What could be better than walking into the house after a long day at work and having dinner ready to go? The house smells wonderful, and you can just set the table and dish it up. The delights of crockpot cooking and slow cooker meals!
Crockpot meals are typically easy meals that are pulled together in the morning (or the night before), put in the crockpot, and allowed to cook slowly all day. They save time and energy and help with meal planning so you have a healthy meal ready to eat when you get home or break from work.
What is a Crockpot?
A crockpot is actually a brand name for a commercially available slow cooker. There are many slow cookers and crockpot-type appliances available today. These electric kitchen devices cook food at a low temperature over many hours.
Slow cookers became popular in the 1940s when women started working outside the home, and as people have become more interested in having healthy, home-cooked meals, their use has increased.
How is a Crockpot different that an Instant Pot?
A crockpot cooks food at a low temperature over a long period of time, while an Instant Pot cooks food under pressure at a higher temperature very quickly. However, some Instant Pots do offer a slow cooker function that acts similar to a crockpot.
How Does a Crockpot-Style Slow Cooker Work?
Slow cooker crockpots have a ceramic inside, a metal exterior base that holds the heating elements, and a lid. They use moist heat to cook the food at a low temperature, between 200°F and 300°F, over a few hours. Most also have a warm setting which keeps food at a safe temperature until serving.
Because they use moist heat to cook the food, the food is cooked in a fair amount of liquid. Most recipes call for enough liquid to cover the meat or beans completely. The base heats the ceramic interior pot and the liquid. As the liquid heats, steam is formed, which hits the lid and drips back into the food.
They are a convenient device for anyone who is busy or just needs an easy dinner on a rushed night.
What are Some Ingredients that are Usually Used in Crockpot Recipes?
Crockpots can cook various foods, including traditional comfort dishes of hearty soups and stews, beans and rice, breakfast dishes, and desserts. One of the best things about cooking with a crockpot is its ability to perfectly cook tougher cuts of meat and dry beans. Crockpots can tenderize even the toughest cuts of meat by cooking at lower temperatures for longer periods, resulting in juicy, tender meals that everyone will love.
Many of the ingredients that are ideal for crockpot cooking also require a longer cooking time to develop their flavors fully. This includes tough cuts of beef or pork, dry beans, split peas, and lentils. Then, to add even more flavor, these ingredients are cooked in a broth, wine, water, or a combination of these liquids. Canned tomatoes and tomato juice are also commonly used to add depth and richness to many dishes.
What Makes These Recipes Healthy and Easy to Make?
Practical and Time-Saving
Set it and forget it. While crockpot cooking takes a little more time than just dumping it and going, it is a time-saving cooking method that makes delicious healthy dinners. Prep your ingredients the night before, pull them together in the morning, add them to the crockpot, set it, and go. You’ll come home to a house smelling wonderful and a healthy slow cooker dinner that can be on the table in no time.
Benefits of Crockpot Recipes
In addition to their ease and convenience, slow cooker recipes can make planning healthy balanced meals easier. While most do require some meal prep to get the ingredients ready, this cooking method is a huge time saver and a great option for rushed evenings.
Typically meat, vegetables, and even starches are cooked together, so you have a one-pot dish with everything you need for a nutritious and balanced meal. Even clean-up is a breeze!
Because the liquid stays in the pot while cooking, any vitamins that leach into the liquid are captured, minimizing nutrient loss. Also, crockpots can be a great tool to help with weight loss and may help keep your blood sugar stable by having meals ready when you are.
Food Safety Tips When Making Crockpot Recipes
Unlike an Instapot, where you can quickly cook even frozen meat safely, when cooking with a crockpot, it is important to ensure your meat is completely thawed before starting. Because food cooks at a low temperature over a long time, frozen meat will heat too slowly and stay at an unsafe temperature for too long. This could allow bacteria to grow and cause food poisoning. Thaw any meat you will use overnight in the refrigerator before use. Large cuts of meat may need longer to thaw.
Another tip is to soak raw kidney and cannellini beans overnight and boil them before adding them to a crockpot. These beans contain a protein called lectin that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. An overnight soak and 30-minute boil will easily get rid of the lectin and allow you to safely consume the beans with no concerns.1
20 Healthy, Delicious, and Easy Crockpot Recipes Suitable for Weight Loss
While still hearty and filling, crockpot meals can be great for anyone working on losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. Because they are ready to eat when you get home, they help minimize mindless eating while you are pulling dinner together and help reduce the temptation to grab a less healthy choice on your way home from work or your child’s sports practice.
Here are 20 delicious and healthy crockpot meals to try.
1. Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut squash, or any winter squash, is a hearty squash ideal for a slow cooker and an easy vegan meal. The long, low cooking temperature tenderizes the squash so it blends quickly and smoothly. You can also use vegetable broth and soy or almond milk to make this a vegan soup.
Add cubed squash to the slow cooker with carrots, onions, and some cut apples for a little sweetness. Cover the veggies and fruit with vegetable broth and set it on low for at least 6 hours. When you are ready, add a cup or two of low-fat milk or cashew cream to give it some creaminess. Then, puree it with an immersion blender.
