This article is from our friends at Greatist, the trusted health and fitness source for the young, savvy, and social.
Crazy schedules, long work hours, and tempting takeout menus make it tough to even think about cooking most nights during the week. But despite the inconvenience, firing up the stove or oven is almost always cheaper and healthier than ordering in or eating out.
How about a compromise? Making dinner with a slow cooker—Crock-Pot is the go-to brand in the U.S.—is an easy way to get in all those vitamins and minerals without slaving over a hot stove for hours at a time. Most of these recipes involve mixing up ingredients and popping them into a slow cooker for a prescribed number of hours. Save even more time by starting some of these dishes overnight or first thing in the morning and reaping the delicious, healthy benefits later in the day.
Photo: Amber Massey / Chocolate Broccoli
1. Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal: Tart apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, and walnuts—what’s not to love? Start this recipe the night before and wake up to a delicious-smelling house and a hot, healthy breakfast.
2. Banana Bread Quinoa: Why not begin the day with a protein-rich superfood like quinoa? This recipe highlights why people love slow-cookers: Just dump the ingredients into a Crock-Pot and let them hang out together for a few hours. Insta-breakfast.
3. Vegetarian Breakfast Burritos: This vegetarian burrito filling includes loads of vegetables, beans, and eggs. Cook vegetables, spices, and beans together in the slow cooker overnight. Stuff tortillas with the filling and fresh scrambled eggs in the morning.
4. Greek Yogurt: Making yogurt from scratch takes some time, but it’s hands-off with a slow cooker and it’s much cheaper than buying it at the supermarket. Heat milk for about two hours using the high setting of the slow cooker. Unplug the slow cooker and let the milk cool a bit and then mix in 1/2 cup of store-bought plain yogurt. Wrap the still-warm (but unplugged!) slow cooker in a towel and let it sit out overnight. Once you have a batch of regular plain yogurt, go Greek by straining through a few layers of cheesecloth lining a colander. Let the mixture strain in the fridge overnight, and wake up to an extra thick and creamy bowl of Greek yogurt!
5. Baked Apples: This healthy treat is usually served after dinner, but it works just as well in the morning. Add a spoonful of Greek yogurt on top for a hit of protein to keep moving all morning.
6. Pork Breakfast Burritos: For the meat eaters out there, here’s an easy pork-based burrito filling that can be made overnight. Choose lean meat to make this spicy filling as healthy as possible. Add in some fresh avocado or spinach for good measure.
7. Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Risotto: Forget the constant stirring and standing at the stove. This risotto recipe is super user-friendly. Add the ingredients to a slow cooker and set it on high heat for three to five hours or low heat for six hours. Cut down (or out) the butter and use skim milk to make the recipe even healthier.
8. Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns: These special occasion-worthy cinnamon buns are totally vegan and spiked with pumpkin puree and plenty of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Perfect for a chilly winter morning.
9. French Toast Casserole: Take the hassle out of French toast by baking it casserole-style in a slow cooker. The recipe calls for raw apples, but feel free to sub in bananas or other fruit for a bit of variety.
10. Hot Chocolate Oatmeal: When a massive chocolate craving strikes first thing in the morning, this breakfast hits the spot. Despite the name, this oatmeal recipe isn’t too decadent—it uses coconut or skim milk, vanilla, and a bit of brown sugar to add sweetness.
11. Spinach and Mozzarella Frittata: Hosting a brunch party? Mix up this vegetarian frittata early and let it cook for an hour or so before guests arrive. Part-skim mozzarella cheese, low-fat milk, and plenty of fresh veggies make this a smart option at the breakfast table.
12. Breakfast Casserole: Reduced-fat cheese, turkey bacon, and skim milk make this version of a full diner breakfast much healthier. Make this crowd-pleasing dish vegetarian-friendly by ditching the bacon.
13. Blueberry-Chia Quinoa: Power up for the day ahead with an antioxidant-filled, superfood-heavy breakfast. Quinoa provides plenty of protein, while the blueberries, chia seeds, and almond milk give the dish a healthy and flavorful boost.
14. Banana Bread: This super-light banana bread is also gluten-free. Baking it in a slow cooker instead of the oven means running out to do errands during the cooking time is totally A-OK. This recipe cooks in about four hours on high.
15. Almond-Cherry-Coconut Granola: Homemade granola is much cheaper and healthier than the store-bought stuff (who knows what’s in that cute package?!). Bonus—mixing and cooking it all in a slow cooker instead of the oven means there’s only one dish instead of multiple bowls and baking sheets to wash!
