There is one life-saving kitchen appliance that every chronic pain patient should have: a crockpot. Let us count the ways in which a crockpot can be your very best friend, and share some dos and don’ts for the best crockpot recipes for pain patients.
Why you should try a crockpot
It’s the end of the day, and it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong has. On top of all the stress from work, the commute, and general family life, you can feel the warning signs of a pain flare-up lurking in the shadows. The last thing you want to think about is what you’ll be making for dinner, and your family doesn’t need another meal from a bag or a box. On days like these, a crockpot can help us all get our basic needs met, while staying healthy. Here’s how.
1. Crockpots can soothe the savage (hungry) beast
With just five minutes in the morning, your dinner can be ready to go when you walk in the door. This is a lifesaver when it comes to hungry kids and partners. Less time in the kitchen cooking means more time to sit down and have a family meal. And on days when the pain gets to be too much, it’s easy to direct another cook in the kitchen.
2. Crockpots can help cut out snacks
Chances are good that if dinner is not ready quickly when you get home, hungry kids and partners may reach for snacks, eating whatever is at hand and ready to go. Many times this is pre-packaged food, filled with salt, sugar, and preservatives. Having something ready immediately means you can wash your hands and sit down to a homemade meal.
3. Crockpots can help you predict the future
When you suffer from chronic pain, you know that there will be days when you don’t feel like cooking. Freezer meals can help with that, but freezer crockpot meals take even less time and effort to prepare. Simply open a bag, add some broth, and turn on the crockpot. Healthy, nourishing food is good for your body and your soul. This is doubly important on days when pain flares up. Try these crockpot vegan freezer meals, or these healthy, carnivorous freezer meals. Prepare a variety and let family members take turns picking which one they want.
When planning freezer meals, stock up when things go on sale. Organic meats and vegetables can be expensive, but if you see a good sale or have a coupon, stock up and plan your menus accordingly.
4. Crockpots offer dietary options
If you are thinking about incorporating more vegetarian meals into your diet, crockpots are great for all kinds of vegetarian recipes. Pinterest has a wealth of ideas from soups to lasagna to antioxidant-rich blueberry butter. A Pinterest search for the superfood quinoa will have you pinning delicious ideas for days!
How to find the best crockpot for you
If you don’t already have one in a closet or on a shelf in your garage, here are a few tips on buying a crockpot:
- Decide on size: For one or two people, a two- or three-quart crockpot will be big enough to handle dinner. If you have a big family or are planning on cooking whole chickens, 6 ½-quart sizes might be best.
- Choose a material: Crockpots can be glass, stoneware, or metal. Stoneware seems to hold the most even heat, but it can chip. Metal crockpots are durable but can heat unevenly.
- Look for features: Your crockpot should have at least three settings – warm, low, and high. Some crockpots have timers or a setting for medium, but three settings are really all you need. The lid on the crockpot should also be made out of glass, not plastic, and it should be sturdy and substantially heavy.
- Select accessories: Things like an insulated carrying case or strap to keep the lid closed are helpful if you are transporting a hot meal. Plastic liners can make clean up simple, but plastic can leach chemicals, so it’s a trade-off.
Dos and don’ts for crockpot recipes
Not all crockpot recipes are created equal. Some contain ingredients that can aggravate pain or are just not healthy for anyone. Others take more time and effort than they should. Here are things to watch out for in a recipe to make it the healthiest for you.
Don’t: Use a recipe with too many steps
One of the best parts about using a crockpot is the time you save in meal prep. Most crockpot recipes understand that and keep their preparation simple, but there are some that get very involved, adding multiple steps before you even turn the crockpot on. This defeats the purpose!
Do: Look for recipes that incorporate healthy time savers
Of course it is best to use freshly chopped veggies in your crockpot, and yes, browning any meat before adding it to the crockpot adds another layer of flavor, but these steps can add time. Most grocery stores sell pre-chopped vegetables, but research suggests that frozen vegetables retain their nutrients even longer. Add frozen veggies that may have been blanched (partially cooked in boiling water and then cooled quickly in an ice bath to stop the cooking process) at the end of the cooking time instead of the beginning to retain their crisp texture and flavor.
