Four Simple Slow-Cooker Recipes Our Family Loves

It’s no secret that I think a slow cooker is a great tool for frugal meals for a busy family. There are quite a few evenings where our family will be filled up with activities in the late afternoon and evening, so having a slow cooker with a meal in it ready to go when we arrive home is an enormous time and money saver.

It’s been a while since I’ve shared slow cooker recipes, so I thought I’d share a few that our family has really enjoyed over the past year or two. Most of these are hacked variations on recipes found in various places, usually jotted down and modified on pieces of scrap paper until they’re pronounced “good” and added to the family recipe database.

Three quick notes: one, our family prefers meals that are fully contained in the slow cooker so that we can set the table before we leave and literally be eating our meal within a few minutes of arriving home; two, we also prefer meals that can be made vegetarian or not vegetarian, depending on preference; and three, an outlet timer is a great tool to have as it allows you to cook shorter term recipes.

This is the closest I’ve come to preparing my grandmother’s lasagna in a crock pot. She liked to use cottage cheese instead of ricotta, but I prefer the taste of ricotta. Use either one.

What You Need
2 28 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (drained) or about three and a half pounds of fresh tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, chopped into a near-paste
3 tablespoons oregano
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 bunch Swiss chard or kale, chopped with stems removed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
8 ounces lasagna noodles, uncooked – not “no bake” noodles
(optional) 1 lb. ground beef and one small onion, chopped

What You Do
1. If you’re using ground beef, cook the ground beef and onion together in a skillet until the ground beef is done. You can add half the oregano and garlic here, if desired.

2. In a bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and a dash of salt and pepper – call it “tomato mix.” In another bowl, combine all of the cheeses except the mozzarella – call it “cheese mix.”

3. At this point, you’re just going to layer the stuff into the slow cooker. Start with the tomato mixture and layer as desired. I suggest using all of the mixes in thirds so you can make three layers out of them. With the noodles, break them to fit and make a single layer out of them as one of the layers. Make sure that you have a layer of mozzarella on top. One good way to do it would be to have a layer of tomato mix, a layer of noodles, a layer of cheese mix, a layer of greens, a layer of meat, and a layer of mozzarella, then repeat this whole thing twice.

4. Put the slow cooker on low for four hours. If you’re going to be gone for more than four hours, use an outlet timer.

Quinoa with Black Beans
Quinoa is a great food. It’s extremely healthy, it’s gluten free, and it doesn’t have a particularly strong flavor on its own so it can be paired with lots of things.

What You Need
1 chopped bell pepper
3 minced garlic cloves
3 cups vegetable stock, vegetable broth, or water
1 14.5 ounce can undrained diced tomatoes or one pound fresh diced tomatoes
1 14 ounce can black beans or 2 cups pre-cooked black beans (cooking beans is easy)
2 teaspoons chili powder
A dash or two of cumin
3/4 cup dried quinoa
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) 1 lb. chorizo

What You Do
Add everything but the quinoa to the slow cooker in the morning. Leave it on low all day. When you get home, add the quinoa and turn it to high. When the quinoa sprouts little “tails,” it’s done – it should take roughly another half an hour. Keep an eye on it – it’s easy to overcook it.

Chili is about the easiest thing in the world to make in a slow cooker. You basically just dump in your preferred ingredients and let it cook on low for several hours. You almost can’t fail. Here’s our family’s preferred chili recipe.

What You Need
1/2 small onion, diced
1 small bunch celery, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 10 oz. cans tomato sauce (or your homemade sauce)
2 15 oz. cans kidney beans (or you can cook them from dried)
1 15 oz. can chickpeas (or you can cook them from dried)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) 1 pound ground beef, cooked

What You Do
Mix everything in a slow cooker. If you like thinner chili, add 1 cup water. Put it on low for eight hours, then enjoy.

Black Bean Enchiladas
These turn out shockingly well right out of the slow cooker. I would have never guessed. Just make sure you don’t overcook.

What You Need
1 diced small yellow onion
1 diced small bell pepper
1 can drained black beans (or you can cook 1 cup black beans)
1 cup frozen corn
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 cups cheese, shredded monterey jack cheese
1 1/2 lbs. salsa, whatever kind you like
12 8″ tortillas
(optional) 1 lb. meat, cooked, chicken or ground beef

What You Do
1. Mix together everything but the salsa, the tortillas, and half the cheese. Pour 1/2 lb. salsa into the bottom of the slow cooker, spreading it around evenly.

2. Put 1/3 cup of the mix in the middle of a tortilla, roll it up, and put it in the slow cooker. Make a layer of six of these. Put 1/2 lb. salsa on top of this, then put half of the cheese on top of that. Repeat with another layer of six filled tortillas and put 1/2 lb. salsa on top of that.

3. Cook on high for three hours – if you need to use a timer, do so. With fifteen minutes (or so) left to go, put the rest of the cheese on top.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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