Summertime, and the living is…well, hot. When stratospheric temperatures make you want to do nothing but sit in an ice bath all day, using a slow cooker might initially seem like a preposterous idea—isn’t that thing just for winter meals?
But don’t put that Crock-Pot into storage just yet! You'll be pleasantly surprised at how useful this appliance can be even during the warmer months, sparing you from turning the oven on and turning your kitchen into a sauna. Forget steaming stews and cozy casseroles, and try some tacos, corn on the cob, and scalloped peaches. Cooking in the summer just got a whole lot cooler!
Take the stress out of the next brunch you host with this simple yet produce- and protein-packed frittata. With just a handful of seasonal veggies and eggs and a hands-off cooking method, summer celebrations don’t get much more straightforward than this.
Making your own granola is a lot easier than you may think—all it involves is throwing fiber-rich oats and light, metabolism-boosting spice into a slow cooker and stirring every once in a while. Scoop some over yogurt and top with berries or bananas for a refreshing alternative to your usual bowl of cereal.
Making omelets to order is ambitious (and lets you channel your inner Julia Child), but after a few, all that flipping can become more work than it's worth. This slow-cooker recipe isn’t just brimming with vegetables that add some fiber to all the protein, but it also serves four to six people at once, so you don’t have to stand by the stove crafting individual servings. Bon appetit!
Sometimes nothing but a gooey pastry will do for breakfast. Not only do these caramel-laced rolls use heart-healthy whole-wheat flour and a fraction of the butter used in traditional sticky bun recipes—making them decadent yet still wholesome—but baking them in the slow cooker means no need to heat up the house by turning on the oven. That’s what we call a sweet start to the day!
Delicious as they are, breakfast casseroles can sometimes be uber heavy, leaving you regretting your meal an hour later. This healthier twist is chock-full of vegetables and still includes hash browns, bacon, and cheese—all the things you want from comfort food.
With fresh blueberries bursting from their seams and an almond flour base that’s free of gluten, these scones may look like dessert, but they’re healthy and satiating enough for breakfast. The bonus? The slow cooker method eliminates the need for the dough to rise!
Appetizers, Soups, and Salads
Spinach Parmesan dip is always a crowd favorite, but who wants to get weighed down with all that heavy dairy in the heat? This one lightens things up by using light sour cream and one of our favorite recipe substitutes, Greek yogurt. Serve at your next summer tailgate to keep your kitchen cool and your crowd healthy.
Usher in warm weather with a soup that celebrates the best of the season’s produce—yellow squash. The vitamin C-loaded veggie takes center stage in this recipe, with some sweet potato, carrot, and white beans added in for extra flavor. Chilling the batch requires an extra step, but the cool and creamy results are totally worth waiting for.
More often associated with winter, chowder gets a warm weather update with the addition of summery ingredients like zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. If you’re keeping it meat free, skip the bacon—otherwise, don’t worry about the saturated fat in a few slices; it may actually be good for you (and is quite tasty!).
Sometimes summer rain ruins your barbecue plans, but this recipe lets you make awesome, charred corn on the cob without the grill. This version uses a chili lime rub, but you can also also try different versions of the sauce for this go-to side dish, like the ones recommended here: pesto, curry powder, coconut milk, and Sriracha.
These beans may need some time to cook, but they yield a giant 12-serving batch that’s easily freezable. A homemade recipe also ensures that your taco toppers won’t come with a hefty dose of lard that so many store-bought or restaurant versions use. Stuff them into burritos, scoop them onto salads, or just eat them straight-up—they’re that irresistible!
What summer cookout, picnic, or potluck is complete without potato salad? The mustard-based, mayo-free condiments for this one make it perfect to take to outdoor gatherings without spoiling. Bonus: The hefty sprinkling of dill adds some brightness as well as flavonoids that may relieve an upset stomach.
Who says it has to be cold outside to enjoy warm veggies? It doesn’t get much simpler or more customizable than this recipe: Use your favorite produce, your favorite herbs, and a dash of olive oil to help absorb the nutrients from the vegetables. Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C. Molecular nutrition & food research, 2012, Oct.;56(6):1613-4133.
This easy Crock-Pot mix of chicken, black beans, salsa, cumin, and taco seasoning is perfect for a salad or your own DIY burrito bowl. We also can't get enough of the blogger's zesty avocado cilantro buttermilk dressing, which is awesome with this salad— but also sounds like a great spread for sandwiches.
Meat Main Dishes
A creamy peanut dressing, sweet chunks of mango, and slow-cooked beef makes this salad more fit for an entree than an appetizer. The chuck steak is tender, the cabbage is crisp, and peanuts add crunch. With so much texture and flavor, you'll never think of salad as limp, soggy greens again.
Make a batch of this chicken salad on a Sunday, and you’ll have a healthy lunch option at the ready all week long. There isn’t a hint of mayo in the recipe, but the Southwestern flavors of antioxidant-rich cilantro, digestion-aiding cumin, and immunity-boosting garlic impart plenty of taste and healthy benefits. Immunity: plants as effective mediators. Sultan MT, Butt MS, Qayyum MM. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 2014, Oct.;54(10):1549-7852. Add a scoop of it onto mixed greens, in a pita, or between slices of toast.
Always thought you needed to be near a beach to enjoy a seafood boil? Prove yourself wrong with this recipe, which brings the low-country classic home with the help of a Crock-Pot. All the usual components feature here, from potatoes and corn cobs to shrimp, which are a good source of immunity-raising selenium. The bottle of beer is optional, but either way, this boil will bring the summer party straight onto your kitchen table.
Asian cuisine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to slow cooker recipes, but this hoison sauce-soaked mixture shows that it can be done, and it can be delicious! While light enough for a warm-weather lunch, the addition of rice to the chicken and veggies makes it a full meal. Water chestnuts lend a fun crunch and a punch of potassium.
