These simple meals deliver maximum flavor, nutrition, and comfort with minimal prep time.
A hearty, homemade meal is a great way to wind down after a long day. Problem is, prepping and cooking one requires winding yourself up.
That’s where the slow cooker comes in: You toss in your ingredients in the morning, let the appliance work its magic all day, and come back to find dinner totally ready to go. Presto!
Beyond convenience, slow cookers are also great for preparing healthy, balanced meals that don’t skimp on flavor and usually provide leftovers. The five recipes below come highly recommended from top nutrition experts and pack at least 23 grams of protein per serving, from meat, beans, or both.
Many of the dishes call for beef, since long, slow cooking tenderizes tougher cuts so well. To limit the amount of saturated fat, look for lean cuts at the grocery store, or trim any excess fat yourself before cooking. Also, opt for low-sodium broth or stock. You can always add a pinch of salt later if needed.
1. Slow Cooker Kale and White Bean Soup with Sausage
This hearty stew comes from Lizzie Streit, R.D.N., the blogger behind It’s a Veg World After All. It’s heavy on vegetables and beans, with just enough sausage to add serious flavor and extra protein.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 6 hours 15 minutes
- 1 pound cooked pork or chicken sausage (about 4 links)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup chopped carrots
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 2 cans (15 ounces each) white beans, rinsed and drained
- 4 cups reduced- or low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 3 to 4 cups kale, chopped
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
What to do: Slice the sausage into ½-inch circles. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage in oil for approximately 3 to 4 minutes to release flavors.
In a slow cooker, combine sausage, onion, carrots, celery, beans, stock, water, bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or on low for 6 to 7 hours, or until carrots and celery have softened to your liking. With about 30 minutes left, add kale and stir to encourage wilting.
Top with grated Parmesan cheese (optional) to serve. This meal will keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days.
2. Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli
Takeout is convenient, but it’s often packed with extra sugar and sodium but light on vegetables. This slow cooker version of a takeout classic comes from Amanda Baker Lemein, R.D., of Feed Nutrition Consulting. It’s high in protein, and using lean beef ensures that it’s relatively low in saturated fat.
Add as much broccoli as you’d like, and serve everything over a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or any cooked whole grain for some healthy carbs and a little extra fiber.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 6 hours 30 minutes
- 1 pound lean beef stew meat (preferably grass-fed)
- 1 cup low-sodium beef stock
- ⅓ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 to 6 cups fresh broccoli florets (or more, if desired)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
What to do: Place beef in slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine stock, soy sauce, brown sugar, oil, and garlic. Pour over beef. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
In a cup, stir cornstarch and water until smooth. Add to slow cooker. Stir well to combine.
Blanch broccoli, and add to the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for an additional 20 minutes on high, or until thickened.
Serve over hot, cooked brown rice or quinoa. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).
3. Slow Cooker Hungarian-Style Chicken with Tomatoes and Mushrooms
Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., loves this hearty chicken dish. A hefty dose of paprika adds tons of seasoning without any extra sugar or sodium, and the tomato-based sauce has a rich flavor but is low in fat. Dudash recommends serving the chicken over a cup of whole wheat egg noodles, which add 4 grams of fiber per serving.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours 50 minutes
- 3½ pounds chicken parts (skin-on, bone-in breasts and thighs; or 1 whole chicken, cut into parts)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 teaspoon expeller-pressed canola oil
- 1 container (8 ounces) crimini mushrooms (about 2½ cups), thickly sliced
- 2 tablespoons (2 ounces) white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
- 1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes in juice
- 1¼ cups reduced-sodium or organic chicken broth
- 1 small onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, plus more to taste at the finish
- Cooked whole wheat egg noodles
- ¼ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
What to do: Arrange chicken with rounded sides facing up. Sprinkle the tops with salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
Place a large sauté pan or skillet on medium-high heat, and add the oil. Add the chicken to the pan with salted sides down, and press gently on the centers with tongs. Cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes, tilting pan occasionally to redistribute fat under the chicken and facilitate browning. Turn and cook a few minutes longer, until golden. Move chicken to slow cooker.
Pour excess fat from the pan, and reduce heat to medium. Add mushrooms to the same pan and sauté, scraping the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as the liquid releases. Once mushrooms have browned and shrunk slightly, add the flour and cook a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms to the slow cooker.
Squeeze tomatoes into the slow cooker with a clean hand, and pour in the juice. Add broth, onion, paprika, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Add up to 1 more teaspoon paprika, if desired.
Serve chicken with vegetables and sauce over egg noodles, and sprinkle with parsley.
4. Vegetarian Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole
This meat-free recipe from Deborah Murphy, R.D.N., blogger at Dietitian Debbie Dishes, is full of plant-based protein from kidney beans (plus a little more from deliciously melted cheddar cheese). There are plenty of fiber-rich vegetables in these enchiladas, but opting for whole wheat tortillas can bump that fiber count even higher.
Serves: 5 to 6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 20 minutes
- 1 jar (12 ounces) enchilada sauce
- 1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
- 2 medium bell peppers, chopped
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1 medium jalapeno, seeded and chopped
- 2 cups cooked kidney beans or 1 can (15 ounces), rinsed and drained
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 9 flour tortillas (10 inches)
- 8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
- Optional garnishes: cilantro, hot sauce, sour cream
What to do: Stir together the enchilada sauce and diced tomatoes in a small bowl, and set aside.
Add chopped vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Add beans to the bowl as well. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
Spread ¼ cup of the enchilada-tomato mix evenly onto the bottom of your slow cooker.
Add one layer of three flour tortillas over top. (Try setting two tortillas side by side and then cutting the third in half to cover the leftover space.) Add half of the vegetables and a third of the enchilada-tomato mix, and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat with tortillas, vegetables, enchilada-tomato mix, and cheese.
Top with one last layer of tortillas, enchilada-tomato mix, and cheese. Cover with a lid, and cook on high for 2 hours. Check and poke a few holes into the top tortillas with a knife to let some steam escape, if needed. (You’ll notice that they start to puff up!)
Cook on low for an additional hour. Serve with garnishes (optional).
5. Easy Slow Cooker Steak Chili
This recipe from Laura Ligos, R.D., blogger at The Sassy Dietitian calls for a variety of veggies, but Ligos says you can use whatever you have in your kitchen. She uses all the classic spices (chili, cumin, and garlic powder), plus a secret ingredient that pulls everything together: cocoa powder. Serve this over cooked whole grains or roasted potatoes for some additional healthy carbs and fiber.
Serves: 8 to 10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 6 hours 10 minutes
- 1 tablespoon ghee or butter
- 2½ to 3 pounds lean stew meat, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
- 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes or 1 can (28 ounces)
- 1 can (15 ounces) pinto beans or beans of your choice
- 2 cups chicken or beef broth (water is okay if you don’t have broth)
- 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
- 2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Optional toppings: cheese, sour cream, green onions, jalapeno slices, avocado
What to do: Place all ingredients in a slow cooker, and stir to combine. Cover, and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
Serve with toppings of choice (optional).
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