Slow cookers are a busy cook's best friend, especially with an entire family to feed. Many of these easy recipes are dump-and-set, requiring just a few minutes of prep time, and all can feed a family of four for $20 or less. To cut costs even more, use homemade broths, leftover veggies and meats, frozen produce, and inexpensive cuts of meat.
Super-simple barbecue chicken is a time-saver for weeknight meals. The recipe calls for $3 of chicken and $4 of seasonings to simmer slowly together, infusing every bite of low-fat chicken, and serving four for $7.
This Indian lentil dish is full of heart-healthy nutrition and vegetarian protein for a quick and easy meatless meal. Lentils are also one of the least expensive sources of protein. This recipe uses $1 of lentils, $3 of vegetables and spices, and $3 of canned tomatoes and beans. The dish serves eight for only $7.
KUNG PAO CHICKEN
This takeout-dish-turned-homemade-family-meal requires three steps, saving time and effort amid a busy schedule. This recipe calls for $3 of chicken, $2 of spices and seasonings, and $2 of vegetables for a $7 entree that serves six, leaving room for additional vegetables, rice, or noodles on the side.
Recipe: Platings & Pairings
SPLIT PEA STEW WITH HAM HOCK
Ham hocks put big, satisfying flavor into humble ingredients such as split peas. This recipe calls for $1.50 of split peas, $2 of vegetables and spices, and $6 of ham hocks and broth. This pot of thick and creamy soup costs $9.50 and serves eight.
Vegetarian chili is low-carb, low-fat, but satisfying. This cookbook recipe uses $7 of broth and canned beans, $2 of vegetables and spices, and $1.50 of toppings, totaling just $10.50, and the process couldn't be simpler.
BACON AND PINTO BEAN STEW
Bacon and beans are an irresistible combination. This protein-laden soup uses $5 of bacon, $1 of beans, $5.50 of vegetables and seasonings, and $2 of garnishes. For $13.50, it's a hearty pot of beans that serves 10.
Recipe: The Food Charlatan
QUINOA MORNING PORRIDGE
Alternative grains are all the rage, and this morning porridge is made from $1.50 worth of quinoa, $2 of coconut milk, and $2 of fruit toppings and sweeteners. Using thawed frozen fruit for toppings can bring the cost even lower than $5.50.
TUSCAN KALE STEW
A filling stew is packed with nutrient-dense kale and beans and flavorful hot sausage. The recipe calls for $3 of broth, $4 of vegetables and seasonings, $4 of sausage, and $1 of beans for a $12 pot of stew that serves eight.
Recipe: Cooking Light
Stuffed cabbage is an old-country, comfort food classic that lends itself well to gentle slow cooking. This simple recipe calls for $4 of meat, $1 of vegetables and seasonings, and $2 of rice and sauce to make four large servings for $7.
Recipe: Sugar Apron
LEMON HERB CHICKEN
This recipe lets herbs and lemon flavor infuse chicken as it cooks slowly over 8 hours, all hands-off. Gather $2.50 of vegetables and seasonings, $1.50 of butter and stock, and $3 of chicken for a $7 preparation that serves four.
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
These time-saving instructions allow you to make a classic comfort food dish while out running errands or at work. Combine $8 of ground beef with $3 of supporting ingredients such as eggs and seasonings. The dish serves six for $11.
Recipe: Southern Living
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
Handy when the whole family has a cold, or just needs a familiar, warming meal, this recipe combines $5 of chicken and broth, $3 of vegetables, and $3 of noodles. The dish costs $11 and serves six.
Recipe: Family Fresh Meals
BARBECUE BEEF STEW
Instant coffee adds extra depth of flavor to a beefy meal. This easy recipe calls for $8 of beef, $5 of vegetables, and $1 of seasonings. For just $14, this stew feeds eight.
Recipe: Genius Kitchen
Here's a combination of spices and seasonings that meld in a spicy broth for cooking chicken. Start with $4 of vegetables and spices, and $6 of chicken. Finish by caramelizing the chicken under the broiler for flavor and textural contrast. This $10 dish feeds five.
Recipe: Immaculate Bites
This Middle Eastern dish can be a spice-laden breakfast or a light dinner served with bread. This recipe calls for $2 of oil and seasonings, $4 of vegetables including canned tomatoes, and $2 of eggs. The $8 dish makes four servings.
Recipe: Tasting Table
EGGPLANT PARM STACK
Eggplant parmesan is a vegetarian favorite. Use $8 of eggplant, $3 of sauce and breading, and $5 of cheese and eggs for a dish costing $16 and serving eight.
BUFFALO CHICKEN SANDWICHES
Tangy and mildly spicy chicken makes a quick and easy meal when made into sandwiches using $4 of chicken, $5 of seasonings, and $4 of bread, making six portions for $13.
BREAKFAST EGG CASSEROLE
There's little more comforting than slow-cooked beef stew. A homestyle version calls for $10 of beef, $4 of vegetables, $2 of seasonings, and $2 of broth. This hearty stew costing $18 to make easily serves eight.
Recipe: Damn Delicious
Sloppy Joe night is a family favorite made even easier with a slow cooker. The filling can be made with $6 of ground beef, $6 of sausage, and $3 of vegetables and seasonings. Add $4 for buns, and the $19 spend yields eight plentiful sandwiches.
