Unique Slow Cooker Ideas for Busy Families

Economical and easy to use, slow cookers are the perfect provider of a hearty, wholesome midwinter meal. They are famed for their ability to bring out the flavour of budget ingredients and cheaper cuts of meat that can be cooked until tender.

But your slow cooker can be used for so much more than braising meat.

Here we explore some unique ways to use your slow cooker that offer flavour, convenience and something a little different for dinner tonight.

Reduce meal preparation time

Slow cookers are perfect for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time to spend preparing a supper. Many dishes, such as stews or soups involve nothing more than putting the ingredients in the slow cooker and switching it on.  Whilst many recipes suggest browning the meat before placing in the cooker, it is not essential – and saves on the washing up as well.

Try this simple but flavoursome beef stew recipe, which can easily be adapted to use the vegetables you have in the fridge and a cheap cut of beef (shin or brisket) which when cooked slowly, simply melts in your mouth.

Get a head start in the morning

Mornings can be manic with packed lunches to make, schoolbags to pack and PE kits to find. With a slow cooker you have the option of preparing all your ingredients the night before, placing them in the slow-cooker and storing overnight in the fridge.  All you have to do before you leave for work is remove the cooker from the fridge and switch it on to do its work while you’re out of the house.

We love this Thai-inspired winter warmer red vegetable soup, which can be served with crusty bread or naan for an easy midweek dinner.

Get your 5-a-day on one plate

This low-calorie vegetable lasagne delivers your full quota of veggies in a single meal. Simply layer pasta, ratatouille and aubergines in the slow cooker for a feast that packs in all your 5-a-day. The inclusion of buffalo mozzarella (vegetarian mozzarella is also an option if you are catering for non-meat eaters) adds a rich creamy layer to this super-healthy supper.

Easy entertaining

Be the host with the most and impress your dinner guests with a deliciously tender duck and pineapple red curry served with jasmine rice. This sweet and salty duck dish can be made up to 48 hours in advance, leaving you free to mingle with your guests and not slaving over a hot stove and missing all the fun. Slow cookers provide the ultimate in stress-free entertaining.

Winner winner, family dinner

Slow cooked meatballs are a firm family favourite in our household. It’s great to have a home-cooked warming meal waiting for you after a busy day out.

As these meatballs are made from turkey mince it’s a lighter, healthier option and they also contain plenty of vegetables hidden in them, which helps your kids reach their 5-a-day without them even realising.

If there are any leftovers (which we doubt, as this recipe is so tasty) it freezes well and can be defrosted and used for a quick supper any day of the week.

Dinner jackets required…

Slow cookers make the fluffiest jacket potatoes. Prick your potatoes, wrap in foil and place in the pot. No need to heat your main oven and much tastier than a microwaved spud, they can cook away on a Saturday morning and served as a nutritious lunch topped with cheddar cheese and a spoonful of creamy coleslaw.

Slow cooker cider

Yes, that’s right, you can use your slow cooker to create a warming winter drink that’s a treat to arrive home to after a long walk, or as hot drink for guests to enjoy at a party. This cider recipe will simply simmer away in the slow cooker until needed for adults-only indulgence.

Get a breakfast boost

Board of toast?  It’s hard to find something that’s both healthy and tasty for breakfast each day. Most of us grab a slice of toast as it’s fuss-free, but by putting your slow cooker to work overnight you can enjoy a warming bowl of overnight oats. Packed with potassium-rich bananas, nuts and spices it’ll be ready to eat when you wake up. Plus, if you don’t have to worry about making your breakfast in the morning, you can hit that snooze button an extra time.

Perfect for puddings too

It’s not just a traditional beef stew that slow cookers are used for. Get adventurous and use your slow cooker to create a delicious dessert. There is nothing more warming that a piping hot bowl of creamy rice pudding and this recipe brings it together with the winter spices of nutmeg and cinnamon. Once you’ve tipped the ingredients into the pot, you can leave it simmering until it’s ready to serve (preferably with a generous dollop of jam or honey on the side!)

Our pick of the best slow cookers

If you don’t already own a slow cooker, but we’ve inspired you to purchase one, here are three of the best pots to invest in:

  1. Morphy Richards: This clever slow cooker is easily big enough to feed a family of four. It has a glass lid so you can check on your dinner without lifting it and releasing the heat. The handy ‘sear and stew’ setting lets you brown off the meat and stew it all in the same pot. It is currently available from Amazon Prime at under £35.
  2. Sage: This is a pricier option at £95, but you do get a lot for your money. It has the ability to slow cook, steam, sauté and sear – all at the touch of a button. It looks pretty futuristic too, ideal for the modern kitchen with its interactive LCD screen keeping you informed at all times.
  3. Crock Pot: We had to mention the original slow cooker brand. This Crock Pot has a hinged lid for easy serving and an adjustable timer that ranges from 30 minutes to 20 hours. It also cooks stews, tagines and curries to perfection and includes a recipe book to give you new ideas for tasty and wholesome suppers.