Using your Crockpot or slow cooker for meal planning is a great way to save time and money. Slow cooking foods is ideal for summer months when turning an oven on means heating up an already hot house. It also saves a ton of time for those busy moms who are juggling full-time work, kids, and various activities. Our tips for helping you on how to use your crockpot for meal planning are going to be revolutionary for your menu and budget.
Tips For How to Use a Crockpot For Meal Planning
Have multiple sizes available. Your slow cooker isn’t just about cooking huge batches of food. It also includes keeping sauces, dips, and sides warm. Sometimes, you may even find dessert recipes that are easy to cook in a slow cooker. Having various sizes on hand so you can cover all of the bases is vital. I recommend at least having two slow cookers in a 2 quart and 5 or 6 quart size. I have this 6-quart programmable Crockpot that I love! You may also want to have the middle size of 4 quarts, or the larger casserole sizes that are shorter and made ideally for things like traditional casseroles or lasagnas.
Here are some slow cooker recipes I found on Pinterest.
If you feel like they are just too expensive, watch for sales around holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day when they often are being sold for much lower prices. You may also want to include them into your budget as a once per quarter purchase until you have all of the sizes you feel you will use regularly.
Keep it clean. This sound obvious right? Unfortunately, many people simply hate cleaning a slow cooker. They are large and bulky making them difficult to fit into a dishwasher and tough to wash in your sink. There are many things that make it easier to clean your slow cooker so it is ready to use the next time you want to cook a yummy recipe.
- Use slow cooker bags to cook meals. Purchase the bags that fit into your slow cooker and keep the surface clean between cooking meals.
- Remove recipes from your slow cooker immediately when they are done cooking and store separately. This allows you to soak the slow cooker immediately so food doesn’t get stuck on an make it difficult to remove.
- Spray your slow cooker interior with non-stick cooking spray prior to assembly casseroles or other dishes that tend to stick to the sides of the crock.
Test out heat variations while you are home to monitor. One of the biggest problems people find with slow cookers are that various brands heat at different temperatures. Slight variations can leave you with under cooked or over cooked food. This means it is important to get to know your slow cooker or Crockpot before you leave it working while you are away from home. Do a test run on a day you will be home to monitor to make sure you are sure of the temperature ranges. This will help you know if you should turn a recipe on low or high heat while you are away.
Slow Cooker Recipe Tips
Adjust liquid in regular recipes. Another key to slow cooking is adding liquid so things don’t dry out as they cook. While this is important, you may also find for some things you need less liquid overall. Cooking a pot roast in your oven doesn’t typically require much if any liquid. However, in a slow cooker, you’ll find a small amount of liquid is needed to keep it from drying out and sticking to the bottom or sides of your slow cooker. For things like dry beans, you probably won’t need as much water as you would if you were cooking slowly on the stove top for a few hours.
Following recommended slow cooker or Crockpot recipes is the key to success initially. Once you get familiar with some of the Crockpot cooking techniques and what is normal for similar recipes. Once you are comfortable with normal techniques and additions or subtractions of liquids, you can then begin changing your regular recipes to fit your Crockpot.
Don’t be afraid to use for non traditional foods. So many have been trained to believe that a slow cooker is only for slow roasting meats, soups, or stews. In fact, a slow cooker can be used for everything from baking potatoes to making you favorite mashed potato or macaroni and cheese side dish. You can use a Crockpot to cook nearly any meal or dish you normally would on the stove top or in the oven. The main difference is in the time it takes to prepare your dishes.
The biggest consideration with non-traditional foods cooked in your Crockpot is time and temperature. Many dishes won’t need as long too cook, and may need to be turned off and removed from heat so they don’t separate, turn mushy, or burn. Otherwise, you can easily adapt almost any recipe to be cooked in your slow cooker.
Use your Crockpot for double batches. A lot of meals are great for making in advance to freeze in portion sizes for easy lunches or meals later. Soups, stews, chili, and even casseroles are my favorites. Since a slow cooker often gives you a larger space to cook in, it is a great choice for making double batches of favorite meals. You can then serve for one meal, and portion into freezer containers for future meals. This saves a ton of time for future meal planning, and results in the same delicious food your family loves.
Use freezer meals with your Crockpot. There are tons of meal planning websites and resources that supply freezer meal options specifically for use in your Crockpot. Many are recipes that are assembled raw and stored in freezer bags to thaw and throw into your Crockpot at a later date and cook. These take a few hours to assemble, but can mean dinner takes only 5 minutes of your time to prepare when you throw that assembled meal into the Crockpot to cook while you are away.
Meal planning with your Crockpot is all about saving time and energy in the kitchen. Being able to throw ingredients into your slow cooker and walk away for hours at a time means you can use that time and focus elsewhere to get work done, play games with your kids, or go on a date night with your spouse.
More Meal Planning Tips