5 Flavorful Slow-Cooker Dinners Your Family Will Savor

Whether you work in or out of your house, getting a wholesome meal on the table for your family each night is a constant challenge.

In The Foolproof Family Slow Cooker and Other One Pot Solutions, Valerie Brunmeier of the blog Valerie’s Kitchen, draws on her experience as a working mom of four sons to provide delicious meal solutions perfect for busy families. The collection includes both slow-cooker and one-pot recipes that incorporate fresh vegetables and pantry staples to help create dishes that appeal to all ages and appetites. Here are five of our favorites.

1. 20-Minute Egg Roll Lettuce Wraps

This healthier take on egg rolls is packed with cabbage, carrots, bell pepper and lean ground pork or beef that is stir-fried in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce. It will take you about 20 minutes to pull off this dish and way less time for your family to devour it! Fresh mint really brightens up the flavors, but feel free to leave it out if anyone in your family isn’t a fan. Served inside tender leaves of butter lettuce, it’s an awesome light dinner that my boys absolutely love. For a more substantial meal, I’ll cook up a double batch in a Dutch oven and serve it over rice for my big group.

SERVES 4

Ingredients
Stir-Fry Sauce
3 Tbsp. (45 ml) low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. (15 g) finely grated ginger root
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) sriracha, or to taste
1 Tbsp. (9 g) brown sugar
1 tsp. minced garlic
Egg Roll Filling
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) vegetable oil
1 lb. (450 g) 80% lean ground pork or beef
1⁄2 tsp. salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1⁄2 cup (55 g) seeded and diced red bell pepper
1⁄2 cup (65 g) coarsely shredded carrot
1 (10-oz [280-g]) bag tri-color coleslaw mix
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp (6 g) finely chopped fresh mint, optional
2 tbsp (30 g) sesame seeds, or as needed

For Serving

1 head of butter lettuce, separated into individual leaves

Sweet chili sauce, optional (I like Mae PloyTM)

  1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, vinegar, sriracha, brown sugar and garlic to make the stir-fry sauce. Set it aside.
  2. Add the vegetable oil to a deep 14-inch (35-cm) skillet or sauté pan, and place it over medium heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring to break up the meat, for 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Drain off the excess grease, return the skillet to the heat and season the pork with the salt and pepper.
  3. Add the bell pepper and shredded carrot and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the coleslaw mix, green onions and the stir-fry sauce. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes more, until the cabbage is wilted and the carrots and bell pepper are fork-tender.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the mint, if using. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed, and sprinkle on the sesame seeds.
  5. To serve, fold 2 to 3 tablespoons (20 to 30 g) of the egg roll filling inside a lettuce leaf and garnish it with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce, if desired.

2. Creamy “Baked” Ziti

You would never guess how effortless this luscious dish is to prepare. Uncooked pasta is layered with cooked ground beef and a simple but delicious blend of spices. Your favorite store-bought marinara tops it off. Dollops of ricotta cheese, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan are added toward the end of the cooking time and quickly melt down over this glorious casserole.

Watching the cooking time closely is the key to success with slow-cooker pasta recipes. Be ready to check on the dish near the lower end of the suggested time range.

SERVES 6

Ingredients
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 lb. (450 g) lean ground beef
1 cup (150 g) diced onion
2 tsp. (6 g) minced garlic
2 tsp. (2 g) Italian seasoning
1⁄2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄4 tsp. red pepper flakes, optional
12 oz (340 g) uncooked ziti or penne
1 (24–26-oz [710–770-ml]) jar marinara sauce
1 (14.5-oz [410-g]) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) water
3⁄4 cup (90 g) ricotta cheese 1⁄4 cup (45 g) finely shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 Tbsp. (6 g) minced fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
1 cup (120 g) shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. Pour the olive oil into a 12-inch (30-cm) skillet and place it over medium heat. Add the ground beef, onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring to break up the beef, until crumbly and browned with no pink remaining. Drain off the grease from the skillet and return it to the heat. Add the Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, salt and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, for another 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer the mixture to a 6-quart (5.5-L) slow cooker.

  2. Add the pasta in an even layer over the beef mixture.

  3. Combine the marinara sauce, tomatoes and water in a medium bowl, and pour the mixture over the pasta, being sure the pasta is completely immersed in liquid. Use the back of a spoon to spread the sauce out if needed. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 2 hours, until the pasta is just barely al dente. Watch closely to prevent the pasta from becoming too soft.

  4. At the end of the cooking time, combine the ricotta, Parmesan cheese and parsley in a small bowl. Remove the slow-cooker’s cover and stir the pasta to combine it well with the meat and sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pasta mixture, and dollop small spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture over the top of the mozzarella. Cover and cook on low for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, just until the cheese mixture is warm and has melted down.

  5. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese and parsley, if desired, before serving.

3. Cheesy Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

Cauliflower is a miracle vegetable, plain and simple. It’s delicious on its own but can also stand in for so many other things, from pizza crust to tater tots and, in this recipe, cheesy mashed potatoes. And it really does do it miraculously. This cauliflower-potato combo is a delicious and familiar way to introduce cauliflower to your little ones. If it seems like there is too much liquid at the end of the cooking process, don’t be concerned. After mashing the potatoes and cauliflower with the other ingredients, much of the liquid will be absorbed to achieve a perfectly creamy result.

