Slow cookers are a busy cook's best friend, especially with an entire family to feed. These recipes are designed so that you can truly "set it and forget it." That means no extra pans to clean after browning meat, no soaking beans the night before, and no fancy knife work involved. Just add your ingredients, set, and go. To cut costs even more, use homemade broths, leftover veggies and meats, frozen produce, and inexpensive cuts of meat. The slow cooker is the perfect opportunity to take what's left in the fridge and make a masterpiece.
Super-simple barbecue chicken is a time-saver for weeknight meals. All you need is chicken, a few seasonings, and your favorite barbecue sauce.
KUNG PAO CHICKEN
This takeout-dish-turned-homemade-family-meal requires three steps, saving time and effort amid a busy schedule. Add your favorite vegetables, rice, or noodles on the side for a complete meal.Recipe: Platings & Pairings
SPLIT PEA STEW WITH HAM HOCK
Ham hocks put big, satisfying flavor into humble ingredients such as split peas. You could even get away with using leftover ham or bacon. This pot of thick and creamy soup is an easy way to find a crowd for cheap.
SLOW COOKER QUESO
Queso dip is universally loved. It can be served on its own with chips, or accompany other dishes like nachos and chili. This hands-off, two-ingredient recipe is a breeze, and the slow cooker keeps it warm until it's gone.
Recipe: Betty Crocker
Vegetarian chili is a low-carb, low-fat, but satisfying meal. Using just canned broth, canned beans, spices, and vegetables of your choosing, the process couldn't be simpler.
QUINOA MORNING PORRIDGE
Alternative grains are all the rage. This quinoa morning porridge is a great alternative to your classic oatmeal, and adds a hearty boost of protein. Using coconut milk in place of regular milk makes it dairy-free too. Add your favorite fruit toppings and sweeteners to customize.Recipe: iFoodreal
A classic American staple, meatloaf is one of those dishes you may not assume could work in a slow cooker. But in fact, you don't even need a separate bowl to combine all the ingredients. Just mix and form the loaf right in the slow cooker.
Recipe: Southern Living
Even coming out of a super-easy, hands-off slow cooker, this smoky chicken has all the flavor of an outdoor grill. Generously coat the chicken with seasoning and add a dash of liquid smoke for that essential grilled flavor.
Recipe: RB and Mindy
Subbing turkey for ground beef in a chili recipe is an easy (and nearly undetectable) way to cut a few calories. It may cost a bit more than beef, but by using canned tomatoes and beans in this recipe, you'll still be saving a ton. Skip the optional step of browning the meat to save even more time.Recipe: Allrecipes
A flavor-packed chicken and vegetable dinner takes just a few minutes to prepare before setting the slow cooker to do the rest. Packaged dry seasoning adds a boost of flavor with zero effort.
Recipe: 12 Tomatoes
SAUCY SAUSAGE SANDWICHES
Spicy sausage and vegetable heroes are a treat any night of the week and make an excellent leftover lunch. All you need is just 5 minutes of prep time (maybe even less!) This recipe makes six large, meaty hoagies.
This Hungarian beef stew is like a hug in food form, with rich and comforting flavors that seep deep into tender chunks of slow-cooked meat. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up all that juicy flavor.
Recipe: A Farmgirl's Dabbles
MUSHROOM BARLEY SOUP
For your next meatless Monday, give this hearty vegan soup a try. Thickened with barley and mushrooms, it's really more like a stew that will stick to your ribs. Plus it freezes well.
POTATO AND CORN CHOWDER
This slow-cooked chowder develops layers of flavor as the slow cooker does all the work. Vegetarians can use vegetable stock instead of chicken in this recipe, and even water would work, as spices and cream add loads of flavor and richness. This elegant soup works in any season using frozen corn, though fresh corn is a nice touch in the summer.
