Keep Calm and Slow-Cooker On

By Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Courtesy of Cooking Light
Photo Courtesy of Cooking Light

And we’re off! The start of the school year has descended upon us in full force. Busy school days, and just-as-busy afterschool activities, practices, rehearsals (not to mention homework!), can quickly put even the most calm and organized mom in a bit of a time-crunch tizzy.   And though as I mom I aspire to be both calm and organized, keeping up with my kids’ lives, trying to manage my professional one and juggling normal day to day stuff quickly interfere with the ideal.   I usually employ the philosophy of quick-to-assemble meals that can make it to the table in 20 minutes. Yet there are plenty of days that I really want to walk into my house and have food magically appear on the table.   In fact, there are vivid and wonderful childhood memories I recall, coming home to the amazing smells of dinner. Mom had it covered and all was well with the world.

So the invention of the slow-cooker is nothing short of genius, bringing me back to the reality that my home really can smell nourishing and food really can be table-ready when we all roll in the door. And it’s not even a new concept, though some of the digital features on them are quite 20th century. How easy it is to forget the small kitchen appliance tucked away in my top cabinet. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. I’ve recently resolved to more regularly reacquaint with this 6-quart beauty, and though you may associate it with only a few dishes, the possibilities really are quite vast.

And while this has obviously now saved dinner, one of my favorite slow-cooker benefits is the meals that follow. Lunch for your child’s thermos the next day, a meal you can re-purpose for tomorrow’s dinner or extra servings that can be divided and frozen for a future time crunch.   Not to mention that you can confidently answer the kids’ eternal question, posed the second they see you after school: “What’s for dinner?

One of our latest favorites is slow-cooker lasagna, and while I’ll include a recipe below, don’t be afraid to play with it. Throw in some layers of diced veggies, swap out lasagna noodles with spaghetti or macaroni, mix in some fresh herbs or throw in all the little bits of cheese you have hanging out in your fridge drawer. Something magical happens when you let all these individual ingredients slowly work together over a string of calm, uninterrupted hours. They come together and by dinner, these solo players have created an orchestra of nourishment. In fact, slow cooker meals really allow you to play in your kitchen in a different, less structured way. It’s such a fun way for your children to cook with you, and see how being in the kitchen doesn’t need to be intimidating in the least.


A couple of pointers for you to consider:

  1. Read reviews online to compare features, sizes and find the best prices.
  2. If you’d like to brown or sauté before switching to slow-cooker mode, seek out versions that can accommodate.
  3. Make sure it has a “warm” feature, which the cooker will automatically switch to once the programmed cooking time has ended. This ensures you won’t come home to an over-cooked meal, if you’ve had an extra long day.
  4. Include enough liquid to prevent drying or burning.
  5. Look for a cookbook and/or search for recipes online specifically designed for slow-cookers.
  6. Consider “building” the meal the night before. Prep all the ingredients in the crock, put a lid on it, then store in your fridge until you’re ready to turn that baby on and leave the house.
  7. Make certain the area around your slow cooker is free from “stuff” – nowhere that your pet can disturb and knock to the floor, and away from stray papers or plastic that may not do well around heat.

Now sit down, taste every steamy bite and relish the fact that your clean up will be minimal, you’ve saved electricity, and have warmed the hearts, souls and tummies of your whole family!


Slow Cooker Lasagna

1 pound uncooked whole grain lasagna noodles

1.5 pounds ground beef or pork

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1 ½ tsp salt

1 24-oz jar spaghetti sauce

8 oz tomato sauce

6 oz tomato pasta

3 eggs

1 15-oz container ricotta cheese

6 cups fresh spinach

2 zucchini, shredded or sliced

1 cup parmesan cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

3 Tbsp water


In a large skillet over medium heat cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic until brown. Add the spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, salt, and Italian seasoning and stir until well incorporated. Cook until heated through.

In a large bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese.

Spray the crock with nonstick spray. Spoon a layer of the meat mixture onto the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a layer of the uncooked lasagna noodles. Break to fit noodles into slow cooker. Top noodles with a portion of the cheese mixture. Next layer 2 cups spinach and 1/3 of the zucchini. Repeat the layering of sauce, noodles, cheese and veggies until all the ingredients are used. Top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella. Drizzle water around the edges of the crock.

Cover, and cook on LOW setting for 5 to 6 hours.

Let sit for 30 minutes or more and then slice and serve.

Crowd Pleasing Veggie Burgers

By Brenna O’Malley and The Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team


In search of a meatless option for a crowd or just an alternative to packaged veggie burgers with lots of extra ingredients? This easy make-ahead recipe is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner, a salad or lunch topper, or a great way to get some protein and veggies into your day! These are crowd pleasing veggie burgers because your whether your friends are meatless, gluten free or particular about the veggies or ingredients they like, these burgers can be adapted to fit your guests’ palates!

