In my attempt to “mother my children,” it has come to my attention that food, three times a day in their mouths is crucial to their success. So like any good mom, I tasked one of my team members, Sara, to research fast, easy and affordable meals with as few ingredients as possible (to avoid waste) that I can throw in a slow cooker or pot before I go to work. She found a bunch on Pinterest and blogs that claimed this “mom fantasy” trio, but I wanted to test one out to ensure they indeed tasted good before passing off to you guys. In case you are under the wrong assumption that I just don’t like to cook, it’s more that it’s just not the best use of my time, and instead, hanging out with my kids after I get home from work while a dinner simmers produces a better night for all.
Here are the rules I gave Sara while researching:
1.) The ingredient list had to be small. No one wants to spend $60 at the grocery store buying 22 new ingredients for one recipe that will end up rotting in my fridge.
2.) The instructions had to be simple. Sara says my cooking level is “burnt grilled cheese” and history has proved this, but I’d like to remind her that I won MANY a blue ribbon in 4-H cooking in front of judges when I was 10. There is a specific person that can handle what I do at work and then have the brain space to execute a complicated meal with two small kids begging for attention and distracting me from the kitchen. I am not this person and that’s okay.
3.) They need to be healthy. I can make them a cheese quesadilla, what I need are more delicious recipes with vegetables.
4.) And finally, the recipes had to be meals that the whole family could eat—not kid specific but not adults-only either.
After researching for the Holy Grails of easy, minimal, healthy, kid-friendly meals, we’ve got 11 recipes for your cooking pleasure.
Today, we’re just focusing on meals you can make in a slow cooker (or Instant Pot if you’re cool, unlike me). Slow cookers/crockpots/Instant Pots are great for so many reasons, but the biggest one is the time they can save you (plus, who on earth wants to turn on their hot stove when it’s exactly 2,000 degrees outside?). You can dump everything in that thing before walking out the door and come home to a dinner that’s basically ready to serve. Slow cookers sound old fashioned, but they might just be heroes we need in our fast-paced, modern world.
The real question is, do these recipes work (as in, are they yummy, easy and kids will ACTUALLY want to eat them)? We were a little skeptical. So, I picked a recipe that sounded tasty and we took it for a test drive in my kitchen. Friends, it was so easy and so delicious.
We decided to try out a recipe for White Chicken Chili from food blog Gimme Some Oven. It only called for five essential ingredients—chicken breasts, chicken stock, canned great northern beans, salsa verde, and ground cumin. Sara picked up all these ingredients at the Trader Joe’s around the corner from our house on her way over and spent about $30 getting enough for two batches. I also grabbed sour cream, shredded cheese, avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, lime and chopped onion as garnish options.
The method of attack was this: Pull out the slow cooker, place the raw chicken breasts at the bottom of the pot, pour over the salsa, chicken broth, and cumin, then cover and let cook for 3 1/2 hours on high OR 8 1/2 hours on low (check out the recipe for all the right amounts, etc.). When your timer goes off, add in your canned beans (drained), and let cook for another 30 minutes on low (the perfect amount of time to set the dinner table, pull out the garnishes, and wrangle toddlers). Did it work? Yes. Was it delicious? YES. Any notes? We found the recipe called for a little more liquid in our chili than we would have liked, so we’d recommend omitting 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock for a thicker chili. There’s no dairy or sugar in this recipe, and you can top bowls with extra vegs like diced onion or avocado.
Most importantly, it was 2-year-old approved by Birdie herself. The recipe checked all the boxes. But watch stories for her real reaction (the first thing she said was “what are these?” to the cherry tomatoes and when I reminded her what they were, she said, “oh, I DO NOT LIKE TOMATOES.” We’ve had this conversation so many times, by the way. Cherry tomatoes are deceptive. I get it.
Now, we haven’t tried the rest of the recipes in this post, but they all sound as simple and delicious as the chicken chili. We went ahead and mentioned the ingredient number for each, in case that’s super important for your time/budget.
Sara took over writing the rest of this post because she did the research and cares far more about food writing than I do. So, here are the other 10 easy, fast, affordable and healthy recipes she found for you.
3 / Shredded Chicken (also via Gimmie Some Oven)
Wait, THREE ingredients?! All we’re talking about in this recipe is uncooked chicken breasts, one can of salsa, and one packet of taco seasoning (Trader Joe’s has a GREAT taco seasoning packet, FYI). Let it all simmer in your slow cooker for 6 to 8 hours on low (3 to 4 on high), and then use two forks to get that chicken shredded. This would be great for tacos, in a burrito bowl, or on top of a salad with fresh corn and black beans.
