Your busy family needs hot and delicious meals in a hurry, but organizing a home-cooked dinner during the week can be a heroic ordeal. Enter the slow cooker, your new mealtime ally: you can literally set it and forget it, freeing up time to enjoy cozy nights with the fam (or some well-deserved downtime).
A slow cooker is the ultimate make-ahead, one-pot tool—and cleanup is easy. When it comes to large and inexpensive cuts of meat, slow cookers masterfully tenderize and break down connective tissue, and slowly build flavour in dishes like pot roasts and baked beans.
Not all slow cooker recipes are equal (some call for more prep while others require babysitting during the cooking process), but the ones we’ve rounded up require minimal hand-holding and only take around 10 to 15 minutes to prep. From creamy meatballs in mushroom sauce to vegetable lasagna and butter chicken thighs, here are nine reasons to love your slow cooker.
Ready in: 8 hours 40 minutes
Why we love it: A fancy beef stew will elevate your weeknight dinner lineup. This classic comfort food recipe cooks up lots of glorious gravy—don’t forget to grab a crusty baguette for dipping. The next night, serve up leftover shredded beef with wide noodles or make into tacos. Yum!
Meal prep tip: Large cuts of meat benefit from time in a slow cooker. Turn it over a few times as it cooks to let the meat absorb all the flavours. And don’t be afraid to make this beauty two days ahead—its flavours will intensify after a soak in the gravy.
Ready in: 5 to 8 hours
Why we love it: Restaurant-worthy flavours and minimal prep time make this recipe a winner. Chicken thighs are a popular dark meat, favoured for tenderness and superior flavour. While bone-in chicken thighs contain more tendons than white meat, the tougher cut breaks down beautifully in a Crock-Pot, creating the most tender and juicy slow cooker chicken dish.
Meal prep tip: Make a big batch of this recipe on the weekend and enjoy it throughout the week, or double the batch and freeze half for later—chicken thighs with tomato-based sauces freeze beautifully. The sauce can be also be doubled or tripled and used for a butter chicken lasagna or burritos with rice and fresh cilantro.
Ready in: 4 hours 15 minutes
Why we love it: Calling all cheese lovers! With only six ingredients, this veggie lasagna delivers big, especially considering it only takes 10 minutes to prep. It features tons of cheesy goodness, including layers of luxurious ricotta, shredded cheese, spinach and tomato sauce.
Meal prep tip: Don’t worry if you can’t get your rectangular lasagna sheets the perfect size for a round slow cooker. You can overlap broken pieces with each other to form a noodle layer—just be sure to smother them with sauce and cheese and no one will be the wiser.
Ready in: 5 to 8 hours
Why we love it: This hearty family favourite tastes even better after a day, so you can make it on a Sunday and enjoy it all week (it freezes well, too!). Serve it on rice or macaroni (think chili mac topped with cheese), make nachos or add chicken broth for a soupy lunch. You can also dress it up with avocado, sliced radishes, jalapeños or cilantro. Another option: swap out the pork for ground beef.
Meal prep tip: Shopping and cooking on the weekend might better suit your schedule instead of squeezing it in on weekdays. The beans can be soaked on a Saturday night and ready for Sunday slow cooking.
Ready in: 8 hours 20 minutes
Why we love it: Who can resist meatballs? Little kids and big kids alike love them and they’re so versatile. Up your meatball game with this recipe that takes a fraction of the normal prep time and still delivers big, delicious flavour. Serve this dish with rice or kid-friendly egg noodles, or use crusty bread to mop up the thick sauce.
Meal prep tip: Forming the meatballs is one of the most time-consuming parts of this recipe. Consider doubling or tripling the meatballs and freezing extras. Then, simply thaw and simmer them in your favourite pasta sauce when you’re ready to enjoy another delicious meatball meal.
Ready in: 8 to 10 hours
Why we love it: This impressive main course takes only 10 minutes to prepare—your slow cooker will do the rest of the work, tenderizing the short ribs and infusing them with flavour. This is an excellent recipe for batch cooking and freezing for last-minute dinners and lunches. Dress it up by adding chopped parsley, hot peppers, red wine or freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Meal prep tip: Boil a full package of tagliatelle ahead of time in salted water until al dente. Drain it without rinsing, then cool on a rimmed baking sheet drizzled with olive oil. Next, divide the pasta up into single-serve or family-size containers and freeze. When you need a quick weeknight meal, just reheat along with the Bolognese and finish with grated cheese.
Ready in: 6 hours 10 minutes
Why we love it: Upgrade your go-to pulled pork recipe with our leaner and quicker version using pork tenderloin and prepared coleslaw. This family favourite is perfect for when you’re short on time—use your slow cooker’s high heat setting and it can be on the table in three hours instead of six.
Meal prep tip: Rub the tenderloin in spices and leave in the fridge overnight before cooking to further accentuate its savoury flavours.
Ready in: 8 hours 15 minutes
Why we love it: This comforting, freezer-friendly soup is a French Canadian classic. The dried peas soften as they cook, thickening the soup, while the ham hock seasons everything in the slow cooker before breaking down into tender, shreddable pieces.
Meal prep tip: Buy more smoked ham hock than you need for this recipe, and use the extras in a stir fry, omelette or salad.
Ready in: 4 hours 15 minutes
Why we love it: So many veggies and such big flavour! Everyone under your roof will love this power combo of lentils, kale, sweet potatoes and carrots. With the addition of spices, garlic and tomato paste, it makes an absolutely delicious family dinner.
Meal prep tip: Choose a day to meal prep (Wednesday and Sunday are popular choices) and try to incorporate fresh vegetables into every meal—fifty percent is the goal for a healthy diet. With this recipe, you’ve got plants and legumes covered. While you’re at it, wash, dry and chop extra kale and carrots for yummy salad lunches.
Shop Slow Cooker Recipe Ingredients
- LiveStrong. The Nutritional Value of Yellow Split Peas.
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects.
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