Soccer. Gymnastics. Science club. Homework. When you have school-aged kids, afternoons and evenings can be jam-packed. Whipping up an elaborate dinner is rarely more than a Pinterest pipe dream. But just because you don’t have the time — or, let’s face it, the inclination — to dice, chop and simmer after a long day, doesn’t mean your family has to forgo a hot, tasty meal. And it also doesn’t mean everyone can’t sit down to eat together.
Relentless schedules make family dinners notoriously difficult, but when you have an arsenal of minimal prep Crock-Pot dinners for the family, you’re hard-pressed to find an excuse. Whether you get the slow cooker going in the morning before school or have the kids or caregiver do the prep work in the afternoon, Crock-Pot dinners take care of themselves. And best part? Cleanup takes no time!
Still not convinced? Check out these easy Crock-Pot dinners and try to not become a convert.
Family dinners are important for your kids’ well-being
Sure, having everyone pick at leftovers on their own schedule can be tempting when you’re pressed for time. But by resisting the urge in favor of having everyone come together at the end of the day for an easy meal, your family is reaping countless emotional and physical benefits.
“Numerous studies have shown that kids who eat regular meals with their family eat more nutritious foods and are at a decreased risk for developing eating disorders,” says Maryann Jacobsen, author of “The Family Dinner Solution: How to Create a Rotation of Dinner Meals Your Family Will Love.” “Family meals teach kids that both food and family time is important. It’s the best of both worlds: bonding and nutrition.”
Family dinners are also an opportunity for parents to teach kids healthy habits without a lecture.
“Eating together as a family gives parents a chance to role model good eating habits and positive eating behaviors, while demonstrating balanced nutrition and meal planning,” says Suzanne Farrell, RD, owner of Cherry Creek Nutrition. “Also, having kids dish out their own meals makes them feel empowered and teaches them how to portion food for themselves.”
Kids can do the prep work
While asking your tween or teen to julienne carrots and stuff a chicken is probably unrealistic, having them portion out ingredients and dump them into a slow cooker is not. Also, by outsourcing dinner prep, you’re not only lightening your load, you’re also fostering your child’s kitchen confidence.
“Kids who help prepare meals learn responsibility and an important life skill: how to cook,” Jacobsen says. “Once they leave home, they will have to prepare meals for themselves, so it’s a perfect training ground.”
You get more time with the kids
By swapping out a multi-step (multi-pan) meal for a one-pot wonder, you’re getting more quality time in with the kids than with the stove, which — need we even say it? — is important.
“When I pick up my kids from school and after-school activities, I love knowing dinner is already underway,” says Michele Lee, of Garwood, N.J. “I use a slow cooker at least once a week, because not only does it make for less cleanup, it (also) lets me sit down with my children to hear about their days and to get a head-start on homework.”
Home-cooked meals are the embodiment of cozy
If hygge were a smell, it would probably be a Crock-Pot dinner, because few things feel more welcoming after a long day than the aroma of a home-cooked meal.
“I work later on Thursdays, so I’m always sure to run home mid-afternoon to throw dinner into the Crock-Pot,” says Annie Garland, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. “When I get home with my girls in the evening, the house smells amazing and we all immediately feel relaxed and ready to eat.”
Ready to get cooking? Here are 16 easy-to-prepare Crock-Pot recipes sure to become staples in your home. Because when you’re a parent, the less thinking you have to do, the better.
1. Spicy Black Bean Soup
While the Spicy Black Bean Soup from Cookie and Kate uses canned beans for quick prep, everything about this meal is fresh and flavorful. Kids will love adding their own toppings, and parents will love that the family is loading up on healthy, plant-based protein.
2. Mini Turkey Meatball and Vegetable Soup
Few things are cozier than a big bowl of Turkey Meatball and Vegetable Soup, and Robyn from Real Food Whole Life has an incredible recipe. The meatballs take a little prep work, but everything else is just chopped up and thrown into a Crock-Pot. It’s delicious on its own or with a side of crusty bread.