5 / Pork Pot Roast (via SweetPhi)
This dish is going to make you look so much fancier and put together than you actually are (this is a broad generalization—disregard if you are currently very fancy and put together). All you’re going to need is uncooked pork roast, potatoes, garlic salt, an Italian seasoning packet, and chicken broth. Imagine all the added veggie options you could sneak in here. Carrots would be my first choice, but green beans, pearl onions, turnips, sweet potatoes, or cabbage would all do well. A chuck of beef would also do well with this same treatment (though I might omit the chicken stock and use a bit of water and cornstarch instead, like in this Tasty video).
9 / Beef & Broccoli (via Creme de la Crumb)
Okay, so this recipe technically calls for nine ingredients, BUT I almost guarantee you that you probably have at least four of them sitting in your pantry and fridge. A bottle of soy sauce that’s rarely used? That box of cornstarch from a past science experiment that’s sat untouched in the back of your pantry? They’re about to become useful again. Eat it over brown rice or straight out of the crockpot, all at once, by yourself. Your family can fend for themselves.
5 / Turkey Wraps (via Better Homes & Gardens)
If there’s one thing I know about Brian Henderson, it’s that he loves a wrap almost as much as sandwiches. This recipe combines tender shredded turkey with healthy broccoli-and-carrot slaw to create a super easy wrap that could work for dinner with leftovers for lunch. To be fair, this recipe does call for a pre-bottled sauce but that’s kind of the beauty of these easy recipes. Turning something pre-packaged into an actual meal with minimal effort. And if you’ve never bought broccoli-and-carrot slaw before, you can find it in the salad aisle of most grocery stores these days.
8 / Crock Pot Tortellini & Spinach Soup (via Lil’ Luna)
This is another recipe that leans on a pre-packaged item to round it out. Just seasonings, a bag of spinach, chicken broth, canned tomatoes, and a package of chef’s choice tortellini (the chef being you). The recipe calls for a block of cream cheese as well, but while that sounds SO GOOD, I’m sure it can be omitted in the name of “health” or something. Make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock!
1 (ish) / Slow Cooker Whole Chicken (via Oh Sweet Basil)
One of my favorite meals growing up was when my parents would get a rotisserie chicken and just make some mac and cheese or rice and microwave some frozen veggies to go along with it. This is also how I survived through a lot of finals during college. Plus, leftover chicken is easily used in wraps, sandwiches, salads, or soups. This recipe looks absolutely fool-proof and delicious.
8 / Black Bean Chili (via Gimme Some Oven)
I’m guessing at least a handful of you are vegetarians out there, so this recipe is for you. There are eight main ingredients, but most of them come in a can, jar, or can be bought pre-chopped. Just dump everything into the crockpot for 8 hours and serve topped with sour cream, avocado, cheese, or cilantro for a protein-rich vegetarian chili.
10 / Chicken Noodle Soup (via The Spruce Eats)
Everyone needs a good chicken noodle soup recipe in their arsenal. Mine comes from my best friend’s grandmother in Kansas and involves homemaking egg noodles that need to rest before cooking, and slowly sautéing chicken and veggies in a bath of butter and garlic. It’s decadent, it’s delicious, it requires a lot of effort. We don’t have time for that. So instead, we’re going to rely on dry, packaged egg noodles to get the job done. Looking at the ingredient list, you might think “Uh, Sara this list is LONG and you are a liar,” to which I say Trader Joe’s sells this thing called mirepoix mix, which is a container with pre-chopped carrots, celery, and onion all in one. Buy that and send me cookies as a thank you (I like chocolate chip, thanks). This could also be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and omitting the chicken.
6 / Broccoli Mac & Cheese (via Eat Good 4 Life)
Okay, so this one might cater to kids a little. But sometimes everyone just needs a bowl of mac and cheese (don’t act like you’re above this). And at least with this recipe, you could source a good quality cheddar cheese and sneak in some broccoli. Oh, and this recipe only calls for six main ingredients. Don’t have a food processor or the will to drag it down from whatever shelf it’s hibernating on? A blender or knife can do a similar job on those broccoli florets.
7 / Garlic Butter Chicken and Veggies (via The Magical Slow Cooker)
You can’t really go wrong with chicken, carrots and potatoes covered in an herby butter. And I would probably sneak some extra vegs in here in the form of green beans. Just dump your chicken and veggies in the pot, melt your butter in the microwave, mix in your herbs, and drizzle that mixture over everything. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8. Watch your family eat and feel accomplished.
Well, that’s all we have for you today. We’ve got a few more posts on the back burner if you guys are into them (see what I did there? That was a subpar cooking pun, just for you). Think one-pan sheet meals, easy salads, and quick stovetop dinners. And if you have any favorite slow cooker meals or tips, let us know in the comments!
If you try any of these, please come back and let us all know how they turned out. I know some of team EHD was talking about testing more of these out themselves, so wish us luck. And don’t forget to pop over to my Insta Stories to see some behind-the-scenes Birdie goodness.
More recipes (for tummies and faces):