Some days, getting through your to-do list is a challenge. Getting through the list without breaking a sweat is even harder, but some creativity and advance planning goes a long way. Consider meals, for example. With a slow cooker you can invest just a few minutes in preparation, then devote hours to your other projects while your cooker does the work. Your house will smell great, the food will taste great, and you’ll enhance your reputation as an overachiever.

Slow-Cooker Lasagna


Things you’ll need:

  • Eggs
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Slow-cooker liner

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 4 to 6 hours

Eating lasagna is fun. Cleaning burned-on lasagna from the pan, not so much. Assembling the lasagna in your slow cooker means minimal cleanup and no risk of it burning while you attend to your other projects. Start by raiding your pantry for sauce and noodles.

You can make your lasagna as simple or elaborate as you like, depending on your inclinations and the time at your disposal. For a cheese layer, use a wooden spoon to gently beat an egg yolk and some Parmesan into a tub of well-drained ricotta. Add cooked spinach for its color and nutritional value or shred zucchini and hide it in the sauce if you’re cooking for picky eaters.

lasagna ingredients

Protect your slow cooker with a cooker liner to speed cleanup, then start building your lasagna. Put down a layer of sauce to start, then cover it with lasagna noodles. Alternate noodles with sauce and cheese, finishing with a layer of cheese over the noodles. Don’t worry about cooking the noodles first. Just add a bit of extra water or tomato juice to the sauce, and the noodles will soak up as much as they need while simmering on low for 4 to 6 hours.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

chicken tortilla soup

Things you’ll need:

  • Chicken thighs
  • Onion
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Fresh and dried chilies
  • Sweet peppers
  • Can of enchilada sauce
  • Chicken broth
  • Frozen corn
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Cilantro

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 4.5 hours

Chicken breasts are all too easy to overcook in your slow cooker, but thighs stay moist and juicy through long hours of simmering. Use them to make a rich, flavorful chicken tortilla soup that’s a meal in itself. Start by seasoning the thighs lightly with salt and pepper, then browning them in a hot skillet.

grilling chicken in a pan

Transfer them to the slow cooker and add diced tomatoes, minced fresh or dried onion, cumin, chili powder, fresh and dried chilies, sweet peppers, and any other flavoring ingredients you like in your soup. Add a can of enchilada sauce, then top up the cooker with chicken broth.

chopped tomatoes and peppers

Simmer the soup on low for 4 hours, then lift out the thighs with a slotted spoon, shred them and add them back into the soup, along with some frozen corn or cooked hominy. Cook the soup for another 30 minutes.

shredded chicken

Cut some flour tortillas into strips and put some in each bowl. Ladle the soup over top and garnish it with cilantro. If you prefer corn tortillas, add those to the soup along with the kernel corn.

Slow-Cooker Baked Potatoes

potato skins

Things you’ll need:

  • Russet potatoes
  • Aluminum foil
  • Garnishes such as cheese, smoked meats or herbs

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 8.5 hours

Slow-cooker meals are usually soupy or rich with sauce, but — as the Gershwins put it — “it ain’t necessarily so.” One of your easiest options for a light meal or side dish, especially if you’re entertaining, is slow-cooker baked potatoes. Choose medium-sized russet bakers, as close to a uniform size as you can manage. Wash them thoroughly before you start.


Pierce the potatoes in several places to let steam escape as they cook. If you like your potatoes with a crusty skin, rub or spray them lightly with oil and sprinkle them with coarse salt. If you prefer the skin to be soft and delicate, wrap them instead in aluminum foil. Cook them on low for about 8 hours, or until they’re tender and completely cooked. You can serve them at this point, but where’s the fun in that? Take it a step further by making twice-baked potatoes.


Remove the spuds from your cooker and turn it to high, then cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop and mash the tender interiors with your choice of cheeses, vegetables, smoked meats or other garnishes, then stuff the potato skins with the mixture.

mashed potatoes

Return potatoes to the slow cooker for 20 to 30 minutes, until the cheese is thoroughly melted, then arrange them attractively on a serving dish — we like this Family Tree Platter — as a nice touch to a gathering of the clan.

Fruit Cobbler Dessert

fruit cobbler

Things you’ll need:

  • 4 cups of fruit, such as apples, peaches, pears or berries
  • Sugar
  • Lemon
  • Biscuit dough
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Slow cooker liner

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 3 to 3.5 hours

If you already have your meal well in hand, consider using a slow cooker to create a warm and wonderful dessert. Fresh fruit cobbler is an easy and healthful choice. For a 6-quart cooker, you’ll need 4 cups of apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, cherries or other tree fruit. Berries also make a tasty cobbler, but they’ll disintegrate over several hours’ cooking. Whichever fruit you choose, use a slow cooker liner to minimize cleanup.

apples and pears

Consider using a tempered kitchen glass cutting board since it is less likely to impart off flavors to your fruit. Get out your favorite knife and peel, core and slice your chosen fruit. Apples and pears turn brown easily, so dip them in diluted lemon juice to keep them attractive.

chopped fruiton a cutting board

Toss the fruit in a mixing bowl with a small amount of sugar or other sweetener, then pour them into the cooker. Cover the fruit with your favorite homemade biscuit dough — or cheat and use store-bought, nobody will tell — and turn the cooker to its low setting.

chopped fruit in a bowl

Cook the cobbler for 3 to 3.5 hours, until the fruit is bubbly and the dough is set. Don’t lift the lid for at least 3 hours, because you’ll need the trapped steam to help cook the cobbler. Scoop out individual portions and serve them with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce or other toppings.

Over to You

As long as there’s room on your counter, that trusty slow cooker can make your life a whole lot easier. We hope these four simple slow-cooker recipes have inspired you to simplify meal time, while still making it special for your family. What slow cooker meals give you the most flavor for the least effort? Share your favorites in the comments below.