When it comes to saving time and making dinner preparation easy, your slow cooker is where it’s at. However, it doesn’t always mean you’re making a healthy meal, and sometimes it’s easy to get stuck in a rut making chili and soup. Still, with a little creativity your crockpot can become just as versatile as any other kitchen appliance, and its longer cooking times can infuse flavors without relying on fattening ingredients. In other words: You can eat healthy, and save yourself the headache of last-minute weeknight dinners.
It’s easy to believe you haven’t made eggs or attempted to perfect the sticky bun in your crockpot, but these recipes show you how it’s done with ease. In addition, each of the recipes have fewer than 300 calories — a feat for any meal or appetizer. Take a look at the ideas, and plan on easy meals with your crockpot all week.
1. Buffalo Chicken and Quinoa Meatballs
Meatballs are always an unhealthy indulgence, right? Not really, at least not in this case. Mixing these meatballs together is relatively simple, and the flavors make them perfect for any tailgate or party. Plus, this version uses quinoa, a complete protein that adds extra nutrition to your diet while also filling you up. While this recipe does use the oven for a few minutes to begin the cooking process for the meatballs, the lengthy time is served in the slow cooker, making it easy to keep them warm for guests at a party.
Kristen McCaffrey, the woman behind the recipe at Slender Kitchen, says you can drizzle these with a little blue cheese dressing or serve them in tacos — whichever you prefer. On their own, you get 6 meatballs per serving for just 250 calories, meaning you can munch on several without any snacking guilt at all.
2 pounds 95% lean ground chicken
¾ cup cooked quinoa
1 carrot, minced
1 celery rib, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups buffalo sauce (like Frank’s)
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together all the ingredients except for the buffalo sauce, until just combined. (Do not overmix.)
Roll the mixture into meatballs, about 1 inch in diameter. This will make about 36 meatballs. Place on a greased baking sheet, then bake for 5-7 minutes until just browned.
Pour ½ cup buffalo sauce into the slow cooker, and add the meatballs. Pour the remaining cup of buffalo sauce over the meatballs, and stir lightly to coat.
Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
2. Slow-Cooked Brisket in Onion Gravy
If you’re looking for a hearty meal, this brisket with onion gravy should be the centerpiece. The flat-cut brisket (which is leaner than the “point cut” selections) will provide protein and fulfilling substance, and the juices from the cooking process are used to make the gravy that goes over top.
With the cooking times described in the recipe from Eating Well, you’ll be able to make this for Sunday lunch or any weeknight dinner — the slow cooker does the heavy lifting while all you have to do is whip up the easy gravy at the end.
- 5 pounds flat-cut beef brisket, trimmed
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 large onions, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Directions: Cut brisket into two or three pieces small enough to fit into a Dutch oven; pat dry. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and brown the brisket one piece at a time, about 2 minutes per side, adding an extra tablespoon of oil if necessary to prevent sticking. Transfer the brisket to a 5-quart (or larger) slow cooker.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste. Add beef broth and salt; bring to a boil.
Transfer the onion mixture to the slow cooker. Cover and cook until the brisket reaches desired tenderness, 4 to 5 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.
Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and slice or shred. Place in a serving dish; cover to keep warm. Transfer the gravy to a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil rapidly for 5 minutes to reduce slightly.
Meanwhile, mix butter and flour in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Once the gravy has reduced, lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Stir in Worcestershire sauce. Whisk half the butter mixture into the gravy and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until it thickens slightly, 1 to 3 minutes. If the gravy does not thicken enough (it should have the consistency of a cream soup), add the rest of the butter mixture and repeat. Do not overcook. Serve the brisket with the gravy.
3. Slow Cooker Frittata with Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Red Pepper, and Feta
You’ve never cooked eggs in the slow cooker, you say? Now’s the perfect time to start. These Mediterranean flavors blend with the eggs in this recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen. Not only is it bursting with fresh flavors, but the eggs add protein that’s perfect for any breakfast or brunch. Don’t bother standing over your stove; let the crock pot do the cooking for you. Plus, even with the hearty dose of feta cheese, each serving only has 207 calories.
