If you haven’t given in to the instant pot craze yet, you might be thinking about it. The trendy kitchen device seems appealing because it can save you time and help you create healthy meals for a big crew. We asked UnityPoint Health dietitian Emma Rueth to explain how it works, what instant pot healthy soup recipes she recommends for the cooler weather and how to get the best outcome from your instant pot.
What is an Instant Pot?
An instant pot is basically a programmable all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker and stock pot. However, Rueth says the main thing drawing people to the instant pot is the pressure cooker function, which allows the user to cook foods in less time with the same outcome as low-and-slow cooking. Another perk: It uses less energy because it takes less time. And, unlike in a slow cooker, you can make instant pot rice and yogurt as well.
“I hope people use the rice setting, as it can be used for white or brown rice and even oatmeal (steel-cut or rolled),” Rueth says. “Brown rice can take 40 minutes to cook on the stove, but the instant pot cuts that by more than half, and you end up with more nutrients and fiber than your plain white rice. And with an instant pot, you don’t have to worry about turning your back and having a pot accidentally boil over on your stove.”
Rueth says making yogurt in an instant pot is also a great option, but she knows it probably intimidates people. Making yogurt at home is not difficult, but it takes a long time (8+ hours). In this respect, the instant pot is helpful because you don’t need to pay attention to your yogurt at all.
Can the Instant Pot Make Healthy Family Meals?
“The instant pot could definitely be helpful to make healthy meals for large, busy families. It can quickly batch-cook healthy staples, like chicken breasts, eggs, potatoes and more, to help take some pressure off family meal preparation during busy weekdays. With a refrigerator full of pre-cooked, healthy staples, a large family could opt to use these ingredients to make different meals throughout the week,” Rueth says.
While recipes like instant pot chicken are great options, there are plenty of instant pot recipes you should probably avoid. When looking for new recipes to try, steer clear of any recipe covered in butter or cheese.
What Are the Pros & Cons of the Instant Pot?
While there are plenty of perks to using an instant pot, there are also downsides. Here’s Rueth’s list of five pros and five cons.
- Only dirty one dish. Everyone loves doing less dishes. With the instant pot, you only need to dirty the instant pot insert. For example, you can sear a roast and then slow/pressure cook it, which helps clean the instant pot. You can then steam vegetables in the instant pot without additional cleaning, while your roast is resting.
- Use less fat for moisture. It’s easy to use less fat when cooking in the instant pot because moisture is required to pressure cook, leaving the product moist and tender without the need for added fat.
- Plop in frozen items. It is safe to put meats, such as frozen chicken in the instant pot, but it will usually require more time to pre-heat and cook. If you have time constrictions, add less frozen meat to your instant pot or pre-cut meats to freeze them in smaller pieces. Smaller pieces cook faster.
- Variety of instant pot settings. The instant pot has several settings and can be used to do almost anything, including making yogurt, searing meat, and steaming, boiling and baking.
- Handy timer. The instant pot will make a beep when the cook time is complete, which can be handy for chefs who are busy around the house.
- Burn potential. It is possible to burn your skin or face with the steam when manually releasing the pressure after cooking.
- Inaccurate recipe timing. Most recipes do not include the time the instant pot needs to build up pressure, which is usually about six or seven minutes. The instant pot also requires time to naturally release pressure and steam after cooking.
- Takes up space. The instant pot serves the same purpose as a pressure cooker and a slower cooker, and most recipes can be completed with one or the other. Some find having this additional kitchen tool isn’t necessary. That being said, there are a variety of instant pot sizes.
- Not good for high-fat meats. The instant pot isn’t ideal for cooking high-fat meats. These should be cooked in the oven or on the stove to allow excess fat to drip off or be drained.
- Mushy veggies. It’s not uncommon to open the instant pot and find you’ve overcooked your vegetables. You must be extremely cautious about timing, and one minute can make the difference between mush and great tasting crisp-tender veggies.
“The instant pot is wonderful for quickly cooking starchy vegetables, like squash, potatoes and other root vegetables. However, non-starchy vegetables are trickier to cook in the instant pot. When in doubt, cook your non-starchy vegetables by roasting in the over or, if frozen, zapping in the microwave. These methods make it easier to control cook time and vegetable texture,” Rueth says.
What are Some Simple Healthy Instant Pot Recipes?
Rueth says there are tons of instant pot recipes, cookbooks and websites to choose from, but she likes to recommend blogs from registered dietitians. Since the cooler weather is setting in, we asked Rueth to identify a few recipe ideas, including two instant pot healthy soup recipes and a few ways to jump-start the day with a smart breakfast.
- Instant pot vegetarian lasagna soup. A healthy and hearty vegetarian lasagna soup for cool nights. Throw it all in the instant pot, and you are ready to go in less than 30 minutes.
- Instant pot black bean mushroom chili. Veggie-packed chili to warm you and your family during cold weather! High in fiber, high in protein and full of flavor.
- Instant pot oatmeal with caramelized bananas. An easy way to make a quick, whole grain breakfast that can last through the whole week. The caramelized banana is a delicious extra. There is even an instant pot porridge setting if you want to try it out.
- Instant pot peach jam. This lower-in-sugar peach jam is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and a healthy way to top toast, oatmeal or yogurt.
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