Hosting a holiday party this year? Between hanging festive decorations, stocking up on booze, and cleaning the house, you’ve got plenty of work to do before it’s time to let your hair down and put on a Santa cap. Let us help make the party prep a bit easier (without using elves, we promise!).
Instead of slaving away over a hot stove all day, make that slow cooker do all the heavy work. From toasty drinks to keep Jack Frost from nipping at your nose to easy snacks and appetizers to desserts, we’ve got plenty of Crock-Pot recipes to make your holiday party prep as easy as (mince) pie.
1. Crock-Pot Hot Cocoa
This party-friendly hot drink just looks indulgent. In reality, it’s made with low-fat sweetened condensed milk, light cream, and skim milk (and chocolate, of course). Make a big batch in your slow cooker and then serve with bowls of toppings (whipped cream, dark chocolate chips, coconut, marshmallows, etc.) so guests can customize their own mug!
2. Mulled Cider
This easy, wintry drink is perfect for kids and adults alike. To make a non-alcoholic version, combine brown sugar, cider, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and lemon peel. Adjust the sweetness by starting with half the brown sugar and adding more as you go according to taste. If you’re on the naughty list, though, add a cup of dark rum or brandy.
3. Gingerbread Latte
No need to wait in line and shell out five dollars at the local coffee shop to get this holiday favorite. With vegan creamer, non-dairy milk, and plenty of spices, this rich, warm drink is perfect for guests with allergies or food intolerances. Keep the sugar content in check by going easy on molasses and sweetener.
4. Warm Pomegranate Spiced Wine
This warm, boozy bev will chase chills away as soon as guests step in the door. Combine pomegranate juice, red wine, apple brandy, and spices in the slow cooker and let it all stew together on high for about an hour.
Both a spicy cider drink and a classic Christmas song, this warm fruity beverage will warm you up from the inside out. Make this easy recipe by combining apple cider, orange juice, hibiscus tea, cinnamon sticks, cloves, juniper berries, ginger, an apple, and an orange in the slow cooker. Stick the top on and cook on high heat for three to four hours.
6. Slow Cooker Chex Mix
Yes, it’s possible to buy this stuff from the bag, but making your own mash-up is much more fun (and results in fewer icky additives). Just pick a selection of crunchy bits and pieces (cereal, nuts, and pretzels all work well, but don’t be afraid to get wacky with unexpected ingredients!) and douse ‘em with a mix of Worcestershire sauce, salt, garlic powder, and melted butter. Keep it on the healthier side by adding salt and butter with a light hand.
7. Herbed Crock-Pot Dinner Rolls
Bet you didn’t see this one coming! It’s possible to make pretty much any type of bread in the slow cooker, freeing up your oven to bake cookies, turkey, or any other holiday goodies. First, whip up your favorite bread dough and add some fresh herbs (chives and sage work great). Line the slow cooker with parchment paper and sprinkle some cornmeal on it or brush with butter or oil. Divide the dough into small balls and place inside the slow cooker, cover, and cook on high for about an hour. That’s it!
8. Sweet and Spicy Mushrooms
This recipe is an easy option to toss together with little effort. Mix together hoisin sauce, water, garlic, and crushed red pepper, and add in some ‘shrooms. Cook on high for two to three hours, or let them simmer on low for five to six hours.
9. Crock-Pot Cajun Boiled Peanuts
As far as pre-dinner munchables go, nuts definitely take the cake. Let guests take the edge off hunger with these spicy, garlicky peanuts cooked in the shell. This apetizer is a classic “dump and forget” Crock-Pot recipe—just add peanuts, seasoning, and water, and cook. Since they taste better the longer they cook, get started on these nuts ahead of time and let them simmer for 12 to 24 hours.
10. Orange Glazed Meatballs
A little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and a little bit rich, these balls will have the crowd gathering ‘round the table before you can say “mini meatballs on a stick.” To make ‘em, mix together orange marmalade, a diced jalapeno, orange juice, beef broth, onions, and salt and pepper. Once the sauce is all mixed up and ready to go, add the meatballs (make your own from ground chicken, pork, or turkey if that floats your boat) and cook for four to five hours.