Soups and Stews
Photo: Jennifer / The Evolution of Jenn
16. Two-Bean Beef Chili: Take traditional chili up a notch with two types of beans and lean ground beef. Cook down the onions to remove some of the water, and then add them to the slow cooker with the other ingredients for four to six hours.
17. Root Vegetable Stew: This filling soup (make it vegan with vegetable broth) uses every all-star in the winter root veggie playbook. Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, baby pumpkin, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes make this stew a seasonal winner. Chickpeas, raisins, spinach, and a hint of saffron keep it interesting.
18. Lumberjack Vegetable Soup: This vegan stew is a great way to use up winter root vegetables like rutabaga and carrots. More veggies like celery, spinach, and mushrooms make it a smart choice any time of year.
19. Chicken Tortilla Soup: This Mexican-style soup is hearty but not too heavy for a quick lunch or dinner. Chicken and cheese add protein into the mix, while avocado provides some healthy fat.
20. Chicken Pho: This recipe uses old chicken bits (hello, leftovers) to make a flavorful, rich chicken broth. Crunchy red onions, bean sprouts, and cilantro keep this traditional Vietnamese soup fresh.
21. Spicy Black Bean Soup: For many of us, remembering to soak dried beans ahead of time is surprisingly difficult. In this vegan recipe, combine straight-from-the-bag beans and hot water (along with other ingredients like peppers, onions, garlic, and chipotle chiles) in the slow cooker, and remove the need for planning ahead.
22. Apple-Parsnip Soup: This light soup is the definition of easy—there are only five ingredients including salt! To make a vegan version, use vegetable broth instead of chicken.
23. Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup: This might be the ultimate slow cooker recipe. Toss chopped vegetables, sweet potatoes, lentils, herbs, and vegetable broth and cook on low for 10 hours. Start the process at night and wake up to a hearty blend of veggies, potatoes, and beans.
24. Cajun Stew: Get ready for some serious bayou flavor. This stew is loaded with Southern flavors like andouille sausage, shrimp, and okra. Serve it with plenty of rice (and maybe some grits, too).
25. Squash, Chickpea, and Red Lentil Stew: Combine squash, chickpeas, and lentils to make this super nutritious stew. The secret ingredient—peanuts—gives this recipe plenty of North African flavor.
26. Curried Carrot Soup: This brightly colored soup is perfect for a dreary winter day. It gets its bold hue from cold-weather staples like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and curry powder.
Photo: Jessica / How Sweet It Is
28. Mini Turkey Meatballs: Everyone needs a comfort food fix every once in a while. Enter these healthy mini turkey meatballs, made with lean ground meat, olive oil, quinoa, and antioxidant-rich tomatoes. Serve them with whole-wheat pasta, crusty bread, or a side of warm roasted veggies.
29. Pork Tacos: No need to slave over a hot grill to make BBQ-worthy pulled pork. For this recipe, season the meat, stick it in a slow cooker overnight, and wait for the magic (err, the pulled pork, that is). Add salsa, lettuce, guacamole, and any other toppings and wrap everything up in a flour tortilla for some showstopping soft tacos.
31. Chicken Stroganoff: Beef stroganoff is a classic comfort dish, but the tons of cream usually involved don’t exactly make it a health food. This recipe uses organic mushroom soup, plain yogurt, and skinless chicken breasts to lighten up the classic dish.
32. BBQ Beef Sandwiches: Use a slow cooker to make this super-tender BBQ beef overnight. After cooking for seven hours, pull the meat apart with forks and serve on a whole-grain roll or brown rice.
33. Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps: Make a double batch of this easy shredded buffalo chicken; we promise it won’t go to waste. Salads, soup, pizza, wraps, and sandwiches all benefit from a hit of spicy meat! Or keep it fresh (and simple) with easy lettuce wraps.
34. Honey Sesame Chicken: No need to get takeout when a hankering for Chinese food strikes! This homemade recipe is lower in sodium and calories than the restaurant version. To make it even healthier, steam the broccoli instead of stir-frying it.
35. Rancher's Roast Beef: This hearty pot roast gets its flavor from homemade ranch dressing and sweet peppers. Make it really tender by cooking on the slow cooker’s high setting for three to four hours or low for six to eight hours.
36. Coconut Curry Chicken: Making a curry at home sounds difficult, but this dish only calls for three “exotic” ingredients—coconut milk, curry powder, and garam masala spice mix—and all of them can be found at most grocery stores. Serve this flavorful dinner with a side of brown rice or Indian naan bread.
