Slow Cooker Meals for Busy Families

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.

There’s nothing like getting to the end of an exhausting day and wondering what you’re going to do for dinner. Add hunger and evening activities to that scenario and you usually end up in a drive-through.

Enter every busy parent’s best kitchen friend, the slow cooker (or good old CP as most of us know it — shhh, it’s a trademark). This magic cooking pot has been a life and sanity saver for me.

Three days a week, I throw everything in, put the top on and get on with my day.

Here are four of my favorite budget-friendly recipes. They are not only delicious but quick to assemble and don’t require expensive ingredients.

I’ll start with pork and chicken; then we’ll throw in a German-inspired dinner, and finish up with a spicy beef that’s perfect for burritos on busy nights.

Pork that’s not pricey

frozen meat
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Besides being one of the best meats to cook in an all-day cooking pot, pork roast is a bargain when it’s on sale. A 3- or 4-pound roast is plenty for two dinners and some leftover lunches.

Stick to butt and shoulder cuts for the most tender meat and the best prices.

Here is my simple recipe for outstanding pork roast in the slow cooker (sounds like the Academy Awards).

It can be dressed up with whole cranberry sauce and served with potatoes and gravy the first night and then mixed with your favorite BBQ sauce for a second dinner a few nights later.

Perfect Slow Cooker Pork Roast Ingredient List

raw roast pork with root vegetables in a slow cooker
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  • 3-4 pounds of butt or shoulder-cut pork
  • 2 cups orange juice (apple works fine, too)
  • 1 tsp. salt (I use Jane’s Krazy Mixed-Up Salt)
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. thyme

Perfect Slow Cooker Pork Roast Directions

Man putting spices on meat
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Put roast in the slow cooker and pour juice over the top. Add seasonings and put the lid on.

Cook all day on low (8-10 hours) or 5-6 hours on high. If you forget to thaw the roast the night before, like I usually do, add ½ cup of water to the juice and cook the frozen roast on high for 7-8 hours.

Once it’s done to a temp of 160-170 degrees, you can take two forks and shred it if you want BBQ right away or heap onto a serving plate with a generous amount of its juice.

This also makes a terrific gravy if you have the time to cook the juices in a saucepan with a bit of cornstarch or flour for thickening.

Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable. I like a big spoonful of whole cranberry sauce on top of my roast. Enjoy this succulent, melt-in-your-mouth roast.

Versatile chicken

Package of chicken from the grocery store
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Chicken is my other favorite for the slow cooker. This recipe turns out perfect every time. I adapted this recipe from a great cookbook called “The Silver Palate Cookbook” (Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins).

If you use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, this dish is very economical. Plus, you can buy one of those giant trays of thighs and eat leftovers a few nights later.

The ingredients in this recipe seem strange, but the taste is out of this world. I serve this on top of rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes. I think it would also be great with polenta.

Olive and Prune Chicken Ingredient List

chicken with spices in slow cooker on wooden table
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  • Large package of chicken thighs (boneless/skinless, if preferred)
  • 1 package whole, pitted prunes (9-10 ounces)
  • 1 can black olives, undrained (green are fine also)
  • 1 cup white wine (can substitute cooking sherry)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves chopped (or 1 Tbsp. minced from a jar)
  • 2 cups chicken broth/stock
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste (since broth adds salt, I do a taste test when it’s done)

Olive and Prune Chicken Directions

Woman chopping vegetables and following a recipe while cooking in the kitchen
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Put chicken in the pot and add all other ingredients but salt. Give a quick stir. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours.

Always cook to an internal temp of 170 degrees. Add more salt and pepper as needed. Serve on top of rice, pasta, or with a side of your choice.

German for a night

Dish of cooked sausages
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This next recipe is for sausage lovers. The sauerkraut and apples add a nice German flair.

You can use any kind of sausage that you like. I prefer smoked varieties such as Polish kielbasa links. This recipe was originally published on food.com and submitted by Corbin Lee.

Since I love leftovers, I doubled some of the recipe ingredients and added some quartered red potatoes.

Sausage, Sauerkraut & Apples Ingredient List

Sausage with braised sauerkraut on a plate closeup
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  • 1 lb. fresh sauerkraut or 1 pound canned (I use 2 pounds.)
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage (I use 2 pounds Kielbasa/Polish)
  • 3 tart cooking apples, thinly sliced (I use whatever apples I have and my apple slicer)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • ¾ cup apple juice or ¾ cup cider (I added 1 cup of apple juice and 1 cup of water)
  • *I also added 8 red potatoes, quartered

Sausage, Sauerkraut & Apples Directions

Woman dancing and cooking
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Rinse sauerkraut and squeeze dry (I drain juice lightly out of the jar/can). Cut sausages into 2-inch pieces.

Put half the sauerkraut in the slow cooker. Add the sausage pieces on top.

Continue to layer remaining ingredients in slow cooker in the order listed. Top with remaining sauerkraut. Do not stir the layers. Cover.

Cook on high 4 hours, or low 6-7 hours. Stir before serving.

Beautiful beef

Uncooked beef
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The final recipe is for beef barbacoa — a favorite with Chipotle fans. It’s perfect for busy nights when you want delicious Mexican-style beef for burritos or fajitas.

This recipe was originally published on allrecipes.com and submitted by lizbot1; I’ve adapted it somewhat.

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa Ingredient List

Shredded beef and chopped veggies
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  • 3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 2 Tbps. garlic powder
  • ¼ cup distilled white vinegar (or red wine vinegar would work nicely)
  • 1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup chili powder (or less if you’re a wimp like me)
  • 3-4 cups beef broth, enough to cover meat
  • Salt to taste

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa Directions

Family chopping vegetables
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Place all ingredients in slow cooker; cover and cook on low setting until meat is very tender and falling apart, about 8 hours.

Shred the meat and mix thoroughly before serving on warm tortillas with sour cream, lettuce, and other sides of choice.

There you have it — four fabulous meals that you can throw together in a hurry, cover the pot, and forget until dinnertime.

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