SERVES 6

Ingredients
1 good-size head of cauliflower (approximately 21⁄2 lbs [1.2 kg])
2 lbs. (910 g) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2″ (5-cm) chunks
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup (240 ml) low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1⁄4 cup (55 g) butter, cut into pats
1⁄2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) sour cream
2 oz (60 g) cream cheese, softened
1 cup (120 g) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1⁄4 cup (45 g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. (3 g) fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

  1. Trim the cauliflower head from the stem and chop it into small florets. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Transfer the cauliflower and the potatoes to a 6-quart (5.5-L) slow cooker.

  2. Add the garlic, broth, butter, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high, until tender.

  3. Add the sour cream and cream cheese. Use a potato masher to coarsely mash the mixture. I think these are best with a little texture, so avoid overmashing. Use a spoon to stir in the cheddar and Parmesan cheeses. Season with additional salt and black pepper, if desired. Garnish with parsley and serve.

4. Smoky Chipotle Shredded Beef

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce add a distinctive and delicious smoky flavor to this versatile shredded beef. The spice in this dish is offset by a touch of cider vinegar and brown sugar, creating an irresistible flavor combination. I like to cook up some rice and set out a variety of toppings so we can make our own custom burrito bowls, but this beef is also excellent for a variety of Mexican entrées, from tacos to enchiladas to nachos and more!

SERVES 6 TO 8

Ingredients
1 (31⁄2–4-lb [1.5–1.8-kg]) boneless beef chuck roast
1 cup (150 g) diced white onion
1 (14.5-oz [410-g]) can tomato sauce
1 (4-oz [115-g]) can mild diced green chiles, drained
2 Tbsp. (15 g) finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, plus 1 tsp sauce
2 Tbsp. (30 ml) cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. (18 g) brown sugar
1 Tbsp. (9 g) ground cumin
2 tsp. (6 g) minced garlic
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3–4 cups (680–910 g) cooked rice, for serving
Optional Toppings
Diced fresh tomato, thinly sliced green onion, chopped avocado, shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, salsa

  1. Cut the chuck roast into four or five large chunks and trim the fat from the edges of the beef as best you can. Place the trimmed beef into a 6-quart (5.5-L) slow cooker and sprinkle it with the diced onion.

  2. Whisk together the tomato sauce, chiles, chipotle peppers, vinegar, brown sugar, cumin, garlic, paprika, oregano, salt and black pepper in a small mixing bowl. Pour the mixture over the beef and toss the beef in the sauce to coat the pieces well. Cover and cook for 7 to 8 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high, until the beef is very tender and easy to shred. Transfer the cooked beef to a large bowl and allow it to rest.

  3. Use two forks to shred the beef into the cooking sauce. Alternatively, you can transfer the beef to a bowl to shred it and add as much of the sauce as desired to control the consistency.

  4. Serve over the cooked rice with your toppings of choice.

5. Veggie-Packed Meatloaf with Barbecue Glaze

A variety of fresh veggies add color, texture and wonderful flavor to this tender slow-cooker meatloaf. I top it with a simple barbecue glaze, which locks in the kid-friendly nature of this meal. Enclosing the meatloaf with a foil bowl ensures easy cleanup and gives you something to hold on to when transferring the meatloaf in and out of the slow cooker. If you’d like to use this meatloaf specifically for sandwiches, I recommend making it a day in advance and refrigerating it overnight. It will set up and slice beautifully when chilled.

SERVES 6

Ingredients
Meatloaf
2 large eggs
1 cup (70 g) crushed saltines (about 20 crackers)
1 cup (120 g) shredded cheddar cheese 1⁄2 cup (75 g) diced onion
1⁄2 cup (55 g) diced red bell pepper
1⁄2 cup (65 g) finely shredded carrot
1⁄2 cup (60 g) finely shredded zucchini 1⁄2 cup (70 g) frozen corn, thawed
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) ketchup
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) milk
1Tbsp. (15 ml) Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. (9 g) chili powder
1⁄2 tsp. garlic powder
1⁄4 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. (910 g) lean ground beef
Barbecue Glaze
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) ketchup
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) barbecue sauce (I like Kinder’s Mild BBQ Sauce)
1 Tbsp. (15 g) packed brown sugar 1 tbsp (15 g) Dijon mustard

  1. In a large bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the saltines, cheddar cheese, onion, bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, corn, ketchup, milk, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, garlic powder and black pepper. Crumble the ground beef over the mixture and mix until just combined.

  2. Coat an 18 × 12–inch (45 × 30–cm) sheet of heavy-duty foil with nonstick cooking spray. Turn the meatloaf mixture out onto the foil and use your hands to form it into an oval loaf that’s approximately 9 × 6 inches (23 × 15 cm). Fold the edges of the foil up and over to make a bowl around the meatloaf. Place it in the slow cooker. Cover and cook for 5 to 6 hours on low.

  3. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, barbecue sauce, brown sugar and mustard to make the glaze. When the cooking time is up, spread it over the meatloaf, then cover and continue to cook on low for about 30 to 45 minutes until the center of the meatloaf registers 160°F (70°C).

  4. Carefully lift the foil bowl from the slow cooker and drain off the grease. Transfer the meatloaf to a cutting board or serving platter and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

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