Recipe: Damn Delicious
A recipe for this vegan rice pudding comes out ultra-creamy and rich every time. Spiced rum adds an extra layer of flavor, and the alcohol cooks off, making this comforting dessert safe for the whole family.
Recipe: The Roasted Root
GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
This traditional comfort food is made easy with a recipe that utilizes the slow cooker. Starting with fresh green beans rather than canned or frozen yields a more toothsome final product, as the beans retain a bit of their natural snap.
Recipe: Family Fresh Meals
BACON MAC AND CHEESE
With this super-simple macaroni and cheese recipe, you don't even have to pre-cook the pasta. Cook up some extra bacon for breakfast, and use the leftovers to make this a quick 'dump and go' recipe. Vegetarians can substitute sautéed mushrooms for the bacon too.
Recipe: The Kitchen Is My Playground
Pork shoulder is one of the cheapest and most flavor cuts of meat out there. It truly shines when prepared the carnitas way for an epic taco night. Subtle spices like cumin and oregano perfume the meat with a Mexican flavor that works in burritos, enchiladas, and tortas too.
Recipe: RecipeTin Eats
There's no need to buy a special piece of equipment to enjoy fondue; you can easily make it and keep it melted in a slow cooker. This basic recipe can be adapted to include flavorings like spicy chilies or cinnamon for an extra kick.
Recipe: Rachel Cooks
This Korean beef recipe is deceptively simple, and something that most people would never consider trying without the aid of a slow cooker. Instead of using an extra plastic bag to coat the meat, simply combine in the slow cooker itself.
Recipe: The Recipe Critic
BEEF STROGANOFF MEATBALLS
This play on beef stroganoff has all the flavor of the original dish in an easy-to-make recipe that people of all ages can love. Frozen meatballs and canned mushroom soup are real time-savers that no one would object to.
Recipe: The Seasoned Mom
IRISH LAMB STEW
A mild and heartwarming blend of vegetables, herbs, and lamb, this stew is a one-pot meal best enjoyed in cold weather. While the recipe calls for leg of lamb, even a tough, inexpensive cut like the shoulder will turn tender in a slow cooker.
LENTIL SLOPPY JOE
This one-dish meal is both a guilty pleasure and a classy entrée at the same time. With all the tangy flavor of sloppy Joes and none of the cholesterol, this veggie-friendly version appeals to meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Adding spaghetti squash is a cheap and nutritious way to flesh out the meal and make it sophisticated enough to enjoy with a glass of wine. To spice it up, add a fresh chili.
Recipe: Ambitious Kitchen
When summer approaches, we're all looking for light, vegetable-filled dishes that are easy to make and still full of flavor. This seasonal succotash is a stew-like combination of summer produce that melds into a one-dish supper. Slow cooking succotash develops flavors in layers, makes for a quick and easy cleanup, and requires minimal effort and time spent actually cooking. Add a Mediterranean twist, incorporating olives, cannellini beans, feta, and inexpensive couscous to make a complete meal.
Using berries fresh from the market before they go bad or combining odds and ends from bags of frozen berries helps reduce waste while reaping delicious benefits. Try an easy-as-pie slow cooker cobbler, which uses cheap, basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, cinnamon, milk, and egg. You can even whisk all of the dough ingredients in the slow cooker to save cleaning an extra bowl.
Recipe: Taste of Home
Comforting in its simplicity, this hearty recipe has played a part in many classic summer meals. With their low price and high nutrition, beans are a welcome addition. This savory recipe takes mere minutes to throw together and relies on the slow cooker to meld all the flavors together with minimal effort.
Recipe: Family Fresh Meals
Cheap, easy, and indulgent, creamed corn is a nostalgic treat for many families. Loaded with good-for-the-soul butter and dairy, a slow cooker version hits all the right flavor notes: sweet, earthy, and buttery rich. Paired with a salad, or grilled meats and veggies, this traditional dish completes any summer meal.