Yields ~8 patties


1 can black beans, mashed

½ medium onion, diced

1 large carrot or 1 cup baby carrots, grated or diced finely

1 (8oz) pkg of mushrooms, diced

1 medium red pepper, diced

1 cup oat flour (can be made by blending 1 cup oats)

½ cup quinoa, rinsed and cooked

½ cup sweet potato, diced and cooked

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

2 cloves of garlic, minced and made into paste

1 tbsp olive oil

2 eggs

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp red pepper flakes


Optional Add-ins:

1 cup sautéed spinach or kale, 2 tbsp chopped almonds, 1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce



  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. If you do not have roasted sweet potato or rinsed and cooked quinoa ready, prepare those now. Sautee onions, garlic paste, mushrooms and red pepper with tbsp. olive oil until veggies are soft.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and any optional add-ins you choose. Season to taste and mix well.
  4. Prepare a baking sheet, moisten hands with water and begin to tightly pack and shape patties for baking.
  5. Bake patties in oven for ~25 minutes, if your patties are thicker, flipping halfway through may promote even baking.
  6. Can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen to have on hand for the week. Enjoy!

Making Sunday Brunch with the Kids


By Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN

Ahh, Sunday brunch. Who doesn’t like the thought of a lazy Sunday morning spent in bed followed by mimosas, French toast, and eggs benedict?

BK (aka Before Kids), Sunday brunch was a favorite pastime of mine. These days my Sundays are a bit different. We wake up early and get ready for a busy day, often filled with birthday parties or some other activity that will tire out the kids before we head back home for their nap. Sunday brunch happens sometimes, but often it’s an easy bagel brunch at home or a chaotic meal at a restaurant. Luckily my girls love to eat, so we’ve actually been pretty lucky with being able to have some good brunch meals out. They’re not the way they used to be back in the day – calm and relaxing; but it is possible to have a nice family brunch with the children at home. How?

I’ve said it before: when children are involved in the cooking process, they are more likely to try new foods since they had a hand in cooking them. And cooking with kids increases their competency in various domains, including fine motor skills, math, science, and reading. If those reasons aren’t enough to convince you, here’s one that will: when the kids are cooking with you, they’re occupied and having fun, meaning you don’t have to worry what trouble they’re getting in elsewhere and you can get a nice meal on the table. And maybe you’ll be able to enjoy a mimosa too!

One Sunday brunch recipe the whole family will enjoy making and eating is this Mushroom Onion Quiche.


When I posted this picture on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram a couple of weeks ago, I received so many likes and comments asking for the recipe. Come back tomorrow for the recipe and tell the kids to get ready to cook this weekend! Not sure what they can do? Here’s a video of my two-year old girls helping me make this recipe.

*You may want to lower your volume for the first 6 seconds to avoid a whining child. 


*Link to original post found here.

Grilled Pork Chops with Two Melon Salsa


We’ve been talking a lot about watermelons this summer! And as one of the most hydrating and tasty fruits, we’re happy to have one more reason to incorporate it into our summer dishes, just in time for your Fourth of July cookout!



1 cup chopped seedless watermelon

1 cup chopped honeydew melon

3 tablespoons sweet onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped jalepeno pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon salt


2 teaspoons canola oil

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed

cooking spray



1. To prep salsa, combine the first 7 ingredients and set aside

2. To prep pork chops, heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Combine oil and next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl.  Rub oil mixture over both sides of pork chops. Coat pan with cookies spray. Add pork to pan, cook for 4 minutes on both sides or until desired degree of doneness.

3. Serve with salsa and enjoy!


The original post for this recipe can be found here.






Greek Turkey Burgers

Are you day dreaming of warmer weather?  If you are, we have the perfect recipe for you.  This is one of our favorites.  Put a new spin on Turkey Burgers with Dill Yogurt Dipping Sauce.  It’s a great way to get your kids to try new foods and an even better way to get your family to sit down for dinner together!

Photo Credit: amesis via Compfight cc


  • 1lb ground turkey
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, minced (optional)

Serve with dill yogurt sauce:

  • I cup fage yogurt
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon



  1.  Mix ground turkey, chick peas, fresh spinach, crumbled feta, salt, pepper, oregano, ground cumin, and fresh dill.
  2. Shape into patties.
  3. Cook in 1 tbsp olive oil on med-high heat for about 20 min, flipping half way.


Mom's Pumpkin Pancakes with Dark Chocolate Chips

*This recipe was originally published on the Big City Moms’ Blog. To see the original please click here.

Mom’s Pumpkin Pancakes with Dark Chocolate Chips

by Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN, and Mom

Every week I whip up a batch of “homemade pancakes” for myself and my oldest son. Everyone loves these pancakes— including my clients who eat many meals with me. Make them Sunday morning and serve hot. Freeze or store the remainder in a Pyrex dish to serve each weekday morning. These pancakes taste so yummy that I can almost promise your kids will go to school having eaten a balanced breakfast. And while most moms don’t have to time to make everything from scratch, these pancakes are what I call “value added” or “nutrition added.” For time’s sake, I start with a basic wholesome pancake mix and then add in the nutrition.


See full recipe on the Big City Moms’ Blog.