Once you’re settled in your first apartment, you’re sure to look for ways to save a few bucks here and there as bills add up. Food is a HUGE way you can limit expenses. Think about it… going out, even for a quick bite, can cost $10-$15 per person. If you were to cook a meal at home, it can cost a fraction of that, down to a few dollars per person! But, with a hectic work and social schedule, cooking can fall to the back burner (see what I did there?). The great news? It doesn’t have to! With a slow-cooker, you can make healthy, delicious, CHEAP meals with the press of a button.
Don’t have a slow-cooker?
No problem! This is a quick one-time investment, and basic versions are pretty inexpensive. If you live alone or with a roommate or two that will share meals with you, you don’t need a huge fancy machine. Check out this basic model from Target ($30), this mini version of a CrockPot ($9, and great if you live or cook solo!), or a programmable model ($35). There are many other options as well, which you can find by searching “slow cooker” online! The programmable model is great because you can schedule your machine to start and stop cooking at a specific time, but it’s certainly not necessary if you’re on a budget.
Slow cookers heat food at low temperatures for hours at a time, meaning you can leave your dinner in the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a perfectly done meal 8 hours later! They are small canisters that plug into the wall, meaning no open flames. You can cook anything from meat to soups to casseroles to desserts!
There are hundreds (thousands!) of slow-cooker recipes available online, and there are plenty of cookbooks dedicated to the style of cooking. Do some online searching to find a few recipes that speak to you! Purchase the ingredients and toss them into your machine in the morning for a delicious meal that evening! Here are a few ideas from Allrecipes, CountryLiving, and Delish to get you started.
- Try preparing all ingredients for a couple recipes in advance (or on a meal prep day!) and freeze them in a plastic bag until you’re ready to use them. This will save on prep time during busy weeks as you can dump the bag’s contents right into the slow-cooker and start!
- If you plan to cook something while at work, prepare the ingredients the night before and keep them in the refrigerator to save on prep time when you wake up.
- Making a heavy dish? Consider sauteing some vegetables alongside, to ensure a balanced meal.
- Practice with dishes that you cannot overcook. A pot of chili is a perfect starter dish.
While slow-cookers are very safe at this point, it never hurts to be too careful! Always (always) take 10 minutes to read the manual when your slow-cooker arrives so you understand the instructions and specifics of your model. In general:
- Slow-cookers are OK to leave unattended while you’re at school or work, but follow the recipe instructions for the allotted time. Don’t leave it for too much longer than indicated to avoid burning food!
- Position your slow-cooker in an open space while cooking, away from its cord, any dish or paper towels, and out from underneath cabinets.
- Keep the counter beneath your slow-cooker clean and clear of any papers, plastic, or food scraps. It can get hot!
- Try to plan your first use for a time you’ll be home to monitor the machine. This will give you some peace of mind and confidence in the machine while you learn how to use it!
There is also a new multi-cooker, called Instant Pot, on the market. It has many more functions, including a pressure cooker setting, but it is much pricier, in the $70-$100 range. However, it may be a good option for roommate houses where a lot of cooking is done together.