Recipe: The Kitchn
An essential at Hawaiian luaus or Tiki-themed parties, this crowd pleaser is simple to prepare. Made from the inexpensive pork shoulder, the long cooking time ensures depth of flavor and a succulent final dish. Easy to make and quick to clean up, it's likely to become a new family favorite.
CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE COCONUT CURRY
Generally dark meat and fattier cuts turn out best in a slow cooker, because they don't dry out, but lean meats take on an appetizing texture and flavor with the right recipe. This chicken and vegetable coconut curry is made from boneless chicken breast and coconut milk, which tenderizes and flavors the meat. Chicken stock, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and onion bring more flavor and richness to the stew.
Recipe: The Lemon Bowl
SLOW COOKER TURKEY BREAST
Bone-in turkey breast is inexpensive (about $3 for 2 pounds), as is the onion soup mix added for flavoring. Simply rub onion soup mix all over the turkey, over and under the skin, and cook on high for an hour before turning the heat to low for seven hours. The recipe serves 12, and leftover turkey slices can be used for a healthy lunch sandwich the next day for even more savings.
CARAMELIZED APPLE OATMEAL
Who said oatmeal is boring? Bowls will be cleared once this healthy but dessertlike dish is served. The ingredients are relatively inexpensive and may already be on the grocery list: apples, lemon, rolled oats, milk, and eggs.
Recipe: Nourishing Joy
TENDER CHICKEN THIGHS AND HEARTY VEGETABLES
Never underestimate the heartiness of a good chicken and vegetable meal. Aside from herbs and spices, this recipe includes just a few ingredients, primarily chicken thighs, potatoes, celery, carrots, and broth.
Recipe: Southern Living
MAC AND CHEESE
You might think that, without a stove, the only option for mac and cheese is the packet of yellow powder and microwaved noodles, but there's a better way: A slow cooker recipe that turns out rich and creamy with the press of a button. Starting from scratch saves money compared with the box version.
Just five ingredients and eight to 10 hands-off hours of slow cooking makes piping-hot and indulgent pulled pork. Perfect for tacos, nachos, or barbecue sandwiches.
Recipe: Southern Living
LARGE-BATCH SLOW COOKER HOT DOGS
Game-day dogs somehow taste better than regular hot dogs, which means they tend to go fast. Stay out of the kitchen by cooking them in large batches in the slow cooker, which also keeps them hot until ready to eat.
Recipe: Recipes That Crock
SLOW COOKER HAM
Making a ham in a slow cooker saves time and energy, as well as ensuring a moist dish. This recipe provides a foolproof list of tips and tricks to follow to get the best results.
Recipe: The Kitchn
Making large batches of coffee for brunch or dinner parties can be a logistical challenge. Luckily, this spiced coffee recipe can be made ahead of time and kept warm in a slow cooker.
Recipe: Taste of Home
TRIPLE BERRY FRENCH TOAST
A decadent take on a breakfast standard uses a slow cooker instead of a griddle, combining cubed challah bread with sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, heavy cream, and syrup for an easy Sunday brunch option. Just spoon it out and add a dollop of whipped cream.
BUFFALO CHICKEN SANDWICHES
Turn your favorite hot wing flavor into a tangy and mildly spicy chicken sandwich. This slow cooker buffalo chicken will be a party favorite in no time.
SLOW COOKER ROAST BEEF
Billed as costing "less than 72 cents per person," this dish relies on cheap staples such as chuck roast, potatoes, carrots, onion, and spices with the slow cooker doing its magic. If you want to save time, forgo browning the meat and simply place the roast in the slow cooker.
Recipe: Grocery Budget 101
PORK AND BLACK BEAN SOUP
Stretch a small hunk of pork shoulder by making soup out of it. Black bean soup is a classic, and this recipe uses a slow cooker loaded with ingredients such as beer, cumin, and chipotle. After spending about five hours in the slow cooker, the black bean soup is topped with sour cream, salsa, and cilantro.