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Slow cooker meals
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If some fresh ideas for freezer ready slow cooker meals are what you are looking for then the upcoming program at the Great Bend Activity Center is one you won’t want to miss. Especially during the winter months it is so nice to come home from a busy day at work and be greeted with the smell of supper ready to serve. The educational program “Freezer Ready Slow Cooker Meals” is designed to give you the tools to put together ingredients and freeze them properly; then cook them in your crockpot for a hearty and healthy meal. Jamie Rathbun, from the Midway Extension District, will present the program set for Wednesday, January 28, at noon at 2715 18th Street. I will present the same information at the Great Bend Senior Center on Friday, January 30, at noon.
Busy families often fall into the trap of preparing convenience foods or going through the drive thru after a hectic day. With a little planning ahead you can provide an economical and healthier meal for your hungry family. Our program later this month will share the food safety reminders when working with slow cookers. And of course we will have several recipes for you to sample.
Many people ask is a slow cooker safe? The answer is a definite YES. The counter top appliance that cooks foods slowly at a low temperature (generally 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit) is not only safe to use but is also less expensive to use because it takes less electricity to use than an oven or range top. The low heat also helps less expensive or leaner cuts of meat become tender and shrink less.  
The direct heat from the pot, lengthy cooking and steam created within the tightly covered container combine to destroy bacteria and make the slow cooker a safe process for cooking foods. As with any food preparation, keep these safety tips in mind:
* Begin clean; that means cooker, utensils, counter top and cutting board. Wash hands before and during food preparation.  
* Keep perishable foods refrigerated until preparation time. Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it into a slow cooker. Cut food into chunks or small pieces to ensure thorough cooking. Do not use the slow cooker for large pieces like a roast or whole chicken because the food will cook so slowly it could remain in the bacterial danger zone too long.
* Fill the cooker no less than half full and no more than two thirds full. Keep the lid in place, removing only to stir the food or check for doneness.
* Most cookers have two or more settings. Sometimes I start a recipe at a higher setting and then at noon, turn it back to low. All day cooking of less tender cuts of meat should be done at the low setting.
Reheating leftovers in a slow cooker is not recommended. Bringing food into the danger zone for too long of a time will cause bacterial growth to escalate.
So mark your calendars and join me for one of the “Freezer Ready Slow Cooker Meals” programs on the 28th or 30th. You will come away with some new recipes to try with your family this winter.

Donna Krug is the Family & Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research and Extension – Barton County. You may reach her at: (620)793-1910 or