Power Hour Meal Prep

How I Prep a Week of Family-Friendly Slow Cooker Meals

updated Mar 9, 2022
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a slow cooker, stuffed pepper, salad, and chili sit in separate containers on a table
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Although I’ve fallen for speedy Instant Pot meals, my slow cooker remains the real MVP of the kitchen. It’s ease is simply unparalleled. This week I’m delegating dinner duty to the superstar appliance, and simplifying weeknights even more by getting the bulk of dinner prep done upfront.

In this Power Hour meal prep session, you’ll prep a week of breakfasts and dinners that rely on the slow cooker for hands-off cooking, plus fresh and filling lunches to eat each day. Wake up to warm and fruity slow cooker oatmeal, then use the slow cooker to serve family-friendly dinners all week long. Here’s how to do it.

Find more slow cooker meal plans: Here Are 7 Weeks of Easy Slow Cooker Meal Plans

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Alternate between bowls of warm sweetened oatmeal and quick yogurt bowls (five days).
  • Lunch: Crisp and crunchy veggie-packed salads that contrast with hot slow cooker suppers (five days).
  • Dinner: Easy dinners where the slow cooker does the work (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: This week’s meal plan hands the task of cooking off to the slow cooker. Meals are well-balanced and family-friendly, but do not focus on any specific nutritional goals.

Meal Prep Snapshot

  • Feeds: 4 people for breakfast and dinner, 2 for lunch.
  • Prep Time: About 1 1/2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Minimal — some assembly and preparation of garnishes is required to get dinner on the table.

Meal Plan

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Shopping List

These are the ingredients I bought or used for this week’s meal plan. Pantry staples like vegetable and olive oils, kosher salt, and black pepper are not included in this list. As always, be sure to check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for ingredients you may already have on hand before shopping.

  • Deli/Bakery: Sandwich rolls
  • Produce: 1 lime, 4 medium bell peppers, 3 medium carrots, 7 medium celery stalks, 1 avocado, 6 to 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, 1 fennel bulb with fronds, 1 bunch fresh cilantro, fresh fruit (for serving with yogurt), 1 bunch fresh parsley, 4 sprigs thyme, 1 head garlic, 1 lemon, 3 onions, 4 Persian cucumbers, 1 poblano pepper, 1 russet potato, 2 scallions, 1 large bunch fresh chives, 2 radishes, 2 medium zucchini
  • Meat: 1 (3- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Dairy: 1 (8-count) package flaky refrigerator biscuits, 3 ounces feta cheese, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 cups shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese, 1 stick unsalted butter, 1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta cheese, milk (for serving with oatmeal), yogurt, sliced provolone cheese
  • Dry Goods: 1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup (plus more for serving) honey, 1 (1-ounce) packet ranch salad dressing & seasoning mix, 1 (1-ounce) packet au jus gravy mix, 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 4 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon dried basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 (12-ounce) jar pepperoncini peppers, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 pound dried ziti pasta, 48 ounces marinara sauce, 2 cups quinoa, 2 cups chopped dried apricots, 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (plus more for serving), 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, tortilla chips, 2 cans black beans, 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, 2 (15-ounce) can hominy, 1 quart low-sodium chicken broth, 2 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste, cereal or granola (for serving with yogurt)
  • Freezer: 1 cup frozen corn kernels, 1 cup frozen peas

