Free Yourself from the Crockpot Rut

For a busy mom, a crockpot is a kitchen lifesaver. It keeps your family full of chili, pot roast, and well, chili again.

Ok, so lifesaving can get a little monotonous at times.

It’s time to spice up your relationship with your slow cooker and introduce it and your kids to fresh, healthy recipes inspired by cuisine from every corner of the globe. Recipes made from real ingredients and a variety of spices that will prevent the dreaded, “Chili, again?” whine from your hungry spawn.

Samantha Skaggs, mom to three, blogger at, and author of “Real Food Slow Cooker Suppers,” spent her pre-kid days planning dinner parties and whipping up Pinterest-worthy appetizers. Once her little ones arrived, getting dinner to the table fast was priority number one—but she didn’t want to compromise the quality of her recipes or ingredients.

With a lot of creativity and some trial and error, she’s reworked family favorites and restaurant-worthy cravings into slow cooker feasts. Her cookbook, released last fall, features 80 crockpot recipes using real ingredients (many straight from her in-laws’ garden) without a packet of gravy mix or can of condensed soup in sight.

With her unique recipes and handy cooking tips, Samantha can help you get the most from your crockpot.


Photo courtesy of Samantha Skaggs

“I love the flexibility of the crockpot. You don’t have to cook dinner right at 5pm. You can fit cooking around your schedule, whether that’s in the morning or at lunchtime. There’s nothing like smelling dinner when you walk in the door and knowing dinner is ready to enjoy.”


“Most people think crockpots can only be used for things like soups, stews, and sandwich fillings, or fatty cuts of meat. But you can really make anything in them. I’ve made shrimp, poached fish, cooked really lean protein, like pork loin and turkey. The trick is to match the cooking time with the cut of meat. I also love using my crockpot for breakfast dishes, like oatmeals and baked French toast.”


“There’s a big misconception about slow cookers. In the old days, you could throw in some meat in the morning and let it cook for eight to 10 hours. But for food safety reasons, crockpots run a lot hotter than they used to. You have to know your crockpot—do your research and read reviews before you jump into cooking or you’re going to have a burnt mess on your hands. Some slow cooker recipes can cook all day; others should be saved for midday or on a weekend.”


“Red kidney beans are a staple of crockpot recipes like chili and red beans and rice, but I’ve learned they have to be cooked at a certain temperature to be safe to eat. Undercooked kidney beans contain a high concentration of a compound that can make you really sick. For food safety reasons, you need to boil them first and then transfer everything to the crockpot.”


“When I had my first child, I was paranoid that everything had to be organic and pristine to enter his body. Since having three, I’ve totally relaxed. Real ingredients don’t have to be organic. Instead, just avoid processed foods and focus on what’s in season. I may occasionally use Oreos in a holiday dessert, but most of what I cook with is quality meats and produce. I make sure my recipes are simple and don’t require a lot of time for busy parents.”

Slow Cooker Chicken with Peanut Thai Sauce


1 1/2 lb chicken breasts

1 cup canned coconut milk

3/4 cup chunky natural peanut butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp honey

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp lime juice

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

Optional for garnish or serving:

1/3 cup chopped peanuts, for garnish

Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Rice, rice noodles, or lettuce leaves, for serving


Arrange chicken breasts in the bottom of a large slow cooker. In a medium bowl, stir together the rest of the ingredients until (mostly) smooth. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours, or HIGH for 3 to 4 hours (or until chicken is tender and cooked through, but not overcooked, depending on the strength of your slow cooker). Reduce slow cooker temperature to WARM. Remove chicken from slow cooker, cut into chunks, and shred. Return shredded chicken to slow cooker to allow it to absorb sauce and heat through.

Serve chicken and sauce over cooked white or brown rice, cooked rice noodles, or stuffed inside large lettuce leaves, as wraps. Garnish with chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro, and additional red pepper flakes, if desired.


Slow Cooker Pineapple Pulled Pork with Pineapple BBQ Sauce


For the pork:

3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast (AKA, pork butt)

Garlic salt

Freshly ground black pepper

15-ounce can pineapple tidbits, undrained

For the Pineapple Barbecue Sauce:

2 cups pineapple juice

2 Tbsp minced garlic

2 Tbsp grated or minced fresh ginger

1 jalapeño, seeds & membranes removed, finely diced

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 cup ketchup

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

3 Tbsp honey

1 Tbsp molasses

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

Optional garnishes:                 

Fresh pineapple chunks

Fresh chopped cilantro


Trim fat from pork and pierce all over surface with a knife. Liberally season all sides with garlic salt and pepper and place in slow cooker. Pour can of pineapple tidbits and juice on top. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

An hour or so before pork is done, prepare Pineapple Barbecue Sauce. Combine pineapple juice, garlic, ginger, jalapeño, and cilantro in a medium pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Stir in ketchup, vinegar, honey, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and pepper. Cook on low for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove pork from slow cooker and place on cutting board. Discard fat, cut meat into chunks with a knife, and then shred chunks with two forks. Drain liquid from slow cooker (reserving about a cup) and add shredded meat back to crock pot. Stir in Pineapple Barbecue Sauce. You may add a splash of reserved cooking liquid if sauce seems too thick. Heat on low for 30 minutes to 1 hour or until warm.

Recipes courtesy of Samantha Skaggs and available at

Nicole Plegge

St. Louis mom Nicole Plegge is a lifestyle and pop culture blogger for a number of online publications. Besides working as a freelance writer and public relations specialist (in addition to raising two daughters and a husband), Nicole spends her days searching for her misplaced car keys and hunting for her other shoe. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL.