The Busy Parent's Best Friend: A Slow Cooker (Plus 8 Kid-Friendly Recipes)
The beauty of a slow cooker is obvious: It does all the work while you ignore the thing for hours at a time! But for those of us with small kids underfoot, there’s an even smarter strategy to take advantage of: If you assemble your ingredients ahead of time (say at night while the rascals are sleeping), you can simply dump it all together in the morning. When the kids are up again, and it's the end of your day, or soccer practice is over (whichever comes first), one of these kid-friendly dishes will be ready for dinner when you are.
Pulled Pork 3 Ways: With just a few spices, this pork cooks in its own delicious juices all day long. Then it’s ready to become not one but as many as three dinners! Slather on a bit of BBQ sauce and serve it over rolls, scoop it up (along with lots of that juice) and place it on top of rice along with crunchy diced apples or use it for Food Network Magazine's pork tacos (pictured above) topped with mango, queso fresco and avocado.
Best Tomato Soup Ever: When The Pioneer Woman says her top-rated creamy tomato soup (pictured above) is the "best," you can bet that means kids love it too.
Potato Soup Topped with Cheddar Cheese: Here we have all the flavors of baked potatoes, in a bowl (pictured above). Let the kids ladle on the toppings of their choice: sour cream, cheddar cheese, bacon bits …
5-Star Pot Roast: The most-classic dinner of all time gets a slow-cooker spin in this reader-favorite pot roast recipe (pictured above).
Slow-Cooker Pork with Noodles: Soft strips of pork melt in your mouth in this slow-cooker version of vermicelli noodle soup (pictured above) from Food Network Magazine. Add extra noodles for kids, along with a fork to better twirl them up.
BBQ Ribs: The only question about these ribs cooking all day in a sweet and smoky sauce is: How many wet napkins will you need at the table? (And you will need them. I say one for each person, especially small persons.)
Shredded Chicken Tex-Mex: Frozen sweet corn and luscious tomatoes give this shredded chicken (pictured above) just the right mix of texture and flavor to be a family favorite. (And that’s before topping it with things like shredded cheese or diced avocado.)
Slow-Cooker Gooey Brownie Cake: And for good measure, you can never go wrong with a warm chocolate dessert (pictured above), one that just happens to be ready the moment dinner’s done.
Charity Curley Mathews is the founder of Foodlets.com, a site about cooking fresh food and teaching kids to love it (without losing your mind in the process). She’s also a contributor to The Huffington Post and InStyle and is the mother of four kids, ages 1 to 6.