During the holidays my e-mail box fills up even faster than usual, with the latest deals on everything, including all of those "must have" small kitchen appliances. I'm intrigued by the soft pretzel or electric sandwich maker, but honestly I have neither the kitchen space nor the inclination to use either. It seems like so many of these appliances are good for making just one thing. When I think about it, there are few small kitchen appliances that I even use for routine cooking. Most have either gone into permanent top shelf cabinet storage or will make their way to the next yard sale.

That is, except for my crock pot. I can think of no other small kitchen appliance that I have used more often. My crock pot has earned a permanent spot on my precious and limited kitchen counter space simply because it is such a large part of the meal preparation in my house. This low tech appliance has been around since the early 1970's, yet I continue to be surprised that many people have yet to discover the simplicity of this wonderful cooking device. Even someone who knows little about cooking can create a great meal with minimal effort.

Imagine putting some ingredients together into a crock pot, setting the temperature, then coming home at the end of the day to a delicious meal that is ready to serve. Well, that's the allure of a crock pot! There are other benefits as well:

*Less energy usage than a traditional oven.
*Tenderizes less expensive cuts of meat or poultry.
*Can be used to make soups, stews, sauces.
*Great for incorporating low cost items such as beans or lentils.
*Easy cleanup.

There are some basic guidelines for using a crockpot, which include setting the appropriate temperature for the dish you are making or cutting food into uniform pieces to allow for thorough cooking. I have owned quite a few crock pots over the years and have always found that the instructions that come with the appliance is the best resource for learning how to prepare meals in a safe way. Most instruction manuals include recipes to help you get started too!

So, if you are tired of coming home at the end of the day with nothing planned for dinner, it's time to consider using a crock pot. Maybe you even have a crock pot stashed away that has never been used! If so, take it out and give it a try. There is nothing better than coming home to the welcoming aroma of a home cooked meal.

Here's a recipe to get you started:

Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast

3-4 lbs. beef chuck roast (trim fat)
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 small scrubbed red skin potatoes
4 carrots scrubbed and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 cups low sodium beef broth
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
2 Tb. brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cloves minced garlic

Place meat, onions, potatoes and carrots in crockpot. Combine broth, dried onion flakes, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and garlic in a bowl. Pour over meat. Cover crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. So easy and delicious!

© 2014 Gretchen Scalpi. All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

Author's Bio: 

Gretchen Scalpi is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator and Certified Wellcoach®. She is the author of "The EVERYTHING Guide to Managing and Reversing Pre-Diabetes 2nd Ed.", "The EVERYTHING Diabetes Cookbook 2nd Ed.", "Virtual Grocery Store Tour: Getting The Most Nutrition Out Of Your Food Shopping", "Pre-Diabetes: Your Second Chance At Health", "The Quick Start Guide to Healthy Eating", "The Quick Start Guide To Pre-Diabetes" and "Quick Start Recipes For Healthy Meals". Read her articles, recipes and blog at http://www.nutritionxpert.com and learn more about her books at http://www.gretchenscalpi.com.