37. Pulled Pork: Make this super low-maintenance sandwich filling overnight. Apple cider vinegar, onion, and honey give this pulled pork a distinct sweet-and-sour flavor.
38. Wine and Tomato Braised Chicken: Remove the skin from chicken thighs to make this dish even lighter. Balance out the bacon’s hearty, smoky depth with a splash of acidic white wine and some antioxidant-rich tomatoes.
39. Lamb Curry: Not exactly a master chef? This curry is perfect for those who don’t love fussing around the stove. Add the ingredients (all seven of ’em) to a slow cooker, turn it on, and leave it alone for about three hours.
40. Hungarian Beef Goulash: This spicy Hungarian dish gets its flavor from beef coated in crushed caraway seeds, paprika, and plenty of salt and pepper. Add veggies and let the concoction simmer in a slow cooker for four hours (on high) or seven hours (on low).
41. Stuffed Peppers: Fill bell peppers with raw ground beef and cooked rice and cook them for six to eight hours for an easy, healthy, one-dish dinner.
42. Turkey Osso Buco: Sauté onions, garlic, carrots, and celery and place them in a slow cooker with some turkey thighs and drumsticks. Cover the entire shebang in tomatoes boiled in red wine and cook for five to six hours until the meat falls off the bone.
43. Moroccan Lamb: A roasted bone-in lamb shank resting on a bed of couscous looks fancy, but it isn’t too hard to make in a slow cooker. The key to a deep, rich flavor is searing the meat on the stovetop before adding it to the vegetables and spices in the slow cooker.
Vegetarian and Fish Entrees
Photo: Cara / Cara's Cravings
44. Shrimp and Artichoke Barley Risotto: Barley and risotto are normally words associated with fancy, fussy food. Not so with a slow cooker! This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prep, so there’s no excuse not to whip up some risotto for a weeknight dinner.
45. Cedar Plank Salmon: Missing summer? Channel grill season’s best with this salmon that’s made on a cedar plank in a slow cooker. The trickiest part is finding (or cutting down) and preparing the plank to fit into the pot.
46. Loaded Baked Potatoes: No oven is no problem for this baked potato recipe. Cook whole potatoes in the slow cooker and add separately cooked toppings like sautéed broccoli, mushrooms, and onions on top.
47. Vegetarian Tamale Pie: Enjoying Tex-Mex cuisine can be tough for vegetarians, but this recipe uses soy crumbles instead of ground beef. Make it healthier by going easy on the cheese and butter.
48. Barley Risotto with Fennel: Prepare this recipe for friends and family members who love strong flavors! Basic barley risotto gets a punch of fennel with seeds and bulbs as well as plenty of garlic and olives.
49. Vegetarian Lasagna: Using a slow cooker takes the fuss out of vegetable lasagna. Layer raw vegetables, whole-wheat noodles, cheese, and tomato sauce and let everything cook together for two hours.
50. Vegetable Curry: This classic curry features carrots, potatoes, chickpeas, and green beans. Make sure to use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth to make it vegetarian-friendly.
51. Garlic Cauliflower Mashed “Potatoes”: This recipe has all of the “comfort factor” of classic mashed potatoes, but way fewer carbs and calories. Use the slow cooker to steam a head of cauliflower, and then add garlic, a bay leaf, and some butter and milk to give it some flavor.
52. Ratatouille: As with any ratatouille, this is more of a guide than a strict recipe. Stuck with sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes? Chuck them in the pot! No mushrooms? Whatever! Use ratatouille as pasta sauce, for filling an omelet, with beans or meat mixed in, whatever. It’s the perfect dish to use up all those veggies lingering in the fridge.
53. Squash Lasagna: This nontraditional lasagna gets a healthy kick from whole-wheat noodles, part-skim ricotta and mozzarella cheese, puréed squash, and spinach.
54. Indian Chole: Perfect for busy days, this light meal is super easy to prepare. Mix peppers, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and plenty of spices together in a blender. Add the chickpeas and let everything simmer away in a slow cooker for six to seven hours (like, say, while you sleep!).
Photo: Amanda / Pickles & Honey
55. Banana Brown Betty: What’s a brown betty? It’s like a cobbler or a bread pudding in that it contains buttery bread and sweet, spiced fruit. This banana-infused version is soy-free, vegan, and can easily be made gluten-free.
56. Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce: Take the fruit out of the pie and you end up with these cinnamon and ginger poached pears covered in caramel sauce. Eat them alone or add a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt to make it even tastier.
