While you’re off living life, the saintly slow cooker can cook your dinner all day and exude smells that rival any scented candle. It can also save you money.
It makes home-cooked (aka affordable) meals easierIf done right, a home-cooked meal is usually less expensive than a prepared meal bought at a restaurant or store. And crockpots can make preparing homemade meals fast and easy.
“You’re cooking while you’re sleeping or while you’re at work,” says Jessica Fisher, creator of the website Good Cheap Eats and author of “Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes (or Less!).”
» Explore cheap, easy dinner ideas
Throw a few ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, and by the end of the day, you’ve got dinner. And there’s no reason to stop at McDonald’s.
“If you have food ready at home, it’s harder to say ‘yes’ to eating out,” says Heidi Kennedy, owner of CrockPotLadies.com and co-author of the upcoming cookbook “The Crock-Pot Ladies Big Book of Slow Cooker Dinners.”
Bonus: These homemade slow-cooker meals aren’t just cheaper than on-the-go options — they’re usually healthier, too. Homemade means you control the ingredients, Fisher says. Plus, “The things that the crockpot lends itself to are fairly nutritious,” she says.
“It’s not a fryer … you’re not going to clog your arteries with what you’re cooking in a crockpot.” (By the way, it’s also not an Instant Pot, which can pressure cook and function in other ways that most slow cookers can’t.)
Get cooking: Use the slow cooker not just for tonight’s dinner, but for future meals, too. Cook large batches of beans, broth, chili or other foods and freeze them. Having homemade food at home — whether in the slow cooker or freezer — will help deter you from spending on restaurant meals.
“It enables you to eat well without having to spend more than you want to,” Fisher says.
And you can cook those homemade meals anywherePlug in a crockpot just about anywhere there’s an outlet to cook affordable meals. That portability is useful for office parties and potlucks, Fisher says.
“You can take [a slow cooker] to work or church … anywhere where there isn’t really a kitchen on the premises,” she says. There’s no need for a grocery-store run for pita chips when you’ve got chili simmering in the break room. With a little bit of planning, Fisher says, “crockpots do the work for your party.”
Get cooking: Take advantage of slow cookers’ portability by traveling with them. Fisher has taken a crockpot on family vacations to cook meals at the hotel. “It can be cooking while you’re having a vacation,” she says. “And you can come back to the hotel not having to worry about spending a lot on eating out.”
It makes cheap ingredients taste goodKennedy says the slow cooker is best for soups, stews and other “peasant foods” made with cheap ingredients. Think: beans and inexpensive root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips.
And you don’t need to shell out for a filet mignon. More affordable meats, such as pot roasts, chuck roasts, pork roasts and stew meat “do better when they’re cooked in that slow and low and moist environment that’s in the crockpot,” she says.
Get cooking: If you really want to earn your Frugal Foodie badge, use the slow cooker to make your own broth from bones and vegetable scraps. “That’s a really good way to use parts that you may otherwise just throw away if you don’t know what to do with them,” Kennedy says. “And you can just freeze the broth and use it for many more delicious soups.”
» Explore the beginner’s guide to frugal living
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Laura McMullen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.