The holidays are all about food, friends, and family. Unfortunately, prepping meals to share with your nearest and dearest can eat into the time you get to spend with them—and the time you have for yourself.
Enter the savior of this winter season: the slow cooker. The kitchen appliance can cut down your hands-on time in the kitchen and actually help you make meals while you catch up on your Zzz’s. (And have no fear Jack Pearson fans: they’re meant to cook food over long stretches of time with low wattage and have mechanisms in place to prevent any scary repeats of that heartbreaking This Is Us episode.)
Still need some more convincing? Slow cookers are ideal for this hectic season because they leave more space in your oven for other dishes and, if you’re traveling, make it easier for you to tote food along with you and plug it in to reheat when you get there, says Kelly McNelis, author and recipe developer at The Family Freezer.
“What I love most about using my slow cooker during the holiday season is that I get to spend time with the people who matter most to me,” she says. “I can prep the food ahead of time, add it to the slow cooker, and forget about it. That way we can enjoy delicious food and each other’s company.”
Here are a dozen hearty holiday recipes you can make overnight (while you snooze!) this holiday season.
1. Loaded mashed potatoes
Say buh-bye to instant mashed potatoes. This creamy, savory version of the classic is an ideal side dish for your Thanksgiving spread. Skip the bacon if you want to keep the dish vegetarian, or top it with a bit of extra cheese if you want a more savory finished product. Head over to Real HouseMoms to learn how to make mashed potatoes while barely lifting a finger.
2. Beef stew
Almost nothing spells comfort food quite like beef stew. And when the temps dip lower, you’ll want to serve up this hearty, filling meal. Warm up on a chilly fall or winter day with a heaping bowl of this dish, all while getting a major serving of veggies. Visit togetherasafamily.com for the full instructions.
3. Homemade cranberry sauce
You already know that during the most festive time of year, your stovetop is premium real estate. So why not free up some space on your burners and make one of your side dishes in a slow cooker instead? “Homemade cranberry sauce is delicious and this slow cooker recipe makes it fool-proof—simply add fresh cranberries, sugar, and water to your slow cooker and turn it on,” McNelis says.
4. Cranberry pear cider
Move over eggnog: There’s a new holiday cocktail in town. This tangy, spicy drink is just the thing to get you feeling merry and bright. Gather around the slow cooker with pals and toast to all the good times ahead. Fox and Briar walks you through the complete drink recipe.
5. Turkey chili
Chili is not just for football season, folks. The filling one pot meal is a crowd pleaser that any houseguest will love, no matter their age. And with just about two hours of cook time, you’ll be able to dig into this spicy and savory dish without waiting around for very long. (But just long enough for a mid-afternoon nap.) Midwest Foodie explains how to make and garnish this turkey chili.
6. Brown sugar ham
It’s time to give your oven a break. This year, try serving up a holiday ham that will have you and your fellow diners drooling. “The cloves add an amazing smoky flavor and the brown sugar and honey make it sweet, but not too sweet,” says McNelis of the easy to make holiday recipe, found on The Family Freezer’s website.
Over the years, stuffing has earned its righteous plate on many a Turkey Day table. This time, though, why not try reimagining the holiday staple? This recipe, from Well Plated, features wild rice, cranberries, and almonds for a highbrow twist on the classic side dish. As a bonus, it’s vegan and gluten-free, so even guests with dietary restrictions can enjoy it.
8. Cocktail meatballs
On the hunt for a finger licking and filling holiday appetizer? Search no further than the cocktail meatball recipe McNelis makes every year. “My favorite holiday slow cooker recipe is my mom’s cocktail meatballs,” McNelis says. “They’re so addicting!” Check out the full recipe on The Family Freezer’s website.
9. Italian chicken noodle soup
Grandma had the right idea—chicken soup really is healing. This creamy and flavorful spin on the old school recipe will instantly make you feel better whether you’re feeling sick or just need a little TLC. Head over to The Recipe Rebel for the soup that will give your grandma’s a run for her money.
10. Mac and cheese
Mac and cheese has come a long way from our childhood lunch days. McNelis says she loves to make mac and cheese and transfer it to a slow cooker for easy transporting and reheating when visiting relatives. “My extended family always requests that I bring my mac and cheese in a slow cooker when they host,” she says of the recipe.
11. Brisket and onions
This melt in your mouth brisket should be your go-to dish when you want to make something incredibly impressive with minimal effort. A handful of seasonings and onions give the meat a salty and complex flavor that is ideal for any special occasion, or just your average Sunday. Try this recipe from slowcookerfromscratch.com the next time you need to make a good impression.
12. Vegetarian lasagna
No, you don’t actually need an oven to make lasagna. This veggie-centric recipe, which features spinach and mushrooms, gives you a hefty serving of produce along with gooey, melted cheese. Ready Set Eat shows you exactly how to make a veggie lasagna that would make Garfield jealous.
Wondering why you feel so lethargic after eating a big holiday meal? Here, learn what a food coma is and how to avoid it.