The allure of easy, healthy slow cooker recipes is undeniable. Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious meal that takes minimal effort to create — not to mention one that works miracles on the toughest (and most affordable) cuts of meat?
To help you make the most of this all-star appliance, we’ve rounded up nine stellar slow cooker ideas. Use them for meal prep or just for the next time you need to bring a big batch of something to an event. Either way these tips will help you cut down your time in the kitchen.
1. Make a mass of protein to use all week long
One of the simplest, smartest ways to streamline your weekly meal prep is by slow-cooking a large batch of one protein on the weekend, and then adding it in to multiple dishes throughout the week. Shredded chicken is extremely versatile; try it in salads, sandwiches, rice bowls, tacos, and burritos. Pulled pork and meatballs are also flexible options.
2. Meal prep like a boss
Find a slew of slow cooker recipes and spend a weekend afternoon chopping and assembling the ingredients into labeled, freezer-friendly bags. The night before you cook, move the bags into the fridge so they can thaw. You’ll save time by prepping en masse, and you’ll also cut costs by purchasing items, such as meat, in larger, value-priced packages.
3. Batch cook your breakfasts
Dinner isn’t the only meal magically transformed by slow cookers. Wake up from dreamland to a piping hot breakfast with overnight slow cooker dishes such as steel-cut oatmeal, savory frittatas, farro and quinoa bowls, and casseroles. The cook-while-you-snooze strategy is also perfect for hearty weekend lunches. If you’re freaked about leaving an appliance turned on while you sleep or are gone during the day, check out the last tip about smart tech.
In addition to one-off breakfasts, you can slow-cook a whole week’s worth of breakfasts in one go with a large batch of oatmeal (such as this Slow Cooked Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon). Store it for several days in the refrigerator, or freeze individual portions.
4. Simmer in your slow cooker instead of on the stove
Dried beans, pasta sauces, chicken stock, granola… all these staples can be slow-cooked in large batches to help you throw together meals easily. Try this Slow Cooker Refried Beans recipe, which can be frozen for up to three months.
5. Make a double batch to enjoy now and later
From hearty stews to your favorite chili, some slow cooker recipes taste just as good, if not better, as leftovers. With a large slow cooker it’s easy to make extra and get two meals for the work of one. Can’t stand a repeat dinner in a single week? Just choose freezer-friendly recipes and stash half to enjoy in a few weeks.
6. Treat your oven to some time off
Tackling a bunch of recipes at once for a big dinner or holiday feast? Solve the traffic jam for the oven and stove by delegating a side dish to the slow cooker, such as baked and mashed potatoes, stuffed peppers, sauces, and even fruit crisps and baked apple desserts.
7. Hack the shredding step
Instead of the typical method of pulling apart cooked chicken and pork with forks, fast-forward the process in seconds with a potato masher or hand mixer. Dunk the masher or mixer right into the pot to shred the meat, then let it laze in the saucy pool before being spooned onto plates.
8. Eliminate tedious pot scrubbing
You can skip post-meal soaking and scrubbing by using slow-cooker liners, many of which are BPA-free. Use them once and toss for quick cleanup.
9. Go high-tech
To avoid having to babysit your slow cooker or rush home from work, invest in one with a digital timer that automatically switches to the warm setting once the cooking time is up. Even fancier: some models are WiFi-enabled and can be controlled with your phone. Now if only they could make one that chops all the vegetables too…