This is the time we dust off the slow cooker and bring it center stage. It’s perfect for those long-cooking stews and soups that make coming home from work a delight, knowing that dinner is ready.

Use your slow cooker to make an overnight oatmeal, dip or even layered lasagna.

For most of us multitaskers, a slow cooker is a dream come true: Plan a meal and have it ready when you walk in the door. But there are some important food safety rules to remember when using a slow cooker. Here are some tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

» Start with a clean space. Make sure the cooker, utensils and work area are clean. Start by washing your hands.

» Keep perishable foods refrigerated as long as possible. Take them out and then add them to the slow cooker.

» Prepare meat and vegetables separately. If you prep meat and vegetables beforehand, store them separately in your fridge in order to avoid cross-contamination.

» Always defrost meat or poultry before putting it in the slow cooker. Defrosting will ensure your food cooks all the way through to the safe internal temperature. Defrost in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.

» Pay attention to temperature. It is important to make sure your slow cooker reaches a bacteria-killing temperature. Start your slow cooker on the highest setting for the first hour and then switch it to “low” for longer cooking. However, it is still safe to cook foods on low the entire time — for example, if you are leaving for work. Just make sure your food reaches the proper internal temperature.

» Make sure your foods fit. The slow cooker should be half to two-thirds full to ensure your food cooks thoroughly. If there’s too much in the slow cooker, then the food won’t cook properly.

» Cut up your meat. Large chunks of meat may take too long to cook all the way through. Cut meat into smaller pieces before adding it to the slow cooker.

» Keep the lid on. It is important to retain the heat when making a slow cooker meal, so avoid taking off the lid. Only remove the lid to stir or check for doneness.

» Use a food thermometer. The only way to know for sure that your food is safe to eat is with a food thermometer. Use a food thermometer to make sure the food has reached the proper internal temperature.

» Store leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate within two hours. One of the best parts of a slow cooker meal is the leftovers.


Q: I know we’re supposed to eat less salt, but what are the effects of eating too much salt?

A: High levels of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and even possible stroke. The recommended limit for sodium intake is 2,300 milligrams per day for people 14 years and older. Some 90% of adult Americans consume about 3,400 milligrams per day, according to the Food & Drug Administration.

To cut back, try eating less deli meat, pizza, burritos and tacos; also try using no-salt seasoning blends, no-salt-added canned foods, and cutting back on chips and pretzels.

Winter Citrus, Fennel and Beet Salad

Here’s a salad that takes advantage of winter’s citrus season — and gives a boost of vitamin C, which we all need right now. It features Cara Cara oranges, which are lower in acid than other oranges, but you can use any orange for this recipe. It’s from Hy-Vee Seasons magazine.


» 3 large red beets

» 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

» ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

» ½ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper, divided

» 2 Cara Cara oranges

» 2 mandarin oranges

» 1 lime

» ½ cup fresh Cara Cara orange juice

» 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

» 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

» 1 cup plain Greek yogurt

» 2 tablespoons honey

» 1 small head fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced

» 1 cup red pearl onions, peeled and halved

» 2 cups lightly packed baby kale


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Leave 1 inch of roots and stems on beets. Scrub well. Place beets on a large piece of heavy foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and pepper. Wrap tightly and place in a large rimmed baking pan.

Roast beets for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Cool slightly; rub off skins with paper towels. Remove and discard roots and stems. Cut beets into thin slices, then cut slices in half; set aside.

Peel oranges and lime. Slice oranges; cut segments from lime. Cover and refrigerate citrus fruit.

For dressing, combine orange juice and lime juice. Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, vinegar, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and remaining pepper.

To serve, combine yogurt and honey in a small bowl. Spread mixture onto 4 serving plates. Top with beets, orange slices, lime segments, fennel, pearl onions and kale. Spoon dressing over each salad. Garnish with fennel fronds and additional coarse-ground pepper, if desired.


Serves 4

Per serving: 280 calories; 10 grams protein; 47 grams carbohydrate; 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 8 grams fiber; 340 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.