Slow-Cooker Nutrition for All-Day Sports Events

Jane Hawes

Anyone who has ever schlepped a kid to an all-day sports tournament - be it for softball, soccer or something else - knows what a challenge it is to keep your kid well-fed ALL day. Fortunately, when my son joined a local water-polo team, I walked into a tribe of parents who took their all-day nutrition seriously, so I had good role models from which to learn.

Slow cookers are a critical part of this all-day nutrition. These delightful tabletop appliances can keep a pot of chili or sloppy-joe makings safely heated for hours on end.

My claim to fame (besides bringing my coffee/cappuccino maker and functioning as the team barista) is a dish that combines red beans, rice and kielbasa. Even in hot weather, it hits the protein spot that helps the kids (and parents) refuel between games.

But in light of recent news events where home-prepared foods have caused illness at community events, I thought I should talk to an expert about whether I'm doing this safely. Marilyn Rabe is an Educator with Ohio State University Extension Franklin County.

"Where people sometimes get into trouble is when they bring something from home (to another site)," Rabe said. "(The food) is at that in-between state of not hot, not cold, but they think, 'Oh, I can just heat it up and that will kill everything.'"

But it doesn't, she said, explaining that the "danger zone" for cultivating food-borne illness is "between 40 and 140 degrees." Such illnesses generally are caused by bacteria that multiply in that danger zone.

A slow cooker will heat food to between 170 and 280 degrees, but the less time the food spends in the danger zone, the better. That's why the OSU Extension experts recommend using the cooker's high setting for at least the first hour to get it past 140 degrees more quickly.

Another no-no is putting frozen meat (cooked or uncooked) straight into the slow cooker. Frozen veggies are fine, but not meat, Rabe said. Cook it thoroughly before you transport it in a cooler and keep it chilled but not frozen before heating it in the slow cooker.

Rabe also suggested that soups and other dishes such as chili and stew are good choices for all-day, slow-cooker nutrition.

Below is my dish's recipe. I wish I had a cute name for it, but when you're dealing with hungry teenage boys, names don't matter: This is just "Colin's mom's dish." Enjoy!

  • Two 8-ounce packages of a red beans and rice mix (I use Zatarain's low-sodium brand)
  • Two 14-ounce packages of kielbasa (I use the Eckrich brand)
  • One slow cooker
  • One insulated cooler and ice, if traveling more than 15 minutes to the tournament site

1. Following the directions on the package, prepare the red beans and rice. However, instead of simmering it for the recommended 25 minutes, I pull it off the heat at 20 minutes when it's still a little soupy. This helps retain more moisture for the next day's slow cooking.

2. While cooking the red beans and rice, cut the kielbasa into half-inch thick "coins" and sauté until browned in a large saucepan. When finished, drain the excess fat and add the kielbasa to the pot of red beans and rice.

3. Divide this pot of food into smaller containers. Cover each container and store in the refrigerator overnight.

4. In the morning, transfer the refrigerated containers to your cooler. Depending on how far you have to travel before you can plug in the slow cooker, you may need to pack the containers in ice. The goal is to keep the food's temperature under 40 degrees.

5. Once at the tournament site, transfer the contents of the containers into the slow-cooker bowl, stir them well, then cover and plug it in. Set it on high for one hour. If you'll be serving the food more than two hours later, I then turn it to low. Don't open the cover to stir again until you are ready to serve because you'll lose 10 to 15 degrees of temperature.