Easy Crock Pot Dinner Ideas (For Real)

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“What’s for dinner?”

Seems like a fairly simple question, right? In our family, though, this hasn’t always been the case.

Over the years, my husband and have I struggled to come up with meals that are truly easy to prepare. Between our 3 jobs, 5 kids, and now my grad school work, we don’t have time for all of the prep and mess that goes along with cooking dinner.

Our Google search histories are full of phrases like “easy dinner ideas” and “10-minute dinners.” Our hope kindled, we read ingredient lists and step-by-step directions only to discover we’ve been LIED TO. Often, these so-called “easy” recipes involve chopping, sautéing, and a never-ending quest through grocery store aisles searching for obscure spices, sauces, or vegetables we’ve never heard of.

We’ve tried meal subscription plans that promise to simplify dinner prep, only to find ourselves repeating the same pattern described above. When I was young and naive I bought all of Rachel Ray’s cookbooks and discovered her so-called “30-Minute Meals” should actually be called “75-Minute Messes.”

Fortunately, these years of frustration have led to a few discoveries and saved our family from eating frozen pizza most nights of the week:

1. The crock pot is our best friend. We use our crock pot at least 2 or 3 times a week.*

2. The pre-cut veggies from Hy-Vee are our second best friend. We frequently open these containers and set them on the table for an easy, healthy side dish.

3. When in doubt, go with chicken. All of us like chicken in some form or another and it makes for a relatively healthy main course.

4. *Stockpile “Open and Dump” recipes. Not a very attractive name, I admit, but this is the real key to our crock pot success. We’ve tried crock pot recipes that seem easy, but require just as much prep and clean-up as a stove top meal. We need to be able to open containers, dump ingredients into the crock pot, walk away for five hours, and come back to a fully cooked meal.

Here are two of our family’s favorite easy (for real) crock pot recipies. Both take less than 10 minutes to prepare and require very little clean-up.

Lime Chicken Tacos

My mother-in-law made this when we were visiting this Thanksgiving, and it was a big hit with everyone in our family.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
3 Tbs. lime juice
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup chunky salsa

Blend ingredients in the crock pot, cook on low for 5 1/2 hours. Serve with flour tortillas; garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese and lettuce if desired.

Another fun twist on this recipe is to serve it nacho-style over tortilla chips.

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Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

This recipe is courtesy of Spark People.com, one of my favorite resources for fitness and healthy eating tips.

Ingredients:

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons Buffalo wing sauce
1/2 (1 ounce) package dry ranch salad dressing mix
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Blend ingredients in crock pot, cook on low for 5-6 hours. Shred chicken with a fork prior to serving.

Tip: If you have little ones, you might want to lower the amount of buffalo sauce and ranch dressing mix. I also made sure to use mild sauce, since the original recipe was a bit too spicy/salty for my toddler.

What are your favorite (for real) easy dinner ideas? We’d love some new recipes to work into our rotation!

Meghann is the mom of 5 kids. She is a Lecturer at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and an Owner/Partner at Brand Driven Digital. Meghann was elected to the Coralville City Council in 2017 and is currently serving her first term. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry (Vice-Chair) and on the DVIP Board of Directors. She is also a member of Johnson County's Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Policy Board. Meghann is passionate about her family, her community, and is a proud pop culture nerd.

6 COMMENTS

  1. This post actually annoyed me. I have been a working Mom at the same time that I was a full time student. Granted – I only had two children – but I also had a Husband who purchased a business, which we all should know is a 24/7 job. We rarely ate anything boxed for dinner (forgiving the occasional Ben’s Rice as a side) and we often hosted other children who were being served fast food or prepared foods. If you have the desire to eat a good meal together, as a family, it’s not that hard. I watched Rachel Ray’s contest with much amusement – 30 minutes with 10 minutes shopping – and a loaded pantry…. that was my LIFE for about 20 + years – only my pantry was not studio stocked. MEALS as a FAMILY is the important thing ~ never leave site of that!

  2. We do the chicken-taco thing, and I make it even quicker with only chicken and a jar of salsa. Perfect every time. With veggies and fruit on the side, I consider this a fully balanced, home-cooked meal.

    When our house is full, with stepchildren and neighbor kids added, I make a big lazy-susan tray of fruits and veggies for sides that I just pull out for every meal. It lasts almost all weekend long.

  3. Zesty Italian chicken
    4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
    1 packet zesty Italian dressing mix
    1 can reduced sodium cream of chicken soup
    1 8oz block cream cheese
    Layer in crock pot in that order, cube cream cheese. Cook on low 4 hours.
    Serve over pasta of your choice.
    I also add shredded carrots and frozen peas or frozen Italian blend veggied, im sure you can get creative with what veggies you add 🙂

    Chicken and dressing
    4 chicken breasts
    8oz sour cream mixed with 1 can cream of chicken soup
    1 box stove top
    Layer in that order, cook on low 4 hours.
    Its a favorite at my house!

    Italian beef
    (A little prep time to get the seasonings and the water boiling before cooking, but soooo worth it also i double the seasonings)
    http://m.allrecipes.com/recipe/16427/slow-cooker-italian-beef-for-sandwiches/

  4. I also hate 75 minute messes disguised as quick and easy recipes! I almost always double the estimated prep time as I think they forget we have to dice the onion and clean and chop the peppers and garlic before we can even start the sauteing process 🙂

    Our favorite “Open and Dump” is Chicken Tortilla Soup:
    Chicken ( I actually use canned chicken for this particular recipe – 2-3 cans)
    1 Lg Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
    1 Reg Can of Diced Tomatoes with Chilies
    1 Small Can of Diced Chilies
    1 Can Corn
    1 Can Black Beans
    1 Taco Seasoning Packet
    1 Ranch Reasoning Packet

    You can make this in 20 minutes or in the crockpot. We frequently double and freeze half. It’s even better the second day. Serve with Cheese/Sr Cream/Guac garnish and tostito chips if desired!

    Looking forward to trying these recipes!

  5. This is my family’s favorite open-and-dump recipe that feeds 10-12. I find 6 hours is enough time in my 6qt slow cooker. We serve it as a stew in bowls, topped with sour cream.

    http://mycrazyadoption.org/wednesday-wow-recipes-tex-mex-slow-cooker-chicken-easy/#sthash.mFIdjUhy.rF9pERV6.dpbs

    Tex-Mex Slow Cooker Chicken
    Ingredients
    4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    2 packets taco seasoning
    1 can (8 oz) green chilies
    1 can (15 oz) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, not drained
    1 can (15 oz) mexicorn or canned corn, drained
    1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
    1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
    1 can (15 oz) red beans, rinsed and drained
    Preparation
    Layer ingredients in a crock pot in the order given. Empty one packet of taco seasoning directly onto the chicken and add the second packet after all the remaining ingredients have been added.
    Cook on low 6-8 hours.
    Stir, shredding chicken as you mix ingredients.

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