struggle of getting kids out the door in the morning—the right pair of shoes can help cut down on the (literal) foot-dragging. Opt for a fun style (consider shopping for their favorite color or a light-up design) that they'll be begging to wear every day. (But feel free to buy a second pair that's more your style too!)

You'll love that they're classic converse. They'll love the peek of pink.

Converse Girls Maddie, $44

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7. Don't forget the sneakers.

Whether they're running through the recess or racing in P.E., school-age children need a pair of well-fitting, durable sneakers. Be sure to get them professionally fitted to ensure nothing slows them down on the playground.

8. Understand the size breakdowns.

Expert retailers like Rack Room Shoes break up sizing by Baby, Toddler, Little Kid, and Big Kid to make it easier to find the right section for your child. For boys, there's no size break between kids shoes and men's shoes. Girls, though, can cross over into women's shoes from size 4 (in girls) on—a girl's size 4 is a women's size 5.5 or 6.

Looking for more advice? Step into a Rack Room Shoes store near you or shop online. With a "Buy One, Get One 50% off" policy, you can make sure the whole family will put their best foot forward this back-to-school season. (We had to!)

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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I can vividly remember the last time I remember feeling truly rested. I was on vacation with my family, and my dad and I had started a tradition of going to sleep at 10 p.m., then waking up at 10 a.m. to go for a run. After five days of twelve hours of sleep a night, I remember actually pausing and thinking, "I am truly not at all tired right now!"

That was probably 15 years ago.

Of course, being tired pre-kids and being tired post-kids are two entirely different beasts. Pre-kids, tiredness was almost a badge of pride. It meant you had stayed up late dancing with friends or at a concert with your boyfriend. It meant you had woken up early to hit a spin class before gliding into work, hair still damp from your shower, for a morning meeting. Being tired meant you were generally killing it at life—and I was still young enough that, with a little concealer, I could look like it.

Tired post-kids is a whole other animal.

Tired post-kids means you probably still went to bed at a reasonable hour, but you're still exhausted. Maybe you even slept in past sunrise... but you're still exhausted. You may not have worked out in weeks... but you're still exhausted. And staying out late dancing with your girlfriends? (I mean... is that real life? Was it ever?) Nope, didn't do that. But—you guessed it!—you're still exhausted.

Sometimes I look at my husband and say, "I think if I could sleep for about five days, then I would feel rested again."

But considering the average new mom loses almost two months of sleep in her child's first year of life, even that is probably a low estimate of what I really need.

Because being a mom is exhausting.

It's exhausting always putting someone else's needs above your own. I often find myself actually giving my daughter the food off my plate (because, when you're two, mom's meal must be better even if you're eating the exact same thing).

Or I'll sacrifice sneaking my own nap to lie uncomfortably with her on the couch because it means she sleeps an extra 30 minutes.

Or I'll carry her up and down flights of stairs she is perfectly capable of scaling on her own because, well, she's tired or it's just quicker than nagging her to hurry up all the time.

I often end the day bone-tired, shocked at the physical exertion of just keeping this little person alive.

It's exhausting remembering all the things. The mental load of motherhood is so real, and sometimes I'm not sure it won't crush me.

I schedule and remember the doctor appointments, keep the fridge stocked and plan the meals, notice when my husband is low on white shirts and wash and fold the laundry, add the playdates and the date nights to the calendar, and add any assortment of to-dos to my day because, well, I'm the parent at home, so I must have time, right?

And when I drop one of the thousand balls I'm juggling, I writhe under the guilt of failing at my responsibility.

It's exhausting not getting enough sleep. The sleep gap doesn't end after baby's first year.

Studies have shown that parents lose as much as six months of sleep in their child's first two years of life. That sounds unbelievable at first...but I completely believe it.

Because sometimes I stay up later than I should just to get a few minutes of "me" time. Because sometimes my sleep-trained daughter still wakes up in the middle of the night with a nightmare or because she's sick or for no real reason at all and needs me to soothe her back to sleep.

Because sometimes I'm so busy trying to keep it all together mentally that I don't know how to turn my own brain off to get to sleep. And because sometimes (almost always) my daughter wakes up earlier than I would like her to and the day starts over before I'm ready.

It's exhausting maintaining any other relationship while being a mom. I try not to neglect my marriage. I try not to neglect my friendships. I try to make time for friendly interaction with my coworkers. I try to be there for my congregation. I try to keep all these connections alive and nurtured, but the fact is that some days my nurture is completely used up.

It's exhausting doing all of the above while being pregnant. Okay, this one might not resonate for every mom, but we all know being pregnant is hard. Being pregnant with a toddler? I'm shocked it's not yet an Olympic event. (I'm not sure if we'd all get gold medals or just all fall asleep at the starting gun.)

Most days, I'm so tired and busy I honestly forget that I am pregnant, only to be reminded at the end of the day when I finally collapse on the couch and the little one in my uterus wakes up to remind me. My body is doing amazing things, sure—and I have the exhaustion to show for it.

Of course, I know that this is just an exhausting season of life. One day, one not-so-far-off day, my children will be a bit more grown and be able to get their own breakfast in the morning. One day, they'll actually want to sleep in, and I'll be the one opening their curtains in the morning to start the day (maybe before they're really ready).

One day, they'll always walk up and down the stairs themselves and will stop stealing my food and I'll be able to nap without making sure they are asleep or with a sitter. One day, they won't need me to remember all the things.

And the really wild part? Just thinking about that day makes me miss these days, just a bit.

So, yes, I'm tired. I'm always tired. But I'm grateful too. Grateful I get to have these days. Grateful I get to have this life.

But also really grateful for those days I get to nap, too.

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Who knew Amazon had so many dreamy nursery must-haves? Maybe you have a friend or family member about to have a baby or you're preparing for your new bundle of joy—either way, you can save tons on grabbing some essentials on Prime Day.

We've rounded up our favorite nursery items from basics, like cribs and changing tables, to the essentials you never knew you needed (hint: lots of storage!).

1. 6-drawer dresser

This gorgeous dresser has plenty of space for baby's clothing and accessories—and will transition seamlessly to a big kid room one day. Even better? The top is large enough to be used as a changing table. The shade of white is great for any gender, too!

Dresser, Amazon, $239.99 ($329.99)

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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