It's no secret that the trusty slow cooker is a total time and energy saver — you can just dump in your ingredients, head out the door and then come home to a hot meal. And that can seriously come in handy during cold winter days.
A good rule of thumb for cooking up a healthy slow-cooker meal is to make sure it has lean protein, healthy fat and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Think of this as your magic formula for three macronutrients you don't want to skimp on.
"Not only does protein help build and maintain lean muscle mass, it's also satiating," Board Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management Charlotte Martin, RDN, CPT, tells us. In fact, eating more protein is tied to enhancing calorie burn (it takes more energy for the body to process protein than it does fat and carbs), reducing nighttime snacking and even altering our hunger hormones to better control our appetite, a November 2014 study in Nutrition & Metabolism suggests.
Healthy, unsaturated fats might trigger hunger-suppressing hormones and they can also help increase your vegetable intake by spicing up some lackluster veggies! "The healthy fats I'm referring to are unsaturated fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and more. Saturated fats, like those found in butter, full-fat dairy and fatty cuts of meat and poultry, should be consumed in moderation," she says.
Lastly, fiber keeps you full and regular. Fiber is found in plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains — and unlike other types of carbs (starches and sugars), your body can't break it down. "So, fiber works its magic by sliding through your gut undigested, helping to lower cholesterol and improve digestion. And unlike sugar, it also won't send your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster," she says, adding that it does quite the opposite and actually helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Try these scrumptious slow-cooker recipes — one for each night of the week — that'll provide all three macronutrients in one hearty dish.
1. Crock Pot Beef Shank and Black Bean Chili
This slow-cooker dish has all three: Protein from the beef, fiber from the black beans and some fat from the algae oil to fill you up. (You can also top your meal with avocado for a boost in good fats!) Beef shank is super tender when cooked in liquid, and it's pretty inexpensive, so you'll get a great meal on a budget.
The beef shank bones provide collagen and gelatin for that extra bit of protein. Plus, according to a January 2019 study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, collagen boasts anti-aging benefits and is linked to boosting skin's hydration and elasticity, which is much-needed during the winter months.
Get the Crock-Pot Beef Shank and Black Bean Chili recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Japanese Beef Curry
A grounding curry is loaded with spices, which provide both flavor and nutrition. Seasonings like curry, cumin, ginger and garlic have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that are linked to a lower risk of disease and even cancer prevention, according to a January 2018 study in the Journal of Translational Medicine. So, feel free to sprinkle them generously!
You'll get a good dose of all three macros in this dish. But if you'd like some added fiber, you can include green veggies to go with the carrots and potatoes. Think: spinach, kale, Swiss chard or collard greens.
Get the Japanese Beef Curry recipe and nutrition info here.
3. Yummy Turkey Quinoa Chili
This chili has some fiber from the quinoa and beans as well as ample protein from these two plant-based ingredients in addition to the turkey meat. You'll also get some fats from the butter and cooking oil, and there's great flavor and spice thanks to chili powder and red pepper flakes. So, if you want a spicy chili, this recipe is for you! Plus, the spice is tied to giving your metabolism and heart health a boost, according to a June 2015 study in Open Heart.
"The longer cooking times at lower heat render poultry and meat, even inexpensive cuts, to be moist and fork-tender," Martin says. And this meal is great for meal prep since you can cook multiple servings in bulk. Basically, cook once and eat at least twice. All you need to do is reheat and you're set.
Get the Yummy Turkey Quinoa Chili recipe and nutrition info here.
Read more: 10 Healthy and Hearty Chili Recipes
4. Slow Cooker Osso Bucco
This Osso Bucco is super easy to make in the Crock-Pot. What's more, it makes for simple clean-up in the kitchen. "Although you may have to wash a cutting board and knife, you can forget about having to scrub pots, pans and baking sheets because everything is cooked in your slow cooker," Martin says.
You'll get 56 grams of protein in the dish to boost satiety levels and muscle repair, deeming this recipe the go-to postworkout meal. It takes just a few minutes to prep and requires minimal ingredients, so it's perfect for busy weeknight dinners.
To get more good fats and fiber in, consider topping your dish with some Greek yogurt or avocado and add in green veggies, like spinach or kale. The tomatoes in this stew also contain antioxidants, like lycopene, which is associated with a decreased risk for atherosclerosis, a risk factor for heart disease, according to a 2012 study in Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism.
Get the Slow Cooker Osso Bucco recipe and nutrition info here.
5. Slow Cooker Vegetable 'Pasta' Lasagna
This lasagna is made from zucchini so it's high in vitamin C, antioxidants and packs in some fiber. The cheese gives some fat and protein, and the tomato sauce provides that source of lycopene to bolster heart health.
"Dump all the ingredients for the recipe into your slow cooker and let it do all the work for you. Many slow cookers have a timer feature that automatically turns it off when it's done, so you're able to leave it unattended while you focus your time and energy on other things," Martin says.
Get the Slow Cooker Vegetable 'Pasta' Lasagna recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Slow Cooker Curry Coconut Chicken
Coconut provides healthy fats while curry spices also boast those heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory benefits. In fact, a March 2018 study in BMJ Open showed that coconut oil was better for your ticker than butter and has a similar effect on LDL lipid levels when tested against olive oil. Of course, you should still limit your intake of saturated fats like those found in coconut.
The wild rice in this slow-cooker chicken recipe provides good fiber, and the chicken has rich protein to keep you fuller for longer. Simply dump everything in and let it cook for hours until it's ready.
Get the Slow Cooker Curry Coconut Chicken recipe and nutrition info here.
7. Skinny Risotto and Scallops
This scallop-and-risotto dish is high in good fats and protein, as well as some fiber from the grains to keep hunger at bay. Plus, this one gets the job done in just two hours of cook time in the Crock-Pot.
The best part: This Italian-inspired recipe doesn't call for spending hours over the stovetop stirring the risotto. And it's got plenty of mushrooms for that umami flavor and notable health benefits. Mushrooms, a type of fungi, are tied to boosting immunity, lowering inflammation and improving gut health and digestion, according to a July 2014 study in The Journal of Nutrition.
Get the Skinny Risotto and Scallops recipe and nutrition info here.
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats"
- Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: "Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications"
- Journal of Translational Medicine: "Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked?"
- Open Heart: "Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health"
- Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism: "Effect of lycopene and tomato products on cholesterol metabolism"
- BMJ Open: "Randomised trial of coconut oil, olive oil or butter on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors in healthy men and women"
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Mushrooms and Health Summit Proceedings"