11. Crock-Pot Pumpkin Red Lentil Chili
This vegetarian crowd-pleaser is the ideal main dish for a big party. Add a stack of dishes and a few fun toppings (chopped chives, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole or avocado slices, and tortillas chips) and let guests go to town customizing their own bowls. The ingredient list is fairly long, but don’t be intimidated—all you have to do is dump everything into the slow cooker and let it sit for a few hours!
12. Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Pot roast is the ultimate “throw it in the oven and forget about it” dish, and using a Crock-Pot makes it even easier since you’re free to leave the cooking unsupervised while running errands or picking up guests from the train station. This classic recipe has plenty of veggies and gets its flavor from coffee, balsamic vinegar, and lots of spices.
13. Vegetarian Lasagna
Are your family and friends more into pasta than Christmas roast? Whip up this slow cooker lasagna to feed the whole party without breaking a sweat. With part-skim ricotta, whole-wheat noodles, part-skim mozzarella, and plenty of veggies, this dish is light that there might still be room for dessert.
14. Creamy Chicken Spaghetti with Broccoli
This family-friendly dish looks impressive, but it just requires two pots and not much active prep. Cook chicken breasts in pasta sauce (homemade or from a jar, we won’t judge!) for a few hours in the slow cooker. When they’re nearly done, boil a pot of pasta and add broccoli. Drain the noodles and veggies, and combine everything in the slow cooker with a scoop of part-skim ricotta on top. Mix it up and serve!
15. Slow Cooker Maple Brown Sugar Ham
This year, prep the show-stopping Christmas ham in a Crock-Pot instead of the oven. Give the meat a rub-a-dub-dub with brown sugar, maple syrup, and pineapple juice (season with a light hand to cut down on the sugar), and pop it in the slow cooker for four to five hours.
16. Crock-Pot Roast Chicken
Making a whole roast chicken in the slow cooker is surprisingly easy. (Really, we’re not kidding!) Brush the chicken with spices and olive oil, then plunk the bird in the pot and cook it on high for three or four hours. Hardly rocket science, right? If you need some help prepping the chicken, check out Greatist’s guide to roasting the perfect turkey for some useful tips.
20. Blueberry Lemon Cake
This gluten-free, soy-free, and oil-free recipe is bound to satisfy any guest—even the most picky (or allergy-plagued) eater. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in another. Then, mix everything together and cook in a Crock-Pot for 60 to 80 minutes. Make the flavors more holiday-friendly by using cranberries instead of blueberries.
17. Clean Eating Slow Cooker Brownies
Get your sweet tooth on with these fudgey, rich brownies made with applesauce, mashed bananas, and whole-wheat pastry flour. To make them extra festive, add crushed candy canes instead of walnuts.
18. Crock-Pot Baked Apples
These fairly healthy post-dinner treats are more nice than naughty. Filled with a bit of brown sugar, butter, walnuts, and cinnamon, these baked apples will hardly derail your diet. Filling the Crock-Pot with apple cider and orange liquor infuses the apples with rich, boozy flavor.
19. Slow Cooker Cinnamon Almonds
Send guests off into the night with some nibbles for the road. These spicy, sweet roasted nuts would make a great goody-bag treat. Coat almonds (or any other nuts) with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, egg white, vanilla, and water, and let them cook for three to four hours.
21. Coconut Rice Pudding
It may not be figgy pudding, but this light, fairly healthy dessert might just become a holiday tradition in your family. With basmati rice, light coconut milk, vanilla almond milk, spices, raisins, toasted almonds, and shredded coconut, this dessert will satisfy your sweet tooth without busting a button.
22. Slow-Cooker Caramel Poached Pears
With just four ingredients, these simple poached pears might be the easiest recipe on this whole list. Mix brown sugar, butter, and grated ginger in the bowl of the slow cooker. Add the pears face-down and cook for an hour or two. When the delicious caramel flavor starts wafting through the house, they’re probably done cooking.