Power Hour: How to Get the Prep Done

  1. Toast pumpkin seeds: While the oven heats to 350°F, spread pumpkin seeds in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and barely golden-brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
  2. Prep produce: For the Slow Cooker Oatmeal with Honey & Fruit: Chop 1 cup dried apricots and 3/4 cup hazelnuts. Store separately at room temperature. For the Veggie-Packed Chopped Salad: Chop leaves from 5 stalks celery and dice the stalks, dice 4 Persian cucumbers, coarsely chop 1/4 cup fennel fronds and small dice the fennel bulb, thinly slice 2 scallions, coarsely chop 1/2 cup parsley leaves, zest then juice 1 lemon. For the Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers: Dice 1 yellow onion, mince 5 cloves garlic, finely chop 2 zucchini, slice the tops off and hollow out 4 bell peppers. For the Slow Cooker Chicken Posole: Dice 1 onion, seed and dice 1 poblano pepper, mince 3 cloves garlic, and combine in an airtight container. Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, and salt, and then refrigerate. For the Slow Cooker Veggie Pot Pie: Dice 1 onion, peel and dice 3 carrots, dice 2 stalks celery, thinly slice 6 to 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, mince 2 garlic cloves, chop leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme, then combine and refrigerate. Note: Wait to peel and dice the potatoes so they do not discolor upon storage.
  3. Assemble salad: Combine the celery, cucumbers, fennel, scallions, parsley, lemon zest, pepper, red pepper flakes, and salt in a large bowl and toss to combine. If desired, divide the salad into individual lunch portions. Top each serving with feta cheese. Store the lemon juice in an airtight container. Refrigerate salads and lemon juice.
  4. Prep stuffed peppers: Combine the marinara ingredients (crushed and diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, basil, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper) in a lidded container. Combine the black beans, quinoa, zucchini, and 1 1/2 cups of the marinara ingredient in a separate bowl. Divide the filling between the prepared bell peppers, then refrigerate in an airtight container.
  5. Make oatmeal: Rinse the quinoa under cool running water in a fine mesh strainer, then combine with the oats, apricots, honey, vanilla, salt, and water in a slow cooker and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours (or overnight).
Credit: Kitchn
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Breakfast

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Slow Cooker Oatmeal with Honey and Fruit. On Monday morning, stir to re-incorporate the ingredients, then ladle the oatmeal into bowls and top with the chopped hazelnuts and extra honey and milk, if desired. Refrigerate, and reheat later in the week loosening the porridge with warm milk or water.

Tuesday and Thursday: Yogurt and Fruit. On alternate days, serve yogurt with fresh fruit. Add something crunchy by sprinkling the top with cereal, granola, or extra nuts.

Lunch

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: Veggie-Packed Chopped Salad. Drizzle the salad with lemon juice and top with feta cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Dinner

Monday: Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers in Marinara Sauce. Pour the prepped marinara into the slow cooker. Nestle the filled bell peppers into the sauce, and then cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours for a protein-packed vegetarian meal to start the week.

Tuesday: Slow Cooker Chicken Posole. Combine the onion, poblano pepper, garlic, and spices from the meal prep session with boneless, skinless chicken thighs and chicken broth in a slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or until the chicken is tender. Use 2 forks to shred the chicken directly in the slow cooker. Stir in the hominy and add the juice of 1 lime. Ladle into bowls and serve with sliced radishes, fresh cilantro leaves, diced avocado, and crushed tortilla chips.

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Mississippi Pot Roast. Place the boneless beef chuck roast in a large slow cooker and sprinkle with the ranch dressing and seasoning mix and au jus gravy mix. Cut 1 stick of butter into cubes and distribute over the roast. Pour 1/2 cup of brine from a jar of pepperoncini peppers into the slow cooker and add 10 to 12 of the peppers. Cover and cook until the beef is fork tender, LOW for 8 hours or HIGH for 5 to 6 hours. Shred the roast with tongs or two forks and serve on rolls topped with slices of provolone cheese.

Thursday: Slow Cooker Veggie Pot Pie. Peel and dice 1 pound of russet potatoes. Add the potatoes to the slow cooker with the vegetables from the meal prep session (onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, garlic, and thyme), 2 bay leaves, kosher salt, and pepper. Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth into a slurry and pour into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for about 6 hours, until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened. Add the peas, corn, chives, heavy cream, and apple cider vinegar to the slow cooker. Bake the biscuits according to package directions during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Remove the bay leaves, stir the pot pie filling, and ladle into bowls. Top with warm biscuits and serve.

Friday: Slow Cooker Baked Ziti. Spray the slow cooker insert with cooking spray, then add dried ziti, marinara, ricotta, and 1 cups shredded mozzarella cheese. Stir to combine, then sprinkle the top with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Cover and cook on LOW for 3 to 4 hours or HIGH for 1 to 2 hours or until the pasta is cooked and the cheese is melted.

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Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.

Credit: Kitchn