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Let me clue you in on a little secret: One of the easiest ways to make restaurant-quality meals at home (I’m talking barely lifting a finger here) is by enlisting the help of a trusty slow cooker.

Even after the hundreds (!) of hours I spent at culinary school learning the hundreds (!!) of chef-approved cooking techniques there are—blanching, poaching, roasting, frying, you name it—slow cooking yields some of the finest results with the least amount of effort of them all.

Between the sheer convenience of simply letting a machine do the cooking for you to the fork-tender proteins and veggies you’ll enjoy after just a few hours of hands-off work, there’s really no looking back once you’ve gotten the hang of slow cooking.

If you’re ready to embark on this culinary journey, we salute you—and not only because it’s the perfect time (see also: winter). We’ve rounded up some of the best slow cooker dinner ideas for you so you can enjoy delicious melt-in-your-mouth meals every night of the week.

The best slow cooker on the market

First things first, you’re going to need to get the right equipment. IMO, you simply can’t go wrong with a Crock-Pot, an OG name in the game.

The Crock-Pot Programmable Six-Quart Slow Cooker with Sous Vide is my tried-and-tested pick. It combines a slow cooker and a sous vide machine for ultimate precision cooking. It also has a built-in, removable thermometer probe and digital settings to easily program cooking times from five minutes to 30 hours. For easy cleanup and ultimate versatility, the removable stoneware is dishwasher and oven safe. (And pretty! This version comes in a gorgeous ‘oat milk’ colorway that’s the perfect shade of neutral vanilla—no need to stash it in the pits of your cupboards anymore, folks.)

What’s best to cook in a slow cooker?

Although slow cookers tend to be associated with tenderizing cuts of meat, this certainly isn’t the only delicious thing to cook in a slow cooker. In fact, this kitchen workhorse can do—and cook—just about anything you throw its way. From making pillowy-soft bread to one-pot pasta dishes to stick-to-your-bones soups and stews, a slow cooker is perfect for just about any recipe.

That said, like any dish you make, you’ll need to know the right tips and tricks to achieving the best results. Thankfully, the folks at Crock-Pot have you covered with this easy cooking guide for cooking veggies, meats, frozen foods, and even desserts to perfection.

6 simple slow cooker dinner ideas for weeknight meal perfection 

Slow cooker main dishes

red lentil chili
Photo: Running on Real Food

1. Hearty Vegan Red Lentil Chili

Legumes and beans—as longevity-boosting and delicious as they may be—are notorious for taking forever (and ever) to cook. But with the set-it-and-forget-it nature of a slow cooker, the beauty is that you don’t need to spend hours stirring or even babysitting a big ol’ pot of lentils until they’re nice and tender. Instead, you can use the handy machine to make hearty vegetarian slow cooker recipes like this red lentil chili by Running on Real Food without even breaking a sweat. Yep, you just need to throw everything (literally) in the slow cooker and turn it on. Three hours on high (or five hours on low) later, and you’ll be digging into a warming bowl of vegan chili before you know it. Bonus: Each serving has a whopping 18 grams of protein to help you meet your daily nutrient goals.

Get the recipe: Vegan Slow Cooker Red Lentil Chili

salsa verde chicken
Photo: Downshiftology

2. Spicy Salsa Verde Chicken

Looking for an easy four-ingredient paleo slow cooker recipe to make in a pinch? Say no more. This salsa verde chicken recipe by Downshiftology is exactly what your recipe box has been missing. In a slow cooker, add chicken breast, salsa verde, cumin, cilantro, plus salt, and set it on low for four to five hours. Once it’s ready, all you need are two forks to easily shred the succulent chicken for serving over a bed of warm, steamy rice or soft, tender tortillas. Swoon.

Get the recipe: Crock-Pot Salsa Verde Chicken

feel better chicken
Photo: Feasting at Home

3. Feel Better Chicken Soup

Throat starting to get that obnoxious little tingle that signals a cold is just a few hours away? Stop it in its tracks with this immune-boosting and nourishing “feel better” chicken soup by Feasting at Home. And in case you’re wondering how a slow cooker chicken soup can have the power to help you start feeling better in no time, well, this recipe packed with nutrient-and vitamin-rich ingredients like lemon, ginger, and chicken broth to replenish your depleted energy stores ASAP. Plus, who wants to cook while feeling under the weather? Let the slow cooker do the work for you instead.

Get the recipe: Feel Better Chicken Soup

lasagna soup
Photo: Feel Good Foodie

4. Lasagna Soup

Fam, I’ve made this lasagna soup recipe by Feel Good Foodie countless times and can confirm it’s as good as it gets when it comes to quick dinner recipes that are as comforting as can be. Imagine the heart-warming goodness of a creamy and dreamy homemade lasagna, but without the fuss of layering it all together (and getting the casserole pan sitting at the very bottom of all your bakeware out of the cupboard). Although this recipe can be made in a regular ol’ pot, I’d argue that making it in a slow cooker will unlock unholy depths of flavor your tastebuds will thank you for later. Simply cook all of the ingredients (minus the noodles) on low for six to eight hours (or on high for four to five), and toss cooked noodles just before serving. Trust, it’s even better than it sounds.

Get the recipe: One-Pot Lasagna Soup

Slow cooker sauce

slow cooker marinara
Photo: Budget Bytes

Easy Slow Cooker Marinara

Nothing says leveling up your culinary skills than making a homemade marinara sauce that rivals your store-bought favorite. The best part? This recipe by Budget Bytes comes out to a grand total of just over four dollars per seven-cup batch—a steal much? And it pairs well with just about anything—pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, shakshuka, you name it.

Get the recipe: Slow Cooker Marinara 

Slow cooker dessert

chocolate lava cake
Photo: Thyme and Love

Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake

Would dinner really be complete without something sweet to seal the deal? And who’s to say all vegan slow cooker recipes need to be savory? So, if you firmly stand on team sweet over salty, then this slow cooker vegan chocolate lava cake by Thyme and Love is calling your name. It’s simple and unsuspecting, yet one bite of this warm, luscious lava cake with a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream and you’ll be seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. Want to add something crunchy for juxtaposing textures? Whip together a slow-cooked granola to garnish the dessert (and save some for breakfast, too!).

Get the recipe: Vegan Chocolate Lava Cake

More dinner recipes incoming:

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