Want to be able to just put some ingredients in your slow-cooker and come back to a delicious cooked meal? Your slow-cooker dreams can become a reality with just a little advance planning and recipes that are designed to load and go. With our 4 simple plan-ahead slow-cooker tips you'll know what to do to set yourself up for slow-cooker success. And our 6 new healthy crock pot recipes are designed with two goals in mind: keep it light and keep it load-and-go easy. But don't worry, none of these recipes skimp on flavor. Fresh herbs and seasonings more than make up for what’s lost by skipping the browning. Chicken soup transforms into Vietnamese pho with whole cloves and star anise plus lots of fresh herbs at the end. Pulled pork soaks up coconut milk, curry paste and lime; a pinto bean stew is topped with cornbread dumplings and sprinkled with fresh cilantro and crunchy bits of radish. Check out our tips and recipes and be on your way to enjoying an easy, healthy dinner from your slow cooker.
—Carolyn Malcoun, Senior Food Editor
If you want to start your slow cooker in the morning before heading out the door, get your ingredients ready the night before. Refrigerate meat, vegetables and liquids in separate containers, not in the slow-cooker insert. Starting with a cold insert keeps food from heating quickly, which can be a food-safety risk.
Before using beans in a slow-cooker recipe, soak them to ensure even cooking.
• Start by sorting beans to remove any pebbles; rinse well with cold water.
To soak overnight: Place beans in a large bowl, cover with 3 inches of cold water and soak at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours.
To “quick soak”: Place beans in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.
Sure, we’re all tempted, but resist the urge to open the lid and look inside. Every time you open the slow cooker it loses heat and takes up to 30 minutes to return to temperature, significantly lengthening the cooking time.
Follow these tips when you multiply or divide slow-cooker recipes:
• Don’t overfill. The cooker should be no more full than the manufacturer suggests (for many that is 3/4 full).
• Use enough liquid (or veggies that exude liquid, such as mushrooms or tomatoes). Most cookers need 1/2 cup liquid to work properly.
Chicken Pho, a classic Vietnamese soup, is a perfect recipe for a slow cooker. The chicken and seasonings of star anise, cloves and ginger simmer all day in the crock pot, welcoming you home with an alluring aroma. Serve with the essential garnishes for pho soup—fresh herbs, bean sprouts, chiles and lime—and let everyone top their own. Serve chile-garlic sauce for those who want more heat.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Chicken Pho
A split turkey breast is a terrific cut to use in this healthy slow-cooker recipe for turkey stroganoff because it stays moist. Here turkey breast is cooked in the crock pot with lots of mushrooms and carrots, then pulled off the bone, chopped and stirred back into a creamy sauce. If you can’t find a split turkey breast, try this recipe with bone-in chicken breasts. Serve over whole-wheat egg noodles, on mashed potatoes or even thick slices of toasted whole-grain country bread.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Turkey Stroganoff
This healthy slow-cooker pinto bean stew recipe is bursting with veggies—onion, bell pepper, celery and corn—and topped with crunchy bits of radish and chile- and lime-flecked cornbread dumplings. If you’re pressed for time, skip the dumplings and serve this pinto bean stew straight out of the crock pot, topped with crushed tortilla chips and a sprinkling of Monterey Jack cheese. Make sure to soak your dried beans before using them in the slow cooker to ensure even cooking.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Pinto Bean Stew with Jalapeño-Corn Dumplings
Fresh dill, lemon, escarole and artichokes give this healthy slow-cooker lamb stew recipe a decidedly springtime flavor. Dried white beans are perfect in this healthy crock pot recipe, but you could also add frozen lima beans at the end.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Lamb Stew with Artichokes & White Beans
Zesty orange and fragrant bay leaves flavor this healthy, saucy slow-cooker pot roast recipe. Stir in the olives at the end so they don’t lose their brininess as this slow-cooker pot roast recipe cooks. Serve with a green salad tossed with lemon vinaigrette.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Orange-Scented Pot Roast with Olives
Thai flavors—curry paste, fish sauce, lime and coconut milk—and a cabbage and cilantro slaw update this healthy slow-cooker pulled-pork sandwich recipe. A smaller slow cooker (such as a 4-quart model) is ideal for this healthy crock pot pulled-pork recipe. Look for red curry paste in jars in the Asian section of the supermarket.
Get the Recipe: Slow-Cooker Red Curry Pulled-Pork Sandwiches