3. Chicken Noodle Soup
Whether the whole family’s got a cold or you just have a hankering for comfort food, you can never go wrong with chicken noodle soup. Swap out the old-school way of making this American classic for an easy Crock-Pot version that will be waiting for everyone at day’s end. The Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup recipe from Food Network is super to easy to make and as an added bonus uses chicken thighs, which are less expensive than breasts.
4. Tomato Basil Soup
Sure, you could dump a few cans of condensed tomato soup out into a pot when everyone gets home, but where’s the fun — and delicious smell — in that? The Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Soup recipe from Damn Delicious is creamy, comforting and ridiculously easy. Who doesn’t want to sit down to that?
5. Asian Pork and Noodle Soup
While this soup may look fancy, it couldn’t be easier to make. The Slow Cooker Asian Pork and Noodle Soup recipe from Simple Everyday Food shows how just a few ingredients — and a Crock-Pot — can make for a seriously delicious meal.
Chicken and beef dishes
6. BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Even though these Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches from Recipetin Eats speak for themselves, we’re going to go ahead and say it anyway: They’re amazing. With only a few spices required for a pork rub and a DIY barbecue sauce (if you want), this meal is a guaranteed slam dunk every time.
7. Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Few things say “home-cooked meal” quite like pot roast with a side of savory carrots and/or potatoes. There are loads of Crock-Pot roast recipes out there, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an easier (or tastier) one than the fool-proof Easy Slow Cooker Pot Roast version we found on All Recipes.
8. Hungarian Goulash
The Slow Cooker Hungarian Goulash from a Farm Girl’s Dabbles is pretty much comfort in a (super hearty) bowl. Filled with beef, vegetables and a flavor-packed dose of sweet paprika, this dish is one to keep handy.
9. Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Wraps
These Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps from Mom Endeavors can be served as is or with a side of rice. Aside from a little bit of chopping and whisking the sauce together, there’s very little prep-work involved. And the result? a tasty, restaurant-style meal.
10. Slow Cooker Roast Chicken
Want to feel extra fancy? Roast a chicken in your Crock-Pot. Yes, really. If you want to come home to a hot, ready-made meal (and you don’t want the additives that often accompany store-bought rotisserie chickens), Dinner at the Zoo has a super easy Slow Cooker Whole Chicken recipe.
11. Beef and Broccoli
Forget the Chinese takeout! Make this super delicious Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli from RecipeTin Eats early on in the day for a crowd-pleasing dinner. You’ll have to make the broccoli on the side, but beyond that, this dish takes only 10 minutes of prep work. Music to a parent’s ears!
12. Red Lentil Curry
The Crock-Pot Red Lentil Curry recipe from Pinch of Yum couldn’t be easier to make — everything just gets thrown into the pot! And the best part? It’s enough to feed an army, so it’s the leftover lunch gift that keeps on giving.
13. Moroccan Chickpea Stew
The Crock-Pot Moroccan Chickpea Stew from Choosing Chia is a super-easy, healthful dish that works on its own or over white rice or quinoa. Aside from sautéing an onion and some garlic in a pan for a few minutes, all the ingredients go straight into the slow cooker.
14. Mac and Cheese
For the easiest, creamiest, most decadent mac and cheese you’ve ever had, try to the Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese recipe from the Food Network. You’re three hours away from one of the most comforting meals of your life.
15. Spinach Manicotti
There’s shells. There’s cheese. There’s even a few veggies. While there’s a little bit of prep work involved in this Slow Cooker Manicotti recipe from Don’t Sweat the Recipe, it’s definitely worth it. Your taste buds will thank you.
16. Mushroom Barley Risotto
There’s some pre-Crock-Pot prep work in this Mushroom Barley Risotto recipe from the Food Network, as well, but it doesn’t take long — and with a total cook time of three hours, it’s an ideal meal for teens or caregivers to prepare after school. This warm, flavorful, protein-packed meal will definitely be a dish that has the whole family coming back for seconds.