Resolution-Friendly Comfort Food

Easy, guilt-free slow cooker recipes to get you through the winter season.

Story and Photography by Kerry Guice

Kale stew

It’s January! Let’s say it together: This is going to be our year! We’re going to eat right, exercise, keep our house clean, actually send out birthday cards, put away the phone more often, and keep in touch with old friends. Right? Well, we’ll try. That’s all we can do, anyway, and I think trying should be enough to call anything a success.

We don’t need to commit ourselves to a long list of strict standards, but we can try to make little changes that will add up to bigger changes throughout the year. For me, the New Year always starts with eating better. I eat with the seasons, and we all know what season just ended! All too often we try to diet and restrict ourselves so much that we feel unsatisfied and creep back into old habits. We want to eat better, but it’s still winter outside! We’re all still craving that comfort food that can get us in trouble. I wanted to create a few comfort food recipes that will leave us feeling full, but not guilty! In this endeavor, the slow cooker is our friend.

Choosing the right ingredient swaps is the most important factor in cutting calories without sacrificing flavor. For the chicken tacos, I don’t omit the avocado. Even though it’s high in fat (it’s the good kind!) and higher in calories, it gives the tacos the creamy texture that will balance out with the shredded meat and the crunchy cabbage and radish, which are there for pure crunch. Cabbage and radish add virtually no calories, but they add tons of texture, color and substance. The cilantro and hot sauce add that final kick to round everything out. You won’t miss cheese or sour cream here! Because the chicken is made in the slow cooker, it’ll melt in your mouth. Be sure to use small corn tortillas rather than flour tortillas to save even more calories.

I love stews. It’s an essential winter staple. Everyone should have a tried-and-true stew recipe they keep in their back pocket for when that perfect snowy night comes and everyone is stuck at home. For me, this Butternut Squash and Kale Stew is that recipe! Smoked turkey sausage is roughly half the calories of pork sausage. Half! That’s a tiny effort that makes a huge difference in this stew! Not only is this light in calories, but also loaded with nutrition. I add the kale in at the very end so it stays nice and green. If you’re saving some for leftovers (it’s always better the next day!), just add a little handful of kale to the bottom of each bowl, rather than stirring it into the pot. The deep flavors of the sun-dried tomatoes and butternut squash are the perfect contrast to the crunch of vibrant green kale. I know bread is frowned upon by the “health nut elites,” so it’s a good thing I’m not one of them. This stew begs for just one tear off of a nice crusty baguette. Life is all about balance, after all. 

Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

6-8 servings 

slow cooker chicken tacos

3 large chicken breasts
½ cup chicken stock
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
Small corn tortillas
Shredded cabbage
Sliced avocado
Sliced radish
Cilantro Hot sauce (I recommended Cholula)

Place raw chicken breasts in slow cooker turned on low. In a bowl, whisk together the chicken stock with the seasonings, vinegar, mustard and honey. Pour over chicken and cook on low for 3 hours. Run errands, read a book, take your kids to the park or take a nap. After 3 hours, shred chicken and toss with the sauce made from the cooking liquid. When ready, serve a spoonful of hot shredded chicken in corn tortillas with toppings. (Yes, it’s that easy!) 

Butternut Squash and Kale Stew with Turkey Sausage

Makes 8-10 servings (hello leftovers!)

butternut squash and kale stew with turkey sausage

2 links smoked turkey, sliced and browned
¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 can drained white northern beans
4 cloves minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
2 cups diced butternut squash
3 handfuls rough chopped kale
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup white wine
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon coriander

Slice and brown the turkey sausage, then add to the slow cooker with all other ingredients but the kale. Cook on low 5 hours. Add the kale to the finished stew. Serve hot with crusty bread (preferable also with a fire going in the fireplace and snow falling outside). 

5 Tips for the Best Slow Cooker Meals

  1. Keep the lid closed! Every time you open the lid, you add at least 15 minutes to your cooking time. Resist the urge to stir or check on dinner. Let it do the work for you!
  2. Don't add large quantities of frozen food to your slow cooker. Let everything thaw first. It will take much longer for the slow cooker to heat up and you don't want your food to be sitting at a bacteria-harboring temperature for that long (the USDA describes this “danger zone” as being between 40-140 degrees).
  3. If you have time, brown the outside of your meat before adding to the slow cooker. I know it defeats the purpose of not having dishes to do, but the flavor it adds will be worth it.
  4. Don't overfill the slow cooker. They are made to be filled between halfway and two thirds full.
  5. If a recipe calls for cooking on low for more than 6 hours, you can speed the time up by turning it on high for slightly more than half what the recipe recommends (for example, if the recipe says 10 hours on low, you can cook it on high for around 6 hours). Any less than six hours and there is virtually no benefit to cooking on high vs. low.