Slow Cooker Dinners

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 hearty beef stew, here are nine reasons to love your slow cooker.

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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.

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TIME-SAVING TIP
As you’re plating dinner, divide extra portions into containers with rice or noodles. Top with crunchy veggies (think red peppers, radishes and green onions) to create some serious lunch envy!

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Slow cooker curry chicken

Ready in: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Why we love it: We’re always game to try a clever cooking hack that saves time without sacrificing flavour, and this super-easy curry recipe delivers.

How kids can help: Let them prepare the rice in a pot or rice cooker—measuring out the exact portions of grains, water and salt is a great science skill.

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To save big, buy skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and use a sharp knife to remove the skin and debone. You can also use a paper-towel to easily pull off the skin and even save it to use as baked crackling for salads or sandwiches.

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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.

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While the Italian blend shredded cheese saves time, you can always swap it out with a package of mozzarella and shred it yourself. Buy a few bricks on sale and refrigerate or freeze for up to two months before thawing in the refrigerator.

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Ready in: 4 hours and 10 minutes

Why we love it: This comforting stew is low in fat, high in flavour, and you don’t even have to brown the meat first. Check, check, check!

How kids can help: Put the kids on topping duty. They can assemble small plates of grated cheese, sour cream and fresh herbs.

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Look for family-size packs of chicken or buy them on sale and freeze them for great make-ahead slow cooker recipes. Place frozen meat on a large plate and thaw in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.

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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.

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HEALTH HIGHLIGHT
This recipe calls for sodium-reduced beef broth. To reduce your salt intake even more, taste before seasoning—this way you’re not automatically adding salt that may not be needed.

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Slow cooker beef short ribs

Ready in: 8 hours and 20 minutes

Why we love it: These fall-off-the-bone ribs taste even better the next day. They’re also perfect for batch cooking and freezing for a last-minute dinner.

How kids can help: If your little sous chef is adept at chopping, you can keep them busy prepping the carrots, onion and garlic for this recipe.

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The recipe calls for short ribs, which are like steak but more economical. They have great flavour and become super tender when cooked low and slow. You can also substitute them with beef shank—it’s got all the beefy flavour and is often even more economical than short ribs.

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slow cooker pulled pork

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.

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HEALTH HIGHLIGHT
Pork tenderloin is leaner than the traditional pork shoulder commonly used in pulled pork since there’s no fat on the cut (don’t worry—the apple juice and BBQ sauce in this recipe help keep it tangy and tender!).

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Easy slow cooker beef stew

Ready in: 5 hours and 50 minutes

Why we love it: This classic one-pot meal is everything we crave in a simple and comforting Sunday feast. Serve with crusty bread and dinner is done.

How kids can help: Kids will enjoy making the flour-and-broth slurry to thicken the stew after it’s done cooking. They can also toss in the frozen peas.

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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.

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HEALTH HIGHLIGHT
Lentils are a great source of fibre, protein and iron. Eating them regularly is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, cancer and obesity.[1]

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Article Sources

  1. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Polyphenol-Rich Lentils and Their Health Promoting Effects.

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