The Healthy Slow Cooker: Low and Slow Is the Way to Go

Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes: Low And Slow Is The Way To Go

It’ s not your mother’s Crock Pot anymore: These healthy slow cooker recipes call for bold flavors, fresh ingredients, and deliver healthier weeknight dinners in a (six to eight hour) snap.

Sometimes the slow cooker gets a bad rap. It’s not a flashy, sexy appliance like a blender with crazy horsepower, yet it quietly gets the job done (without burning down the house). Yet what is essentially a plug-in braiser — perfect for performing kitchen alchemy on humble (read: tough but more affordable) cuts of meat and turning dried beans into delicious, healthy meals — is often relegated to keeping cheese dip warm at Super Bowl parties once a year.

But the slow cooker can do so much more. Even its history is quietly badass: When middle-class women began demanding an equal right to work outside the home in the 1960s and ‘70s, it was the Crock Pot that helped them keep up with their (slower to change) wifely duties. Even with jobs, these women were able to continue providing a home-cooked meal every night. But the recipes from that time? Not quite as revolutionary.

What used to be a repository for dumping cans of “cream of” soup over big pieces of meat and then hoping for the best has been transformed for the modern home cook. Today’s slow cooker meals deliver global flavors (with no hydrogenated oils), fresh whole ingredients, and hardly any canned goods at all. The healthy recipes that follow are not for your mother’s slow cooker! Though she’d probably be happy if you invited her for dinner.

Slow Cooker Chicken Shawarma

This favorite Middle Eastern chicken recipe turns out to be an easy feast for a weeknight. A quickly-mixed shawarma spice blend gets sprinkled over chicken thighs, sliced onion, and garlic that’s been drizzled with olive oil. And that’s it. Cook on low all day and come home to a wholesome meal that requires very little last-minute prep. Before serving, cut up some pita, tomatoes, and cucumber, and mix a quick tahini sauce (that can also be made ahead). Voila! A balanced, low-fat, naturally dairy-free (and low carb if you skip the pita) crowd-pleaser that’s fragrant, festive, and inviting.

Slow Cooker Shawarma

Slow Cooker Cannellini Bean Soup with Fresh Rosemary

This elegant white bean soup is ridiculously simple, and showcases what the slow cooker does best: take a handful of good ingredients and with time and gentle heat transform them into a hearty, soul-satisfying meal. A pound of dried heritage beans, a few slices of bacon, fresh rosemary, bay leaves, a few aromatics, and some low-sodium chicken broth make a meal that’s both affordable and high in fiber and protein, and creates a delicious soup since none of the bean cooking liquid is wasted.

Be sure to use low-sodium or homemade chicken broth whenever using a slow cooker; steam is released over time so the flavors tend to concentrate. No one wants overly salty soup!

Slow Cooker Cannellini Bean Soup with Fresh Rosemary

Slow Cooker Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin

This pork tenderloin has layers of flavor that together deliver a sumptuous main course which tastes closer to restaurant cooking than home braising. A spice rub is pressed into the tenderloin before it’s quickly browned, then it self-braises for a (relatively) quick four hours on high. The tender results are slathered with a balsamic-soy glaze that comes together in minutes. Feel free to halve the brown sugar in the glaze for a healthier — but still sweet — coating.

Slow Cooker Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Slow Cooker Pear and Apple Butter

This recipe creates a sumptuous, fruit-forward butter that is delicious spread on toast, pancakes, or quickly sautéed pork medallions. The few ingredients are all simple, real foods, and the fruit to brown sugar ratio is such that the sweetness mainly comes from the apples and pears. A food processor makes quick work of grating the fruit, and the resulting six cups make delicious gifts.

Slow Cooker Pear and Apple Butter

Slow-Cooker Lamb Shanks with Lemon, Dill, and Feta

These Greek lamb shanks are stylish enough to serve for a dinner party and make an easy one-pot meal when served over some orzo (a rice-shaped pasta that’s a beloved component of Greek cuisine). The shanks are browned on the stove first, then braised in the slow cooker with sprigs of dill and sliced lemon until the meat falls off the bone. A pop of fresh lemon juice and spoonful of chopped dill stirred in before serving brightens the flavors and helps make a satisfying, more alkaline meal. To cut a few calories and add some extra fiber, feel free to substitute brown rice for the orzo.

Slow-Cooker Lamb Shanks with Lemon, Dill, and Feta

Slow-Cooker Chicken Chili

A white (or really more green) chicken chili is a verdant and healthy twist on the classic red ground beef dish. Green chiles replace the tomatoes, and the remaining ingredients are simply spices, vegetables, white beans, and chicken thighs. The recipe yields a brothier chili; to thicken it, add flavor, and keep the dish gluten free, toast two corn tortillas over a flame until a few black spots appear, then tear into pieces. Whiz in a blender with a cup of broth from the chili until the mixture forms a slurry. Then stir it back into the chili to thicken and deliver a deeper, toasted corn flavor. Top with light sour cream and cilantro for an elegant presentation.


Slow-Cooker Beef Brisket

This umami-rich brisket is marinated for a day in advance with a spiced, garlicky mustard paste. Then sliced onions are scattered in the bottom of the slow cooker with a cup and a half of good lager. The marinated brisket rests atop the onion-beer mixture as it slowly braises until the meat is meltingly tender. The dish can be served as is or broiled for a few minutes to crisp up the top. Either way, it’s a simple but deeply flavorful dinner recipe that serves a crowd with ease and aplomb.

Slow-Cooker Beer-Braised Brisket

Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew (Dumbay ki Nihari)

The word nihari comes from the Arabic word nahaar, which means “day.” It’s a fitting moniker for a dish that takes nearly a day of long, slow cooking to produce a cozy, comforting stew. Lamb cooked on the bone creates a luscious, flavorful dish; while this isn't specifically a crockpot recipe, it translates to the slow cooker very well. Just dredge the lamb in the flour first, brown it on the stove and then add it along with the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook on low for six to eight hours and a Pakistani comfort food feast is yours.

Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Slow Cooker Pork and Hominy Pozole Soup

Pozole is a Mexican soup that is nourishing with a satisfying depth of flavor. There are red (tomato) and green (tomatillo) styles; both are delicious. In this red version, boneless pork shoulder is the perfect cut to use: the hours of gentle simmering break down the connective tissue until the meat becomes so tender it shreds with a fork. And while the recipe calls for canned beans, you could substitute eight ounces of dried pintos for greater flavor and extra nutrients. The fresh garnishes — lime juice, cilantro, avocado, and crumbled cotija (or feta) cheese — ensure this soothing soup tastes fresh and bright.

Slow Cooker Pork and Hominy Pozole Soup