If you want to use frozen vegetables for convenience but still like the idea of fresh, buy your veggies whole, chop them, and freeze in crockpot portions (e.g., one cup of onion, one cup of carrot, two cups of broccoli). You can add uncooked frozen vegetables a little earlier in the cooking process without worrying about turning them to mush.
As for browning meat, you can brown meat and then freeze in crockpot-sized portions. This can also save you money, as you can stock up ahead of time when things go on sale. As another savory flavor enhancer, look for Bragg’s amino acidsto add at the end for an umami boost, or make easy caramelized onions in the crockpot and freeze to add later. Bragg’s is gluten free and has a similar taste to soy sauce or tamari. An added benefit to amino acids is that they increase serotonin production, something that fibromyalgia patients often lack.
Don’t: Reach for the cream of ___ soup
Many popular crockpot recipes use as their base a can of cream of ___ soup.
While this can be a time saver (sauce and thickener all in one: no muss, no fuss), cream of ___ soups are filled with sodium and artificial flavors and preservatives. You want to make a meal that is healthy, but adding a can of cream of ___ soup ruins all your hard work.
Do: Make your own cream of ___ soup mix
Make your own simple dry mix to add to the crockpot when you need a cream base for a recipe. In a bowl, combine one cup nonfat dry milk, ¾ cup cornstarch, ¼ cup of bullion (any flavor. Look for low-sodium if you need it. You can crush up cubes if you already have them.), four tablespoons dried onion, one tablespoon dried basil, one teaspoon dried thyme, and one teaspoon of pepper. Mix together well, then store in a sealed container (a Mason jar works fine).
When a crockpot recipe calls for cream of ___ soup, add 1/3 cup of the dry mix to one and ¼ cup of water. If you have eliminated dairy to manage chronic pain symptoms, there are substitutes for powdered milk. It may take some experimenting to find out which works best for you.
There is also some evidence that oregano can be a powerful natural herb for relief of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. You can add one tablespoon of the dried herb to your mix, too.
Don’t: Stress about what to make for dinner in the morning
Crockpots are an easy, stress-free way to plan for a quick, delicious meal in the evening that is ready when you walk in the door. Unless it’s not.
Between getting yourself and the kids ready, walking the dog, finding backpacks, and (maybe) finishing homework, deciding what to throw in the crockpot can add to the chaos in the morning.
Do: Use freezer crockpot meals or plan ahead
For busy people who have to feed a ravenous crowd quickly in the evening, freezer crockpot meals are their very best friend. Even better, freezer crockpot meals can be prepared way in advance on one big cooking day when fibromyalgia symptoms are minimal. This planning ahead can be a lifesaver on days when pain flares or other symptoms make it impossible to think about anything except the next moment.
Our favorite example of this is 17 healthy freezer meal preps that require no cooking whatsoever. These include meals with ingredients purchased from different stores at different price points like Whole Foods and Aldi, so if you live on an income that varies it’s still possible to eat well. In addition to being healthy and delicious, each set of meal prep (six to eight for each store) only takes an hour or two to prepare for an entire week.
If cooking for an entire week seems too much, you can still plan ahead by assembling ingredients in the crockpot the night before and keeping it in the refrigerator. In the morning, turn on the crockpot base, add the crock, and you have made dinner in just two minutes.
Our favorite pain-healthy crockpot recipes
At Pain Doctor, we like to share pain-healthy meal ideas and inspiration. Some of our favorite crockpot recipes include the following.
Super simple to make, and enough to feed a crowd, this is a perfect recipe. You can bag and freeze it ahead of time, and then drop in the crockpot the morning of.
An easy-to-prepare, warm and comforting meal, that just so happens to be loaded with anti-inflammatory ingredients! It’s a classic Mexican stew and so satisfying any day of the week! This crockpot red pozole recipe uses tomatoes for their anti-inflammatory properties and includes chili powder and turmeric as well. Feel free to turn up the heat with extra red pepper flakes if you like, and by all means, load up on the toppings with this crockpot red pozole recipe!