- 1 can (14 ounces) small artichoke hearts, drained and cut into small pieces
- 1 jar (12 ounces) roasted red peppers. drained and cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup sliced green onions
- 8 eggs, beaten well until yolks and whites are completely combined
- 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- Spike seasoning to taste, about 1 teaspoon (if you don’t have Spike, any all-purpose seasoning will work)
- Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Directions: In a greased slow cooker, add artichokes, roasted red peppers, and green onions. Beat or whisk the eggs until the whites and yolks are completely combined, then pour eggs over the vegetables. Stir gently with a fork so the vegetables are well distributed.
Sprinkle the crumbled feta on top, along with the seasoning and black pepper.
Cook on low for 2-3 hours or until the eggs are at their desired firmness and the cheese is melted. Cut into pieces while still in the slow cooker, then serve hot and topped with parsley if desired.
4. Cajun shrimp and rice
The best slow cooker meals are the ones that don’t require any cooking preparation ahead of time. Because seafood like shrimp cooks so quickly, you don’t even add it in until the end of the process. Plus, by adding your grains, vegetables, and protein all in one dish, you don’t need to worry about preparing extra sides to go with it. To top it all off, this recipe from Fitness magazine only has 223 calories per serving.
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can chicken broth
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 6- to 6-¼-ounce package long-grain and wild-rice mix, such as Uncle Ben’s
- ¼ cup water
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- ½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- 1 pound cooked, shelled, and deveined shrimp
- Hot pepper sauce (optional)
Directions: In a 3½- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, onions, bell pepper, rice mix with seasoning packet, water, garlic, and Cajun seasoning.
Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours or on high-heat setting 3 to 3 ½ hours.
Stir shrimp into rice mixture. Cover; cook for 15 minutes longer at high-heat setting. Sprinkle with hot-pepper sauce if desired.
5. Slow Cooker Sticky Pecan Buns
Who knew you could make sticky buns in the crockpot, let alone have each one be only 154 calories? Breakfast miracles do happen, it seems. This recipe will take a little more preparation at the beginning, but you’ll be able to do your thing to prepare the rest of brunch (or simply go back to sleep on a lazy weekend morning) while these caramel, pecan-infused flavors from Amy’s Healthy Baking waft through your kitchen.
- 6 tablespoons nonfat milk
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
- 1 ½ – 2 cups whole wheat flour
For the caramel sauce:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons nonfat milk
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- ¼ cup chopped pecans
For the filling:
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Directions: Lightly grease a 5-quart crockpot with cooking spray.
To make the dough, combine the milk, maple syrup, butter, and vanilla in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 20-second intervals, stirring for 1 minute after each one, until the butter melts. The mixture should be warm but not hot. Add the yeast, and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes or until frothy.
Mix the flour into the bowl about ½ cup at a time,until it forms a dough and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a well-floured surface and knead for a few minutes, until the dough springs back when you gently press your finger into it. Allow the dough to rest while preparing the sauce and filling.
Make the sauce by adding the butter, milk, and syrup into a saucepan. Stir frequently over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Continue to stir until the mixture thickens a bit and turns a deeper color. Pour into the greased slow cooker, and sprinkle pecans on top, leaving a ½-inch border from the sides.
To make the filling, whisk the maple syrup and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
On a clean and well-floured surface, roll out the dough into a 10×14-inch rectangle. Brush with melted butter, followed by the cinnamon-maple syrup, leaving a ½-inch border on the two longer sides. Carefully roll up into a log from one long side to the other. The blogger suggests slicing the log into 12 slices using unscented dental floss, or use a sharp knife if that’s not available. Immediately place each slice into the slow cooker, leaving a ½-inch border from the side to allow for expansion.
Fit the crockpot lid on snugly, and set to “keep warm” for 45 minutes or until dough has about doubled in size. Change the setting to low, then bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then carefully invert on a sheet pan or wire cooling rack. (The blogger notes that allowing the rolls to cool in the crock pot will harden the caramel, making it difficult to remove the rolls later.)