Whether the price of a gallon of gas (or a dozen eggs) is up, down, or staying the same, it’s always important to prioritize healthy eating along with convenience and budget. And we like to turn to the best kitchen appliance that can help us combat it all: the slow cooker.
Simple prep, set-and-forget functionality, and the ability to tenderize the toughest cuts of meat and infuse ingredients with deep flavor make the slow cooker a kitchen workhorse. In this roundup, we’ve corralled some of the best high-yield, low-cost meals you can make for less than $18 a batch, plus tips on how to maximize nutritional density for meals that satisfy.
01 of 10
Crock Pot Split Pea Soup
Few soups are as filling as a hearty split pea soup—or as affordable! While a leftover ham bone (and ham) might bring the most flavor, you can cut down on saturated fat by using the two cups of cubed or diced ham suggested in the recipe. The meat is mostly for flavor; dried peas are a great source of plant protein. Supplemented with chunky carrots and coarsely cut celery, this soup brings plenty of bite.
02 of 10
Crockpot Buffalo Chicken and Rice
Who says Buffalo chicken is a flavor for appetizers only? This recipe lets you make it a lean, affordable meal with whole-grain brown rice for fiber, protein, and bulk and slow-cooked chicken breasts as the main ingredient. Since you’ll need five chicken breasts for this recipe, you can save dollars per pound by buying a value-sized family pack of boneless, skinless breasts—a nearly fat-free cut offering a much better nutritional profile than the traditional bone-in wings
03 of 10
Slow Cooker Pork Goulash
This Hungarian classic was made for cold Eastern European winters, which makes it perfect for nights you want to feel cozy. Typically made with beef, this version’s use of lean pork saves you fat and money. You can use up leftover plain Greek yogurt by subbing that in for sour cream. The use of red potatoes adds volume and slow-digesting starch to the dish, giving you the option of having it as a one-pot meal; add some simple steamed broccoli on the side to brighten up the plate and provide more micronutrients.
04 of 10
Southern Crock Pot Pinto Beans with Ham Hocks
You can’t get much better bang for your nutritional or actual buck than with beans. One bag of them, flavored with inexpensive ham hock(s), makes a high-fiber, protein-rich meal with plenty left over (you can save those calories for accompanying low-cost treats like cornbread muffins). A simple salad or steamed veggie side rounds the meal out without adding much time to the mere 10-minute prep.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Slow-Cooker Spaghetti and Meatballs
One-pot pasta was all the rage on social media not too long ago, but why stand over a stove when you can just toss it into the Crockpot for similar results? Choose turkey meatballs with less filler like hydrolyzed soy protein or bread crumbs in the ingredients to cut down on fat and carbs, and opt for tomato sauce with lower sodium or no salt added—the seasonings from the frozen meatballs will flavor the sauce as they cook. Chickpea or lentil pasta will give you the most fiber and protein, but heart-healthy whole-grain works well, too.
06 of 10
Easy Crock Pot Turkey Tetrazzini
Why reserve roast turkey for the holidays? It’s a lean and delicious source of protein that’s available year round at reasonable per-pound prices. For a little more, you can buy a rotisserie turkey breast at many supermarket delis and stretch it out with a dish like this. A can of condensed soup and a handful of shredded cheese make a gooey, luxurious sauce for the broken-up pasta, cutting prep down to just 15 minutes. Pair it with a simple green salad and dinner’s done!
07 of 10
Swedish Cabbage Rolls
One head of cabbage goes a really long way… especially when you stuff the leaves! And that’s only the start of the pro tips in this recipe, which also offers a time-saving hack for separating the leaves without boiling. With little more than a pound of ground beef and some rice, it’s a balanced meal with a side of veggies and mashed potatoes that will soak up the low-sugar sweet and tangy sauce. Make it vegetarian with lentils instead of ground beef.
08 of 10
Crockpot Chicken Chow Mein
Veggie-heavy stir fry without the stirring or the frying? Sign us up. This recipe is easily adaptable to any odds and ends of vegetables you have on hand, and requires only a pound and a half of boneless, skinless chicken breast, which is naturally low fat and has more protein by weight than any other part of the chicken. To boost the protein and fiber in this dish, try adding shelled edamame and use a bean-based pasta instead. To save even more money, though, you can simply pour this over steamed rice.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Slow-Cooked Root Vegetables
Hardy, budget-friendly root vegetables become silky and tender in a slow cooker, their natural sweetness emerging over hours in low moist heat. This easy recipe is foundational, starting with the basics, but offers suggestions for enhanced ingredients as well as easy 10-minute marinades for flexible flavors. Cook a low-cost meat or fish entrée like tilapia separately or make this a one-pot wonder by adding just a pound and a half of cubed beef or chicken with some stock. Chickpeas and tomatoes turn it into a stew you can pour over rice or egg noodles.
10 of 10
Crockpot Apple Oatmeal
Slow cookers aren’t just for dinner dishes—they’re great for breakfast, too, especially the ones that get better with a slow simmer. Oatmeal thickens beautifully as time goes on, and using steel-cut oats recommended here keeps it nice and chewy (toasting the oats ahead of time warms up their flavor even more). This recipe’s sugar content is more on the “treat” side, but it can be easily adapted. Swap the dairy milk for unsweetened nut milk, use a brown sugar/sweetener blend, or simply use less to taste. But don’t skip the butter—two tablespoons across eight servings is nothing, and adds subtle oomph.