Slow Cooking for Easy Family Meals

Although a slow cooker appliance can be used throughout the year, wintertime is often the time people think to use them the most. Consider the ways a slow cooker can be used throughout the four seasons.

Less Hands-on Work

For many recipes, food ingredients can be put in the crock and it cooks during the day without any other attention.  It’s simple to prepare recipes all in one step. Many slow cooker recipes can cook for 8 to 10 hours. The exceptions to this rule are milk products and some tender vegetables and herbs.  They should not cook for many hours and be added only during the last hour of cooking.


Using a slow cooker to prepare recipes can be a good value. First, it’s economical to operate. Low wattage over a long time costs less than high wattage for a short time. This is one reason why slow cookers are helpful in the hot summertime – a meal can be prepared in the crock on the counter without heating the entire oven (and kitchen).

Cooking food slowly helps keep it tender.  This allows for the use of less expensive cuts of meat that are lower in fat because slow cooking tenderizes the meat. Liquids do not boil away like on the stovetop and slow cooking keeps more of the natural juices and flavors of foods.

Lastly, having a healthy home cooked meal can limit the need for picking up food at a restaurant, which in turn can help with the household food budget.

Follow Food Safety Recommendations 

Cooking food in the slow cooker can be tasty and safe.

  • Completely thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator before cooking it in the slow cooker. The slow cooker is great for cooking meals all day but it will not reach a high enough temperature fast enough for frozen meat.
  • Do not fill food to the very top of the slow cooker. When adding ingredients, only fill the crock pot half way or three fourths of the way full.
  • Do not leave cooked food to cool down in the slow cooker. Once you turn it off and eat the meal, place left-over food in the refrigerator.
  • Don’t use the slow cooker for reheating food. You can use the slow cooker to keep food warm on a buffet table but for reheating food, use the stove or microwave.

Additional Tips

  • Most slow cookers have clear lids so you can see the food while it’s cooking. Every time you lift the lid, you have to add an additional 15 -30 minutes of cooking time.
  • Most recipes offer you the option of a longer cooking time on low or a faster cooking time on high. Usually 1 hour on high is equal to 2 hours on low.
  • As mentioned before, a few ingredients like milk products and some tender vegetables and herbs should be added during the last hour of cooking.
  • In the slow cooker, steam collects on the lid and the contents can get watered down. The recipe might call for thickeners like flour or cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
  • Spray with cooking spray for ease of cleaning or look for coupons or sales on slow cooker liners which are placed in the crock before the food and can be thrown away when done cooking.

If you already own a slow cooker, use it!  If it’s an older model, make sure the cord is in good shape, that the legs and handles are heat-resistant and that it conducts heat evenly. If you are looking to purchase a new slow cooker, there are many options from size, cost and other features to make cooking the meal easier for you.

Variety of Meals and Uses

From appetizers to main dishes or fruit desserts, you can use recipes specifically designed for the slow cooker.  Check the instructions booklet or the company’s website for ideas and recipes or visit the library and check out a cookbook on slow cooking.  You can also take some of your favorite recipes and adapt them for the slow cooker.  Typically, the volume of liquids should be reduced by half when adapting your stovetop recipes to slow cooking recipes.  Also, if the recipe calls for cooked pasta, cook the pasta until slightly tender then add with the other ingredients to the slow cooker.

Keep It Healthy

When deciding what to prepare in the slow cooker, keep in mind the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPlate icon.  As you try new recipes, keep the following food preparation tips in mind for quick, healthy meals.

  • How can you add more vegetables to your day?
  • Are you preparing and eating lean meats?
  • If the recipe calls for canned soup, look for a low-sodium variety.
  • Remove the skin from poultry before cooking.

line drawing of slow cooker

A Few Recipe Ideas:

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans

How to Cook Butternut Squash in a Slow Cooker 

Crock Pot Sweet Potatoes 

Moroccan Beef Stew

Lemon Pepper Chicken and Veggies (from Kids a Cooking)

Chicken Tortilla Soup 

Overnight Steel Cut Oats

Minestrone Soup

Additional slow cooker recipes from North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lenoir County