The season is changing in more ways than one. Summer is beginning to show signs of turning to fall, of course. But the change of seasons also means a change in schedule. With school starting for kids and fall sports practices often falling during the regular dinner hour, seasonal recipes are changing, too.

At this time of year, the usual dinner in my house goes from meats and veggies cooked on the grill to whatever can be on the table quick when my ravenous boys get home from practice. One of the ways I make sure that I can avoid the fast food drive-thru and have good food on the table on nights like that is to rely on my slow cooker.

Here are five slow cooker recipes that will allow you to have dinner on the table minutes after you step in the door from soccer, baseball, football, cheerleading or field hockey practice.

Tortellini Tuscan Stew – This vegetarian stew recipe uses lots of the vegetables found in late summer/early fall. Butternut squash, zucchini, bell peppers and more combine with cheese tortellini to make a hearty stew. It takes an extra 20 minutes of prep right before you serve it, but that will give your kids enough time to get out of their sports gear and wash up.

Meatballs – Use this meatball recipe (or your favorite meatball and sauce recipe) and cook them all day in the slow cooker. When you get home, slice open a few long rolls, add a little provolone cheese and you have quick meatball sandwiches. Add some raw sliced veggies on the side to munch on instead of the usual French fries or chips.

Beef and Barley Stew – Whole grains, lean beef, and vegetables all in one dish that’s ready to be ladled out quickly and gobbled up.

Slow Cooker Roasted Vegetable Soup – This vegetarian vegetable soup takes a little work before throwing everything in the slow cooker, but it’s done in the oven. Roasting the vegetables will bring out even more flavor in them. Serve this with crusty bread on a chilly night and everyone will be happy.

Vegan Sweet Potato Chili – With the popularity of sweet potato fries, kids have become open to sweet potatoes in other forms, too. Try this inexpensive vegan chili that you can adjust the spices in depending on how spicy your kids like their food.

When you’re choosing slow cooker recipes, try to stay away from recipes that contain canned soups (except for broths). Lots of recipes call for you to just throw in a piece of meat and a couple of cans of creamed soups. While that may be quick, it’s not particularly healthy.

If you don’t own a slow cooker, Real Simple magazine tested slow cookers and gave their advice on the ones they thought were best. However, you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot for a slow cooker. I see them all the time at thrift stores. If you’re going to check out the thrift stores for a slow cooker, ask an employee if you can plug it in to make sure it heats up before you purchase it. 

Photo: e.t.

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