2. Herb “Roasted” Chicken
Chicken breasts cooked in chicken broth with herbs make an easy and delicious casserole-type meal. The chicken is tender and pulls apart easily.
You can use a cream soup as a base for this chicken recipe, but for a slightly healthier version, you can also make the gravy yourself with some flour and butter. Melt butter and olive oil in a saucepan and whisk in flour. Cook it over low heat, stirring constantly for three to four minutes. Slowly add the chicken broth whisking thoroughly until it is smooth. Add some herbs like parsley and thyme.
Place the chicken in the crockpot and pour the gravy over the top. Turn the crockpot on low and cook for about 6 hours. The gravy will thin while it is cooking. You can add sliced mushrooms or other vegetables for extra flavor. Serve it over brown rice.
3. Chicken and Vegetable Stew
This hearty stew is filled with veggies and chicken. It is the ultimate set-it-and-forget-it meal. Just prep the veggies the night before, add everything to the crockpot in the morning, cover it with chicken broth, and head out the door. You can use any vegetables but onions, carrots, butternut squash, and kale are some of our favorites to add in.
4. White Chicken Chili
Chili with chicken and white beans? Sure! Chicken breasts, chicken broth, and white kidney beans make up the base of this rich dish. The beans add some creaminess to the final product. Give it a Southwestern feel with some yellow corn, jalapeno, and scallions. Add a squirt of fresh lime juice right before serving for a burst of fresh flavor too. (Note if you are using dry kidney beans, soak them overnight and then boil them for 30 minutes before adding them to your crockpot)
5. Chicken Curry
Mock chicken curry is an easy dish to throw together. While not traditional, it’s flavorful, and you can adjust the spices to fit your personal preference. Just add cut chicken breasts, garlic cloves, and sliced ginger to a crockpot. Next, add large pieces of carrots, onions, and peas. Mix Indian curry powder with chicken broth, pour over the chicken and vegetables, and cook over low heat for 3 - 4 hours. Stir in some plain Greek yogurt just before serving to give it a bit of a creamy texture while keeping the fat and calorie content down.
6. Slow Cooker Beef & Broccoli Stew
Beef with broccoli is super easy to make in a crockpot, and this easy beef stew is a slight twist on a classic dish. You can use a less tender cut of beef like chuck steak (they are less expensive, too!) and allow it to cook in a mix of beef broth and soy sauce. Then, just before eating, shred the beef, add the broccoli, and let it cook for another 20 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. You can serve this with cauliflower rice for a lower-carb option.
7. Chicken Pot Pie (Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free)
This dairy-free, gluten-free chicken pot pie is made without heavy cream or a thick pie crust and is a hearty flavorful meal. More like a chicken stew, the potatoes add a creaminess, and the vegetables add tons of flavor and nutrition.
Just place boneless chicken breasts or thighs in a crockpot. Surround them with diced potatoes, large pieces of carrots and celery, and peas. Add chicken stock or bone broth to cover everything and a sprig of thyme and cover it. Dinner will be ready in 6-8 hours.
8. Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas
This easy chicken fajita mix is really a set-it-and-forget-it type of meal. To prep the meal, slice up the peppers and onions the night before. Add boneless chicken thighs to the crockpot in the morning, and top them with the onions and peppers and a fajita seasoning spice blend. Add black beans if you want a heartier version. Top it off with chicken broth and let it cook all day on low heat.
When ready, the chicken will shred easily and mix with the broth and seasoning mix. Top tortillas with the mix and a little shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Serve with sliced avocado and a squeeze of lime juice on top. This blend also makes delicious chicken tacos!
9. Creamy Vegetable Soup with Kale and Carrots
Kale is a hearty leafy green that can hold up to a low and slow cooking method. The crockpot will actually tenderize the tough stem, which is often removed because it’s so hard to eat. This creamy stew is packed with chicken, onions, garlic, carrots, corn, and potatoes. Stir in some milk or Greek yogurt just before serving to make it creamy and rich.
10. Slow-Cooker Stir-fried Shrimp
Because seafood cooks so quickly, it isn’t normally used in crockpot recipes. With this recipe, the shrimp is added toward the end of cooking and just long enough to cook and absorb some of the wonderful stir-fry flavors. Heartier vegetables like onions, sweet potatoes, celery, and bok choy are covered with vegetable broth, a little fish sauce, and soy sauce for a few hours on low heat. Next, stir in red pepper strips and shrimp and cover the crockpot and allow it to continue to cook on low heat for another 30 minutes. Serve over brown rice.
