Slow Cooker Dinner Ideas for Busy Families

by Major League Mommy
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Slow cookers are the ultimate parenting hack if you run a busy household. You don’t want to be stuck behind the stove for hours on end after a long day at work and hardly have the time to saute potatoes or marinade meat while your toddler is running riot with the crayons (again).

Slow cooker dinners are budget-friendly as well. The best recipes use simple, healthy ingredients that are cheaper than ready meals and provide a high-protein punch. Slow-cooked dinners provide plenty of leftovers too, meaning a single evening of cooking can yield lunch and dinners for the rest of the week.

slow cooker chicken tortilla soup | VeselovaElena from Getty Images via
Photo credit: VeselovaElena from Getty Images via

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If you’re new to the world of slow cooking, start with simple recipes like Mediterranean stew, chicken tortilla soup, and super-slow-cooked mac and cheese.

Mediterranean Stew

This slow-cooked Mediterranean stew by Sarah Epperson Loveless proves that bulk, budget-friendly dinners don’t have to be boring. Skip the normal array of overboiled winter veg, and give your family the health kick it needs with a dish focused on high-fiber vegetables and legumes.

Before you pencil this one into your diary, be aware that it takes a total of 6 hours and 45 minutes to prepare. Most of this time is, of course, spent in the slow cooker which means you don’t have to worry about cooking all day long. If a vegan dish isn’t going to go down well in your household, consider turning on the oven a few minutes before serving to cook up some shrimp, cod, or salmon.

These kinds of veg-heavy recipes are great for your family’s health, too. The Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and has been proven to minimize your chances of developing Parkinson’s and some cancers. Eating a veg-heavy, Mediterranean-inspired diet can reduce blood sugar, bring down inflammation, and improve your body mass index too.

If your family enjoys this Mediterranean-style dish, consider experimenting with other recipes based on the core tenants of Southern European cuisine, including ingredients like:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes, whole grains, and nuts
  • Fish and poultry
  • Moderate your dairy intake
  • Avoid sugar and red meat

Keep trying new recipes until you find the perfect blend of vegetables, lean meats, fish, and grains. Or, if your family just needs something stable, opt for a slow-cooked dish like chicken tortilla soup.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup is making waves on TikTok and Instagram. Folks are flocking to the creamy, hearty recipe en masse as the winter months roll in. Lindsay Funston’s recipe requires just 15 minutes of prep time, meaning you can focus on having fun with your family while the food cooks itself.

You can even use rotisserie chicken as part of this soup to further reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen — just remember to shout “Set it and forget it!” when you close the oven. As with most recipes, it will take 5 – 6 hours to ensure that the dish is fully cooked and ready to serve.

Tortilla soup is best served with tortilla chips or pan-fried tortillas. You’ll want to opt for corn tortillas when possible, as these will hold up better when you throw them in the broth. Consider picking up some hot sauce so folks can increase the heat to match their own preference.

Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese have been a staple of the busy parent’s cookbook for years. It’s budget-friendly, easy to make, and always appeases hungry children. However, box-bought mac and cheese is notorious for being high in fat, sugars, and artificial flavors.

Cut down on sugar and improve your family’s health by following Country Living’s Slow Cook Mac and Cheese. This recipe only requires 2 hours and 40 minutes of total cooking time, meaning it is a great option if you’ve just finished work and want to get dinner out of the way quickly.

Slow-cooked mac and cheese is budget-friendly, too. It only features eight ingredients, which is good news as food transport costs are soaring at the moment. Skip convenience mac-in-a-box style dinners and shop from local dairy vendors instead. Finding vendors in your area that sell locally-produced cheese can save you money and increase the quality of your home-cooked meals.

Planning Your Own Slow-Cooked Meals

Slow-cooked dinners are a boon for busy families. You just have to set the temperature, throw in your ingredients, and make sure it doesn’t boil over. This means you have more time to plan your week and can play a more active role in parenting your kids.

Use the time you’ve saved by slow-cooking to get ahead on your meal planning for the week. A clear meal plan saves you money and time while reducing your stress levels. Nothing beats pulling out a pre-cooked dinner from the freezer on a Wednesday evening when you just don’t feel like cooking.

Remember to plan for leftovers when cooking in bulk. Leftovers make for the perfect lunch and are particularly handy if you happen to work from home. They reduce the risk of your kids reaching for sugary snacks and fat-heavy pre-cooked meals too. A robust meal plan can also help you save towards eating out as a family as you won’t need to pick up pizza to fill up your kids after you rush home from work.

When meal planning, remember to check in with your kids to better understand their preferences. Slow-cooked Mediterranean dishes may suit your palette perfectly, but picky eaters may not appreciate the texture of kale or the taste of chickpeas. You don’t want to make a week’s worth of food just to discover that your youngest won’t touch it, so bring the kids in when you’re getting your meal plan put together.

Wrapping Up

Slow-cooked dinners are a busy parent’s best friend. You can work on household chores while your tortilla soup is simmering and can play with your kids while plant-based stews are cooking in the kitchen.

Slow-cooked dinners are budget-friendly, too, as buying in bulk usually means that you pay less per kilo of food prepared. Just be sure to check in with your kids to ensure they’ll actually eat the dish you’re preparing for dinner to avoid disappointment and frustration in the evenings.

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