Life is busy. It can be really hard to prioritize.
With the little time I’m home I try to stick to:
- Quality time with V
- Healthy(ish) food on the table
- 15 minutes worth of cleaning/tidying
- Quality time with Husband
- Personal time
I’m constantly trying to find new ways to up my efficiency in all five of those areas. Recently, I’ve been relying heavily on simple, no-recipe crock pot meals and thought I would share the basic formula that has been working for us.
For reference, I cook for a fully grown Husband, a voracious 2-year-old and myself, and I shoot for at least two full meals if not more from each crock pot meal. One advantage I do have is that Husband is home during the day (at least part of the day) so sometimes I can throw everything together in the morning and have him start the crock pot. That being said, all these recipes would do fine on low for 8-10 hrs.
To get approx. 6-8 servings out of this without stretching it with rice or quinoa, I shoot for 2-3lbs of chicken. We prefer boneless, skinless thighs personally. If you go with breasts, do not cook on high and add extra liquid or they will dry out pretty severely.
- Line bottom of crock pot with 1/2-1 onion, diced and 3-5 minced cloves of garlic
- Add chicken
- Season, top with oil choice and liquid
- Cook 8-10hrs on low*.
- When you get home (or time is up) shred chicken, mix with juices, cover and let cook on low or warm for another 15-30 minutes.
- This is also a great time to add some frozen veggies in with your chicken, cook your rice or quinoa, or whatever other side you were planning.
- BBQ/Chipotle – onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, paprika, chili powder, smoked chipotle powder, cayenne, tumeric, s&p, with bbq sauce and/or apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and olive oil
- Asian-ish – onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, tumeric, paprika, cayenne, s&p, basil, ginger powder with any combination of liquid/coconut aminos, tamari, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, sesame oil and coconut oil
- Italian/Homestyle – onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, paprika, basil, red pepper flakes, s&p, with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (this one tends to be our favorite)
*If you start with frozen chicken, do two hours on high then low for 4-8hrs. If you are using breasts, I would check your liquid level after the first two hours just to be sure there’s still plenty in there. (This is another reason we stick with thighs – they’re just easier all around).
Cooking a whole chicken is probably my favorite busy food hack. We can eat it day 1, shred it for 2-3 more meals, and then throw the skin and bones back in with the juices and make bone broth from it. It ends up being really frugal for how much you get out of it. I would not recommend cooking a whole frozen chicken in the crock pot. Even just pulling it out the night before and letting it sit on the counter should be enough.
- Line bottom of crock pot with one whole diced onion and 5+ minced cloves of garlic.
- Make or grab your rub (see recipe below) and cover entire chicken. If possible, push some under the skin.
- Drizzle chicken with olive oil or melted coconut oil/butter. My go-to is usually olive oil with a few slices of grass-fed butter on top.
- Cook on low 8-10 hours until chicken pulls away from the bones easily.
- Cut breasts out and drizzle with pan juices; serve with steamed/baked veggies.
Because we reuse the juices as the base for our bone broth, I try to keep the seasoning to this pretty basic – onion power, garlic powder, paprika, thyme, cayenne, s&p
Our favorite ways to use leftover shredded chicken:
- Stir-fry – cook rice, in a pan with coconut oil cook onions, carrots, celery, frozen broccoli, asparagus, any other veggies until warmed through or translucent, season veggies with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, tumeric. Add chicken and rice until everything is warm, crack 2-3 eggs and scramble over veg and rice. Add coconut or liquid aminos and/or sesame oil until flavored to your liking. Makes 4-8 servings.
- Chicken soup (can alternate rice or quinoa for the pasta, can add less broth to make more casserole-ish vs. soup)
- Enchilada casserole – We tried this a few weeks ago and it was a hit. We love to top it with sliced scallions, use refried beans, and add frozen corn.
- Chicken salads – V has recently become a salad hound. We grab whatever organic spring/kale/spinach mix is on sale and top with whatever fresh veggies we can afford that week. Our go-to is cucumber, carrot, green and red pepper, tomatoes, and scallions (though V doesn’t like the onions). We’ve been using Annie’s ranch and Italian dressings lately and those seem to be hits with all three of us. They’re not as good as homemade but have no “natural flavors” and are a pretty good healthier, budget option.
- Quick chicken parm – We skip the breading and just cook up quinoa, rice or gluten-free pasta, serve with whichever organic pasta sauce was on-sale
- BBQ chicken sandwiches – Super easy, just toss with sauce and eat with a fork or on buns or however you choose.
- Chicken pot pie – This is our favorite pot pie-esque recipe.
- Rush chicken – just dip in some sort of fat (ranch, guac, bbq seem to be our go-tos) and enjoy
Beef skirt/flank/hangar steak
I usually get whichever of these cuts is the cheapest at EarthFare. Since this is the most expensive cut, we only have it once or twice a month. 1lb seems to feed us three for one meal only. I try to get at least 1 1/2 lbs so one of us can get lunch out of it, and usually serve it over rice. We pretty much always do this with the same seasoning.
- Lay steak flat in the crock pot. You can line the bottom with onions if you’d like but I don’t find it as necessary for flavor as with the chicken.
- If you have a particularly thick cut, poke holes throughout it to let the marinade soak through. You could also mix it all up and let it marinade overnight.
- Season with pepper, salt, tumeric, mustard powder, garlic and onion powder, paprika, smoked chipotle powder, red pepper flakes. Top with coconut aminos and balsamic vinegar in a 3:1 ratio and drizzle with olive oil (about half as much as the vinegar).
- You could also do just coconut aminos or just balsamic vinegar but we really like the mixture.
- Substitutes: liquid aminos (I don’t recommend using conventional soy sauce in anything), apple cider vinegar (with the mother), fresh orange juice or red wine. I wouldn’t use just apple cider vinegar but it would be fine with liquid or coconut aminos.
- Cover and cook on low for 6-10hrs until it shreds easily with a fork.
- Shred and mix with juices, let cook on low/warm for another 15-20 minutes.
- If you are serving with a veg, add it in the crock pot now. This is particularly good as an easy broccoli beef recipe.
- Great over rice or quinoa too!
I’m a big fan of meal planning and I try to usually do one of these each week. I cook a whole chicken at least every other week to make bone broth so usually I do that on a Saturday, bone broth on Sunday and either thighs or skirt steak on whichever night later in the week that’s busy but not too busy for an actual meal. It works out pretty well for our working full-time/nursing school/craziness schedule.
What are your go-to no-recipe-needed meals? List them below or join the conversation over on Facebook.