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10 Low-Effort Slow Cooker Meals for the Busy Parent

Ten minutes in the morning; dinner in the evening; leftovers all week

Published on: July 29, 2013


"What's for dinner?"

It's a simple enough question, but after a long, hectic day, planning and preparing a meal can seem downright exhausting. Before you reach for the phone and dial the nearest pizza place, check out our roundup of delicious and easy meals that any parent can create in a pinch. 

But first, a few tools in your arsenal will help make meal planning a breeze:Slow cooker

  • A slow cooker/crockpot:  Pour your ingredients in the morning, and at the end of the day you have a hot, delicious meal. 
  • A rice cooker: Cooking rice isn't very difficult, but with a rice cooker, you simply fill it, press start and walk away. It will keep rice warm until the rest of your meal is ready. 
  • Freezer bags or tupperware: Essential tools for storing pre-made meals. 
  • An inventory of your pantry: Keeping a pantry inventory is a great way to reduce waste, avoid trips to the store, and plan meals with what you have on hand. If you have a smartphone, an inventory of your pantry is easy to with the My Pantry app, which allows you to scan the barcode on all of your food purchases and tracks what food you have and expiration dates. There are also free printable inventory pages you can use. 
  • You can convert almost any recipe into a slow cooker meal with a few simple adjustments. 

Featured in our roundup:

Soda-licious Shredded Pork

Ooh La La Lentil Soup

Simple Salsa Chicken

Creamy Potato Chowder Bliss

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Scrumptious Cinnamon Raisin Apple Oatmeal

Tasty Tortellini Soup

Nacho' Average Queso

Natalie's Mellow-Yellow Split-Pea Soup

Decadent Hot-Lava Cake


Pioneer Woman's Pulled Pork

Soda-licious Shredded Pork!

Who knew that the secret ingredient for fall apart, tender meat was Dr. Pepper? The Pioneer Woman keeps it simple with some onion, canned peppers, brown sugar, spices and Dr. Pepper. Don't have any Dr. Pepper? You can substitute with any dark-colored soda. You can also use this same method for slow-cooking beef and chicken. Shredded pork is delicious on taco shells, buns, sandwich bread and more. This recipe is written for the stove top, but cooked on low in the slow-cooker for 8-10 hours the meat turns out tender and heavenly. Depending on your family size, one batch can usually be the staple for multiple meals. 


 

'Once a Month Mom' Lentil Soup

Ooh La La Lentil Soup

The lentil is one of the most under-appreciated staples. Nutritionally dense, delicious and affordable, the lentil is anything but a wallflower. This recipe from Once A Month Mom is simple but packs some punch. Pour all the ingredients in first thing in the morning and you'll have a healthy, mouthwatering meal come dinnertime. Bread rolls and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top compliment the hearty flavors. 


 

Crockpot Salsa Chicken by Thekittchen

Simple Salsa Chicken

With only four ingredients — chicken, salsa, broth and diced tomatoes — salsa chicken is as simple as it gets. The beauty of this recipe is that the cooked chicken can be a base for more than one meal. Thekittchen  offers a variety of ideas, from tacos to chicken chili to tortilla soup. Make a big batch you'll be set for multiple meals throughout the week. 


 

Creamy Potato Chowder by A Beach Cottage

Creamy Potato Chowder Bliss

How do you spell Potato? With this recipe, it's b-l-i-s-s!  A Beach Cottage serves up a hearty meal with minimal prep-work. Potatoes offer a thick base, creating a creamy broth that isn't meat-heavy or greasy. The flavor is rich but the ingredients are budget-friendly. For a lower-fat version, substitute with reduced-fat cream cheese. 


 Lettuce Wraps by Kalyn's Kitchen

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen is more involved than some of our other recipes in this roundup, but worth the extra steps. The spicy, lime chicken paired with the cool lettuce makes a delicious, fresh and flavorful meal. The chicken is also yummy when paired with tacos and wraps. A big batch of this meat could easily be stretched for more than one meal. 


Crockpot Raisin Apple Oatmeal

Scrumptious Cinnamon Raisin Apple Oatmeal

When you're scrambling to get your kid to the bus on time, breakfast can be an easy meal to neglect. Give your family the fuel they need for the day and avoid the morning rush with this overnight slow-cooker oatmeal recipe from Crock-Pot Ladies. Chock-full of fiber and flavor, this recipe is a great way to break-away from the toast-every-morning rut. Throw the ingredients into the crock-pot at night and wake up to a hot breakfast. 


 

Crock-pot Tortellini Soup by The Sisters Dish

Tasty Tortellini Soup

Want a lazy-day meal that tastes like it took a lot of effort? This recipe from The Sisters Dish is brilliantly simple, but the flavors are surprisingly complex. Fresh spinach, tortellini and a rich broth make it both hearty and healthy. It's also a great way to get the kids to eat their greens. Add extra spinach to the creamy broth to make it even more healthy. 


Queso Dip by Simplify, Live, Love

Nacho' Average Queso 

Even finicky eaters will scarf down this savory cheese dip. Simplify, Live, Love shares a deliciously simple recipe using only five ingredients — cheese, evaporated milk, corn starch, diced tomatoes and ground beef.  Move over Velveeta —  this recipe uses real cheese, giving you the flexibility to experiment with different types of cheese. This recipe is written for the stove top but works just as well when all the ingredients are thrown into the slow cooker for a few hours on low (just stir the sauce until smooth and add the meat at the end).  Paired with tortilla chips, it's sure to be a crowd-pleaser. 


 Natalie's Smooth Yellow Split-Pea Soup on

Natalie's Mellow-Yellow Split-Pea Soup

This recipe comes from our very own, Parentmap's Web Editor Natalie Singer-Velush, This rich, creamy soup, jam-packed with healthy vegetables, is a great way to sneak some nutritionally dense food into a picky-eaters diet. Topped with parmesan and served with some bread or rolls, the whole family is bound to make it into the "clean plate club." 


Chocolate Lava Cake by Betty Crocker

Decadent Hot-Lava Cake

Slow cookers aren't just for savory meals anymore. Betty Crocker's recipe is surprisingly simple with only five ingredients. Within a few hours of pouring it all into the crock pot, you'll have the aroma of warm, gooey lava cakes wafting through your home. Pour into the crock pot before dinner and have it ready just in time for dessert. 

 

Author Rory Graves is a slightly neurotic mom to three young children and the Social Media Coordinator at Parentmap. You can see more of her musings about parenting on her blog Paranoid Stay-at-Home Mom.

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