When it comes to family meals, I’m always looking for three things: wholesome ingredients, simple preparation and kid-friendly flavors. You really can’t beat the slow cooker for the second one; just throw your ingredients in, and that contraption politely cooks dinner for you all day long. These are the crowd-pleasing recipes I’ve made over and over again. Every one of them is full of fresh ingredients and kid-tested.
Slow-Cooker Pot Roast (pictured above)
This is the meal my mother-in-law makes every time we gather for a special family meal. Pot roast may be my father-in-law’s favorite, but this dish has other things going for it too: All the veggies cook right along with the meat (one pot!), and every bite is so tender that even our two-year-old can dig right in.
Not-Too-Spicy Chicken Tikka Masala
If your family isn’t quite ready for curry, this is the starter dish for you. In fact, my soon-to-be three-year-old once asked to have this for his birthday dinner. Now that he’s 4, he still asks for it — and the rest of the crew does too.
Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
If there’s one thing my kids have fallen in love with this winter, it’s a big bowl of hot chicken noodle soup — and this slow-cooker version makes it so easy. Tip: Dish up the soup in two quick steps. First, a ladle for the broth, chicken and veggies, and then use tongs to pluck out just the right amount of noodles for each bowl.
Easiest-Ever Pulled Pork
There is simply no easier way to feed a crowd than throwing a pork butt or shoulder into the slow cooker and letting it do its thing. While you’re putting the rest of your meal together, the pork quietly transforms into the moistest and most-flavorful meal you — and your guests — have had in ages.
Pork Tacos with Mangoes
This idea’s a twofer: Either cook the pork according to this recipe, or use the leftovers from the pulled pork option above. (I love one meal that you can service twice, in two totally different ways.) Either way, pair the mouthwatering pork with tangy bites of mango in soft flour tortillas.
Shredded Chicken Tex-Mex
There’s something about corn that kids love. I use it as a bridge food all the time — something familiar served along with something new — and the technique works well almost all the time. (I say almost because we’re dealing with four small kids at my house, so …) Serve this instant hit over rice or between tortillas, or use the leftovers again later in the week and do both.
Slow-Cooker Whole Chicken
Did you know you could cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker? You can bet that the flavors of the spice rub work their way into the bird until the whole thing is soft and tender, practically falling off the bone.
Fully Loaded Baked Potato Soup
There are only two things you need to know about this recipe: There’s no need to peel the potatoes, and my kids love, love, love it. Tip: Let your little ones sprinkle all the toppings on themselves.
Charity Curley Mathews is the creator of Foodlets.com, a site full of recipes and tips for teaching kids to love good, fresh and simple food.