Recipe: Southern Living
ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP
Loaded with vegetables and homemade meatballs, this soup is a complete meal. This recipe calls for $4 of veggies and seasonings, $1 of pasta, $4 of beef, $1 of cheese and bread, and $4 of broth for a $14 pot of soup serving six.
Recipe: Gather for Bread
PASTA E FAGIOLI
This Italian stew combines pasta with beef and beans for a nutritionally balanced meal with satisfying flavor. This slow cooker version calls for $1 of pasta, $8 pounds of ground beef, $3 of vegetables and seasonings, $2 of tomato sauce, and $5 of canned beans and broth. For $19, you get a full eight servings.
GREEK CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE RAGOUT
A flavorful recipe from an unusual source is part of a super-healthy Mediterranean diet packed with lean protein and zesty vegetables. To make, combine $3 of chicken, $7 of vegetables, $3 of seasonings and broth, and $1 of eggs. The saucy, carb-free dish costs $14 to make and yields six portions.
THAI FISH CURRY
Thai-inspired flavors transform a cheaper fish such as tilapia into a gourmet meal. The recipe calls for $4 of seasonings and broth including coconut milk, $3 of vegetables, and $12 of fish. The $19 dish serves eight.
Recipe: Serendipity and Spice
Even coming out of a super-easy, hands-off slow cooker, this smoky chicken has all the flavor of an outdoor grill. The recipe calls for an $8 roasting chicken plus $2 of spices and aromatics for a $10 meal that feeds four and leaves plenty in the budget for bread or rice and vegetables.
Recipe: RB and Mindy
Finishing this dish in a slow cooker allows the flavors to meld into a cohesive meal of meat and potato goodness. The ingredients are $12 of ground beef, $6 of vegetables, and $2 of seasonings. The entire dish costs $20 and serves eight.
Recipe: Recipes That Crock
A rich combination of flavorful beef, tomatoes, and aromatics sits atop a bed of soft polenta for a warm meal that works well in cold weather. The recipe calls for $15 of beef, $2.50 of vegetables and seasonings, $5 of tomatoes, and an extra $2.50 for the polenta. The $25 portion serves 10, so cutting it in half to feed a family of four (with some left over) brings the cost down to $12.50.
Recipe: Pinch of Yum
Preparing this taco-flavored dish in a slow cooker makes is quick and easy. Combine $6 of ground beef, $6 of canned vegetables and seasonings, $3 of tortillas and cheese, and $1 of toppings to make a six-serving casserole for $16.
Recipe: Recipe 4 Living
TOFU VEGETABLE CURRY
The warming spices in curry are healthy and tasty, and a slow cooker gives the impression you slaved over the stove for hours. Pick up $3 of tofu, $2 of coconut milk, $2 of aromatics and seasonings, and $4 of vegetables and rice — an $11 ingredient list that makes four servings.
Cheesy baked pasta is a winning dish among even the pickiest eaters, and a true time saver. The recipe combines $2 of pasta, $7 of tomato sauce, $7 of cheese, and 75 cents of eggs and other seasonings. For less than $17, the pot yields six massive portions.
Recipe: Build Your Bite
This homemade Indian dish is full of fragrance and flavor from inexpensive spices using $1 of rice, $6 of vegetables and spices, and $2 of chicken. At $9 for three servings, doubling the recipe would bring the total cost of the dish to $18.
Recipe: Naive Cook Cooks
SPICY NOODLE SOUP
This Asian-inspired soup that combines fresh herbs, hot sauce, and tangy sauces calls for $5 of chicken, $5 of vegetables, seasonings, and broth, and $2 of rice noodles. The $12 pot of hot and spicy soup yields four large portions.
Recipe: Cooking Light
A flavor-packed chicken and vegetable dinner takes just a few minutes to prepare before setting the slow cooker to do the rest. The recipe calls for $3 of chicken breast, $4 of vegetables, and $5 of seasonings for a $12 dinner that feeds four.
Recipe: 12 Tomatoes
SAUCY SAUSAGE SANDWICHES
Spicy sausage and vegetable heroes are a treat any night of the week and need just 5 minutes of prep time. Instructions call for $2 of vegetables, $4 of bread, $2 of sauce, and $12 of sausage. The recipe makes six large hoagies for $18.
This traditional Italian-American dish is even easier with a slow cooker. The recipe calls for $1.50 of vegetables and egg, $6 of ground beef, and $5 of breadcrumbs and tomato sauces. The total cost for 16 meatballs is $12.50.
BEEF AND BROCCOLI
This Chinese takeout classic is easy and cheap to prepare at home in a large family-style slow cooker batch. A minimalist recipe combines $12 of beef, $1 of broth and soy sauce, and $6 of vegetables and other seasonings. The $19 batch yields six full servings.
Recipe: Damn Delicious
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. The recipe calls for $15 of beef, $4 of seasonings and broth, and $6 of vegetables. For $25, it can feed up to eight people, so making a half batch to feed a family of four brings the total to $12.50.
Recipe: A Farmgirl's Dabbles
One of the easiest things to make in a slow cooker, pulled pork is a versatile and well-liked dish for easy family meals. This sandwich calls for $10 of pork shoulder, $3 of additional seasonings and spices, and $5 for buns. The $18 yields four very hearty portions.
Recipe: Food Network Kitchens