How to Use a Slow Cooker (or Crock-pot) to Have Dinner Ready During Busy Times
Do you ever wish at the end of a long day someone would come and make YOU dinner for a change? Well, enter the wonderful world of the slow cooker and you can almost believe someone cooked dinner for you!
How does that work you ask? It works like this. You put in a little bit of preparation time beforehand and the rest is easy. Slow cookers can be your secret to easy meals for dinner that any busy Mom can use. Here are the reasons why a slow cooker can be your best friend at meal time and how to make it work for you.
Slow Cooker Family Meals are Cheap, Quick, Easy and Great for Beginners
The best part about using a slow cooker (or Crock-Pot) is how easy it can be. The easiest recipes are the “dump and go” kind where you just dump the ingredients in the pot in the morning and that is it. (See below for a resource on 40 Dump and Go Easy Slow Cooker Recipes).
Some recipes require a bit more preparation. However, usually the most work you have to do is thaw the meat ahead of time, which you can do by putting it in the fridge the day before. If you are like me, you will forget to thaw the meat ahead of time and then just use the microwave to defrost the meat before starting the recipe.
Sometimes you need to brown the meat as well. But, most of the time, you just put the meat in the crock pot, assemble the other ingredients (maybe chop some vegetables), and then hit start.
Whatever recipe you use, you may need to find time to prepare it in the morning or by lunch time, depending on your work schedule and if you are using the high/low setting. High heat usually takes 3 to 4 hours for cooking, whereas low heat takes 6 to 8 hours. The more often you take off the lid, the longer the time you need to cook as the temperature reduces when you have the lid off.
The main difference between a slow cooker and a Crock-Pot is that a slow cooker typically has the heating element in the base. The Crock-Pot has the heating element in the base and surrounding the unit. If you want to know more about how the two work, read “Crockpot vs. Slow Cooker – Are these the same thing?” .
Slow Cooking Gets Rid of the “What Should I Make For Dinner” Mantra
One of the hardest parts of getting dinner on the table is the “6 o’clock scramble”, which is what happens when you wait until 6 o’clock to decide what to have for dinner. (Not the best plan, but we have all been there – right?)
By 6 o’clock, everyone is hungry (including you) and tempers are short. People are tired because it’s the end of the day and no one feels like cooking. So you either resort to fast food or heavily processed food in your pantry/fridge which isn’t the best for you. However, by using just a bit of planning, your week can be much less stressful.
How to Use a Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot (And Set Yourself Up for Success)
- Choose your meals for the week for the slow cooker (see the resources section below for ideas on recipes)
- Purchase the grocery ingredients online and then pickup or have the groceries delivered to you
- You can either choose to pre-assemble and/or freeze your meals to have in the cooker the morning of or you can assemble the morning/day of. Again, the frozen route works if you can remember to thaw it out on time which not all of us are good at (especially me).
- Assembling it either the day of or ahead of time means you have dinner done for you by 6 o’clock – as long as you press start in the morning (low heat) or early afternoon (high heat). The most you may have to do at the end of the day is find a side salad or bread to go with your meal.
- You come home (or end your day – if at home), and you get to eat with everyone else without having to make it right before. This equates to ZERO stress for you! You can finally watch the news or cartoons with the family which is a WIN/WIN.
The benefits of having a meal ready to go when you get home that required minimum effort from you, is one of the best advantages to using a slow cooker or Crock-Pot. However, WAIT, there are more! No, really, there are more benefits just read on.
You Can Even Eat Healthy with a Slow Cooker
Not all slow cooker recipes involve heavy, calorie-laden ingredients. If you are only using your grandmother’s old recipes for the slow cooker, you might need to lighten things up. However, there are plenty of healthy recipes to be found.
You can even find low carb options. (See the resources at the bottom for a link to a low carb recipe service). One of the benefits of using the slow cooker to cook food slowly is that meat will become more tender. So, you can use less fatty cuts of meat if you choose. And, the flavors are also concentrated using a slow cooker which means you can use less meat and load up on the veggies as well.
Slow Cookers Can Be Useful Year Round for Easy Family Meals
Some people only think of using a slow cooker in the winter for hearty meals. However, you can actually use your slow cooker year round with the right recipes. One of the best uses for a slow cooker is in the summer when you don’t have to turn on a hot oven or cook over a hot stove.
Where Do I Begin?
So, what are you waiting for?. Purchase the supplies you need below or if you already have a slow cooker or Crock Pot – choose some recipes to begin your meal planning.
The keys to success are to plan your meals ahead, purchase the ingredients, do the minimal prep work the morning of, and you won’t have to worry how to answer the “What’s for dinner” question again. And, as an added bonus doing your meals this way is WAY cheaper than eating out!
Where Can I Find Slow Cooker Recipes for Easy Family Meals?
“Fix-it and Forget it” Cookbook by Phyllis Good – I have used this cookbook for years. It has so many different ideas for ways to use your slow cooker or Crock-Pot. The best part is the recipes are sorted by type – Chicken, Beef, Pork, as well as by Main Dishes, Soups/Stews/Chilies, and even Appetizers and Desserts. I love this cookbook!
SideTracked Sarah – If you want someone to do the heavy lifting for you, look no further. The “SideTracked Sarah” website (love that name by the way), has a service to send you a week’s worth of meals with the ingredients laid out and a pre-prep plan as well.
This is taking it to the next level, folks. You can actually shop for your meals ahead of time with the ingredients listed, have them delivered/shipped to your house, and then use her plan to have everything ready to go in one day. Crazy good. Anyway, I’ve tried this service since April and I like it. I tend to go back and forth between her low-carb recipes and the regular ones. (You can try one week for free and I’m not an affiliate).
“40 Dump Recipes for the Slow Cooker” – Lauren Greutman has compiled a round up of easy one pot meals based on the type of meat you want to use. (Beef, Hamburger, Chicken, and Pork) This is a great resource for getting your feet wet trying the various dishes in your slow cooker and finding out what you like.
Emeals service – If you already have a service like Emeals, you can use their slow cooker meal plans to make your life super easy. If you don’t know what Emeals is, see my article on Meal Planning with Emeals.
Where Can I Buy Slow Cookers and Crock Pots?
Crock-Pot 7-Quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker | Stainless Steel (SCV700SS)
Hamilton Beach Portable 6-Quart Set & Forget Digital Programmable Slow Cooker With Temperature Probe, Lid Lock, Stainless Steel (33969A)
How Does “What Should I Make for Dinner” Have Anything To Do With Self Care?
Simply because figuring out what is for dinner every day can be stressful. Especially at the end of a long day when you are exhausted and lacking the ability to make good decisions on what to eat. It can be so tempting to just swing through a drive thru, but then your budget and your diet are shot.
And, frankly, any time you can remove something from your plate it is a win for you. Actually, I think it is a win for the whole family – less stressed Mom equals a happy Mom, right? And, that is good for everyone. At Loveselfcare.com, we are always looking for ways to make your life easier. There are more in this series for you to check out below.
More Ways to Make Life Easier:
- How to Manage Your Time
- Are Your Finances a Mess?
- How to Meal Plan – Easy Meals
- Easy Fashion
- Easy Ways of Household Management
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