By Michelle Edelbaum , September 23, 2011 - 11:27am
I know autumn is officially here when I make my first of many fall crock-pot meals. This year it was pulled pork (recipe follows). The meat was fork-tender, juicy and delicious. And it set the tone for a season of healthy, hearty slow-cooked meals I don’t have to spend hours tending. Or cleaning up from, which 25 percent of Americans cited as their reason for not cooking, in a recent national survey.
Recipes to Try: 14 Fall Recipes for Your Crock-Pot 
Plus, my crock-pot habit is saving us money, because it makes inexpensive cuts of meat meltingly tender, such as in EatingWell’s Rich Chicken Stew, which is made with chicken thighs instead of pricier chicken breast. Other inexpensive cuts of meat that work wonderfully in the slow cooker include pork shoulder, beef chuck and brisket. You could save $78 per year by using your slow cooker if you replace 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast [$4.99] with 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs [$3.49] once a week for a year. (5 More Changes That Can Help You Save $2,997 on Groceries )
Here's my crock-potting routine:
Before I leave for work in the morning (sometimes I take a little time the night before), I prep the ingredients and load up the slow cooker with the ingredients in the recipe. (I try to look for recipes that require little to no work, like minimal chopping and browning, but I will make exceptions for really yummy stuff.) I try to look for inherently healthy recipes, using lean cuts of meat or beans, that either call for vegetables or that I can add vegetables to or serve on the side.
When I get home at night, dinner is nearly totally ready. That's it. Really! Plus the recipes make multiple servings, so we have more than one night’s worth of food for dinners, plus extra for lunches or leftovers to freeze for another time. (Love my easy plan? Try these no-fuss recipes for Easy One-Pot Meals .)
Here are 5 of my favorite healthy fall crock-pot recipes that cost less than $3 per serving to try.
Pulled Pork with Caramelized Onions 
Traditional pulled pork is barbecued, which gives it a smoky flavor. But the slow cooker happens to be the absolute easiest way to cook pulled pork—and you can get a hint of smoke by adding chipotle chile. Serve the pulled pork with potato salad, collard greens and grits. Or make it into a sandwich and serve it on a bun with coleslaw. (22 More Healthy, Easy Slow-Cooker Recipes )
Rich Chicken Stew 
A blanquette is a classic French stew of veal, chicken or lamb with mushrooms in a velvety sauce. This concept has been adapted to the slow cooker to make a lightened-up version using chicken thighs. Just a little whipping cream (which is less inclined to break down than lighter creams and gives more density to the sauce) adds richness. This is delightful over egg noodles. (More Healthy Crock-Pot Soups and Stews Recipes )
Slow-Cooked Brisket in Onion Gravy 
This brisket is cooked with beef broth and loads of onions that melt down into a luscious gravy. Serve the brisket and gravy over a mound of steaming mashed potatoes with a side of green beans or sliced carrots for a perfect Sunday dinner.
Southwestern Three-Bean & Barley Soup 
Serve this zesty bean and barley soup garnished with chopped fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime, if desired.
Eggplant & Chickpea Stew 
This tasty vegetarian stew, studded with plenty of eggplant and protein-rich chickpeas, is reminiscent of ratatouille. The eggplant breaks down and makes a saucier stew if you peel it before cooking, but you can certainly leave the peel on if you prefer. Serve over quinoa or soft polenta with sauteed spinach on the side.