57. Clean Eating Brownies: These decadent brownies are surprisingly un-junky. Unprocessed ingredients like mashed bananas, egg whites, whole-wheat flour, honey, and unsweetened cocoa powder make these treats relatively healthy.
58. Pumpkin Bread: This simple recipe comes together in about three hours including prep time. It’s not too sweet, so this yummy bread could work as a quick breakfast or with a cup of tea as an afternoon snack.
59. Chocolate Fudge: Homemade candies usually aren’t lower in calories than store-bought sweets, but they typically have fewer chemicals and preservatives. This fudge is made with chocolate chips, coconut milk, honey, vanilla, and sea salt. That’s all, folks.
60. Brown Rice Pudding: This rice pudding recipe includes whole-grain brown rice, low-fat coconut and cow’s milk, and plenty of raisins and cinnamon.
61. Apple Crisp: This recipe uses half the butter of classic apple crisp recipes. Layer apples, walnuts, spices, brown sugar, and flour topping and cook in the slow cooker for four hours on the low setting. A touch of apple butter (recipe below!) keeps this dessert moist and contributes to the strong apple flavor.
62. Orange Zinger Cheesecake: Cut the cream cheese in half with this citrus-flavored dessert by subbing in tofu! This makes it much lighter than a traditional cheesecake. Blend the ingredients together, place them in a pan, and stick the pan into the slow cooker for about three hours on high.
63. Berry Cobbler: This summery dessert works just as well with frozen berries, so feel free to serve it long after the leaves start falling. Serve warm, and with a scoop of frozen yogurt on top if you’re so inclined.
64. Pumpkin Custard: This dessert falls somewhere between pumpkin pie and crème brulée. What’s not to love? Blend the ingredients together and fill ramekins or oven-safe jars 2/3 full. Place in a slow cooker holding an inch of hot water, and cook the custards for four to six hours.
Snacks, Drinks, and Sauces
Photo: Stephanie / Taste for Adventure
65. Pumpkin Butter: Throw pumpkin puree, apple juice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and sugar into the slow cooker and let everything gel together for about five hours. Stir occasionally to prevent the pumpkin-y goodness from getting burnt around the edges!
66. Slow-Cooker Bread: No-knead slow cooker bread means that anyone with about five minutes of free time can make a delicious homemade loaf. Baking bread in the slow cooker actually takes less time than the oven, because the bread rises and cooks all in one step.
67. Mulled Apple Cider: Hosting friends for a winter party? Greet them at the door with a cup of warm mulled apple cider. Combine cider, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg for a yummy non-alcoholic beverage that makes the whole house smell like autumn to boot.
68. Cranberry Sauce: Why restrict cranberry sauce to Thanksgiving dinner? The sweet-and-sour holiday classic tastes amazing on meat, poultry, or baked goods all year round. A bit of orange juice gives this recipe a tangy kick.
69. Mulled Red Wine: Nothing warms from the inside out quite like mulled wine (seriously, ask Dickens). To make this winter classic, mix a bottle of dry red wine with aromatic spices and orange slices and heat everything together in the slow cooker.
70. Cinnamon Apple Butter: Make breakfast or snack time more interesting with a dollop of this spiced spread. Apple butter tastes amazing on a slice of toast or stirred into a cup of plain yogurt. This version has no added sugar.
72. Spiced Nuts: Make your own sweet and spicy snack mix for munching between meals or as a delicious party appetizer. Coat nuts with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and a bit of powdered sugar and cook in a slow cooker for about two hours.
73. Zucchini and Tomato Pasta Sauce: Make a double (or triple) batch of this easy pasta sauce and freeze the extra for later! To make it vegetarian, just take out the turkey sausage.
74. Ginger-Lemon Hot Toddy: The hot toddy gets a flavorful makeover with fresh lemon, crystallized and fresh ginger, and a touch of rum. Cook the non-alcoholic ingredients together for four hours before adding the rum and brandy.
75. Apple Butter Yeast Rolls: These little bread nuggets flavored with apple butter are great for a dinner party, Thanksgiving dinner, or even a light breakfast.
76. Spirited Hot Mocha: This sweet drink would make a great after-dinner beverage. Coffee balances out the semisweet chocolate, and a touch of brandy gives it an adult edge. To make this drink kid-friendly, just take out the alcohol.
77. Curried Almonds: For this savory snack, coat blanched almonds in curry powder and a bit of seasoned salt. Add to the slow cooker and cook on high for approximately one hour, stirring occasionally.
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