11. Sausage and White Bean Soup
This cassoulet-type soup is the perfect crockpot meal. Sliced spicy Italian sausage is combined with carrots, onions, and white cannellini beans, then covered with a can of diced tomatoes and beef broth and allowed to simmer for 6-8 hours. The beans add extra protein and allow you to cut back on the amount of sausage you use, keeping the calorie count down. Serve this with sliced basil and a hunk of crusty whole-grain bread for a hearty dinner. (Note if you are using dry cannellini beans, soak them overnight and then boil them for 30 minutes before adding them to your crockpot)
12. Chicken Meatball Soup
For this delicious soup, make the meatballs the night before, or make them well in advance and freeze them to use for later. Just thaw them overnight, and when you are ready, add the meatballs, some diced carrots, potatoes, and frozen corn to a crockpot. Cover everything with chicken broth and herbs, and turn the crockpot on low. The meatballs and veggies will cook all day in the broth, and you’ll have a flavorful dinner ready as soon as you are. This is a perfect soup for a cool fall day after leaf raking. Serve it with a salad and crusty whole-grain rolls.
13. Mediterranean Chicken
How about a delicious Mediterranean-style chicken recipe? Chicken thighs are cooked with canned whole tomatoes and chicken broth with a splash of balsamic vinegar added for a rich flavor. Fresh herbs are added at the end. If you want some extra fiber and richness, try adding some dried prunes into the mix. They will add a bit of sweetness and a ton of flavor.
14. Vegetarian Chili
Multiple types of beans make up this slow-cooker vegetarian chili. It’s colorful and rich and full of a rich tomato flavor. Just add your favorite beans, along with onions and garlic to a slow cooker. (Note if you are using dry kidney beans, soak them overnight and then boil them for 30 minutes before adding them to your crockpot)
Cover with broth and cook for at least 6 hours on low. Once the beans have become tender, add a can or two of tomato puree with chili powder and smoked paprika and let it cook for another hour or two. If you add the tomato puree too early, the acid in the tomatoes will toughen the beans.
15. Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup
A soup with pasta does require a little more work than just dumping and forgetting it. For this receipe, allow the crockpot to cook the Italian sausage and hearty vegetables all day. Before serving the soup, boil the tortellini in a separate pot of water until tender. Add it to the soup with some chopped baby spinach just before serving. This will prevent the pasta from soaking up too much liquid and becoming mushy, and the spinach will retain its beautiful green color.
16. Tofu Coconut Curry (Vegan)
For this vegan-friendly soup, cook the vegetables in the crockpot with lite coconut milk, vegetable broth, and a green curry paste. Add cubed firm tofu about 30 minutes before serving and stir it well. This will give the tofu time to absorb all those delicious coconut curry flavors. Note: look for a curry paste that doesn’t contain shrimp paste to make it a vegan dish. Serve it over rice noodles.
17. Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon
Crockpot cooking isn’t just for dinner. It can also come in handy for breakfast, especially if you have a large crowd to feed. Mix old-fashioned or steel-cut oats with water, about a 3 to 1 ratio of oats to water, and place them in a crockpot. Cover and cook on low heat for about 8 hours. In the morning, stir in some cinnamon and diced apples and milk. Breakfast is ready!
18. Corn Chowder (Dump and Go + Vegan-friendly)
This easy dump-and-go meal combines corn and onions with diced potatoes and vegetable broth with a bit of salt and pepper. Allow these to cook in the slow cooker all day, and then add some lite coconut milk, paprika, and a bit of curry powder for a bit of yellow color if you like. Puree it just before serving.
19. Barley Risotto With Tomatoes and Basil (vegan)
Love risotto but hate all the time it takes stirring in broth a little at a time? This barley risotto solves that problem quickly! Just mix barely, onions, and some chopped garlic. Add a cup of white wine and vegetable broth and cook it over low heat for 3-4 hours. The barley will soak up all that delicious liquid and become soft and flavorful. Mix in some diced fresh tomatoes and top it with fresh basil.
If you aren’t following a vegan diet, add some grated parmesan cheese to make it extra creamy and delicious. You could always add vegan parmesan cheese if you prefer. This makes a great leftover healthy lunch meal, and you can mix in other leftover vegetables or put it on top of a salad and eat it chilled.
20. Chicken Tortilla Soup
This zesty crockpot chicken soup is easy to make and is perfect for a slow cooker. Use boneless chicken thighs, kidney beans (see the note above in the food safety section about how to prep kidney beans for slow cooking), tomatoes, corn, chili powder, and cumin. Adjust the seasoning as you like, and feel free to mix up the ingredients. Serve it with shredded cheese and baked tortilla strips.
How to Safely Freeze and Store Slow Cooker Meals
One of the benefits of using a slow cooker is that you can make a large portion and freeze the leftovers for a quick meal. However, there are some food safety guidelines to consider to make sure these meals are safe to eat.
- Break the leftovers into small portions and put them in the refrigerator to cool them quickly.
- Once those portions are cooled, add them to a reusable container or freezer-safe bag.
- If using a freezer bag, get as much air out as possible to minimize exposure to air and freezer burn.
- It’s a good idea to label the container with what is inside and the date you made it.
- Most leftovers are good for up to 3 months.
So the next time you're looking to make a cozy, comforting meal, consider reaching for your crockpot. With a little prep work and some delicious ingredients, you can create a healthy and comforting meal that's easy to make, nutritious, and packed with flavor.
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Topics discussed in this article:
- Food and Drug Administration. 2012. Bad Bug Book. https://wayback.archive-it.org/7993/20170405001300/https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf Accessed 4/19/2023.