This recipe pushes the envelope in more than one way, stuffing typical casserole ingredients into bell peppers instead and slow cooking rather than baking them. Adding lots of onions, celery, and spices is a convenient and simple way to add tasty veggies to the meat, beans, and rice without excess added fat or preservatives.
For most meat-eaters, rarely does a summer go by without chicken wings making an appearance. Rather than trying greasy deep-frying, go the Crock-Pot route with this recipe. Calling for plenty of garlic, a generous pour of antioxidant-rich honey, and an optional hit of cayenne, these wings are the ideal way to kick any get-together up a notch!
Nothing screams summer like a hot dog, and you can recreate this iconic version without a grill. Mixed with tomato sauce, Worcestershire, and plenty of seasonings, the chili will turn out as juicy and flavorful as ever. Pick whatever type of dog you prefer and load them up!
This taco recipe has a super-simple shredded chicken base and adds in some sliced corn off the cob, avocado, caramelized onions, and cilantro. You can also throw this on top of a salad or rice bowl for a gluten-free option.
Meat isn't the only thing you can make in a slow cooker. This recipe is a great go-to guide for make-ahead salmon, so you can use it for any of your favorite dishes. You can customize this version with any veggies or sauces you like for some added flavor.
A summer recipe roundup without mention of the Caribbean? Inconceivable! These little pork sandwiches get some island flair from an awesome jerk marinade and pineapple salsa. The blogger gives a guide for how much pork you should use based on how many people you're serving, but we think you should make it all— these will make for awesome leftovers.
You may be surprised at how many ingredients for this seemingly exotic recipe you already have in your pantry. Brown sugar, red pepper, and garlic lend a decidedly barbecue-like hint to the Asian-inspired tastes of sesame oil and soy sauce that marinate the lean meat. Go liberal with the sesame seed garnish—those little guys are packed with B-complex vitamins to promote eye, muscle, skin, and hair health.
Vegetarian and Vegan Main Dishes
Lasagna can be an all-day affair between cooking noodles, whipping up sauce, and making all the fillings. Forget about that with a Crock-Pot. Cook a veggie mixture; then layer it with sauce, noodles, and cheese; and let your slow cooker do all the magic. Vibrant, lycopene-rich cherry tomatoes and fresh corn make summer’s bounty shine all the more in this classic winter dish.
Chickpeas are one of the yummiest sources of protein we can think of—even if you do eat meat. This recipe takes a twist on the classic Indian butter chicken dish and swaps in chickpeas and tofu for a meal that goes great over rice, salad, or all on its own!
While we'd make this with brown rice for more fiber, the recipe is still great for warmer weather. The classic Greek flavors of red pepper, olives, feta, parsley, and oregano are perfect as a side dish or meal, hot or cold.
No sketchy mock meats here! This recipe uses tempeh as a vegan substitute for Bolognese sauce. An unprocessed form of soy, tempeh is also fermented, which means it’s great for promoting gut health. Let it cook with loads of spices and some summer veggies, and the results will delight everyone at the table.
They’re cheap, versatile, high in iron, low glycemic... and that’s just the beginning. Our love for lentils runs deep, and this recipe showcases them in a much more creative way than basic soup. Let them hang out for a few hours with some vegetables and spices, and they’ll reduce down to a hearty mixture boasting eight grams of protein per serving—not bad for a meatless meal!
If they can eat curry in the tropical temperatures of Thailand, you can eat it during your summer too. Usual suspects found in the cuisine, like coconut milk, scallions, and soy, come together in this vegan and gluten-free recipe, while the unconventional addition of chickpeas lends some protein to amp up the nutritional profile further.
Sure, it takes more work than popping open a jar of store-bought sauce, but you won’t regret being able to control the sugar and salt in this produce-packed homemade version. Keep it slightly chunky to give it a rustic flair and don’t skimp when stirring in the basil—it’s got memory-boosting properties, and this is definitely one meal you won’t want to forget.
This easy dish is a Southern summer favorite, with tons of veggies and an added hot sauce kick. It only takes 15 minutes to prepare, and then you’ll be amazed at how much four hours in a slow cooker can do for the flavors in this dish.
If you’re wary of experimenting with new grains, the slow cooker removes the intimidation factor by doing all the work for you. Here, barley adds some uniqueness (along with fiber) to these vegetarian tacos, along with the usual suspects of black beans and corn. Cool down the mixture with an avocado-Greek yogurt cream topping, and you’re ready for a meat-free fiesta.
If a heap of warm noodles and cheese still sounds like a bit too much when temps outside are simmering, try this noodle-free veggie lasagna instead. With four layers of tomato sauce, herbs, cheese, peppers, and onions, this dish is both healthy and second-helping worthy.
If you’re tentative about your dessert-making ability, these scalloped peaches are both impressive and won't make you break a sweat. If your fruit is especially sweet, try reducing the sugar a bit, and then let the spices and the slow cooker do the rest of the work. Serve topped with banana ice cream.
The cocktail already tastes like dessert, so why not make it into a real one? You'll get healthy, good-cholesterol-boosting fats from the shredded coconut and coconut milk, plus vitamin C from pineapple. Go ahead and add some rum—we won't tell.
Fresh berries are one of the best parts of summer: They're sweeter than ever and insanely versatile cooking ingredients. In two hours they reduce to a sweet, syrupy goodness with a crumbly topping in this recipe that's perfect to serve after burgers.
Gingerbread isn't only for the holidays. This awesome recipe goes great with vanilla ice cream, and you'd be surprised at the number of ingredients you already have in your pantry. It sounds like the perfect last-minute dessert recipe to us.
Originally published May 2015. Updated May 2016.