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My Emotional Journey with the Instant Pot #nonspon (+ A Round Up Of Pantry Friendly Recipes)

That shot is the the blogger version of a swimsuit model leaning on a sportscar. Oh, the Instant Pot. I succumbed to cultural peer pressure last year and bought one only to find out that they turn what should be a 45-minute delicious chicken soup into a 45-minute MUSHY chicken soup. Nobody really told me that the time it takes to warm up, pressure cook, and then steam release is THE SAME amount of time as cooking soups on the stove (but without the therapeutic romance of stirring and tending to your soup). I was enraged, and banished it to the back of the closet, by the juicer that has 17 parts. UNTIL NOW.

Last week I found a lot of recipes in books that only had a slow cooker or Instant Pot recipe and I felt left out, sad that I couldn’t participate in what was the domestic version of a PARTAY. So when Brian went to LA to grab supplies (our janky bikes and more underwear) he snagged the Instant Pot and now I, too, and donning my prom dress, ready to dance.

Like you, these days we’re all trying to rely more on pantry staples like dried beans, and frozen veggies or meat, which is what this slow cooker/Instant Pot is supposed to excel at. We remembered we’d actually written a post all about slow cooker meals, and decided it was time to give it a pantry friendly update (I’m still learning the benefits of the Instant Pot, but at least I can cook pulled pork in it).

So here you go – some pantry friendly, slow-cooker recipes that are family-friendly (we hear). And at the end there is a video from earlier this week that you guys MUST have missed of me acting like an idiot chef – not a character, just me playing myself. HERE. YOU. GO. (And take it away Sara.)

Easy Healthy Family Slowcooker Crockpot Meals Chicken Chili4

Sara here and I cook a lot. Now that my commute in the mornings and evenings has been greatly reduced (i.e. non-existent) I’m fully taking advantage of it. Maybe in two more weeks I’ll be tired of constantly washing dishes, but for now I’m psyched to replace my drive time with kitchen time. But I’m also trying to make my ingredients stretch in order to minimize shopping trips. So here’s what we were going for with these recipes:

1.) The ingredient list had to be small, and mostly things someone might already have sitting in their fridge and pantry.

2.) The instructions had to be simple. Otherwise, it just defeats the purpose.

3.) The meals needed to be decently healthy. Em can make her kids cheese quesadillas, but what she needs are more delicious recipes with vegetables.

4.) And finally, the recipes had to be meals that the whole family could eat—not kid-specific but not adults-only either.

Slow cookers/crockpots/Instant Pots are great for so many reasons, but the biggest one is the time they can save you. You can dump everything in that thing before walking out the door (or just, you know, walking to your couch “office”) and come home to a dinner that’s basically ready to serve. Slow cookers sound old fashioned, but they might just be heroes we need.

The real question is, do these recipes work (as in, are they yummy, easy, and kids will ACTUALLY want to eat them)? We knew before we published this post originally we had to try at least one of them out. So, I picked a recipe that sounded tasty and Em and I took it for a test drive in her kitchen. Friends, it was so easy and so delicious. (This was pre mushy chicken soup which I guess happened later).

Easy Healthy Family Slowcooker Crockpot Meals Chicken Chili1

We decided to try out a recipe for White Chicken Chili from food blog Gimme Some Oven. It only called for five essential ingredients—chicken breasts, chicken stock, canned great northern beans, store bought salsa verde, and ground cumin. We bought everything from the Trader Joe’s and spent about $30 getting enough for two batches. I also grabbed sour cream, shredded cheese, avocados, cilantro, tomatoes, lime and chopped onion as garnish options, but tweak this as you must to make what you’ve got work.

Chickin Chili

The method of attack was this: Pull out the slow cooker, place the raw chicken breasts at the bottom of the pot, pour over the salsa, chicken broth, and cumin, then cover and let cook for 3 1/2 hours on high OR 8 1/2 hours on low (check out the recipe for all the right amounts, etc.). When your timer goes off, add in your canned beans (drained), and let cook for another 30 minutes on low (the perfect amount of time to set the dinner table, pull out the garnishes, and wrangle toddlers). Did it work? Yes. Was it delicious? YES.

Any notes? We found the recipe called for a little more liquid in our chili than we would have liked, so we’d recommend omitting 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock for a thicker chili. And when we make this again, we’ll also be adding huge handfuls of spinach right before serving, to get in some iron and vitamins. There’s no dairy or sugar in this recipe, and you can top bowls with extra veg like diced onion or avocado, whatever you’ve got on hand.

Easy Healthy Family Slowcooker Crockpot Meals Chicken Chili9

Most importantly, it was approved by Birdie herself (who was 2 at the time). The recipe checked all our boxes. (Exceedingly cute side note from Emily: The first thing she said was “what are these?” to the cherry tomatoes and when I reminded her what they were, she said, “oh, I DO NOT LIKE TOMATOES.” We’ve had this conversation so many times, by the way. Cherry tomatoes are deceptive. I get it.)

Now, we haven’t tried the rest of the recipes in this post, but they all sound as simple and delicious as the chicken chili. And they’re all pantry friendly, meaning they rely mostly on ingredients that can be found and stored canned, boxed, frozen, or dried. Think canned beans, frozen veggies and meat, and boxed stock.

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals 3 Ingredient Mexican Shredded Chicken Recipe 5

Shredded Chicken (Via Gimmie Some Oven

What makes this recipe pantry friendly? The fact that it only calls for THREE ingredients – Uncooked chicken breasts, one can of salsa, and one packet of taco seasoning (Trader Joe’s has a great taco seasoning packet, FYI).

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals 5 Ingredient Crockpot Pork Roast And Potatoes 6

Pork Pot Roast (via SweetPhi

This dish is going to make you look so much fancier and put together than you actually are (this is a broad generalization—disregard if you are currently very fancy and put together). All you’re going to need is uncooked pork roast, potatoes (I always have a few leftover potatoes rolling around in my pantry), garlic salt, an Italian seasoning packet, and chicken broth. But imagine all the added veggie options you could sneak in here.

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals Slow Cooker Beef Broccoli 5

Beef & Broccoli (via Creme de la Crumb)

This recipe technically calls for nine ingredients, but we almost guarantee you that you probably have at least four of them sitting in your pantry and fridge. A bottle of soy sauce that’s rarely used? That box of cornstarch from a past science experiment that’s sat untouched in the back of your pantry? And what about a frozen bag of broccoli? I have one of those hanging out in my freezer. They’re about to become useful again.

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals Tortellini Spinach Soup 2 Final

Crock Pot Tortellini & Spinach Soup (via Lil’ Luna)

This is another recipe that leans on a pre-packaged item to round it out. Just seasonings, a bag of spinach (feel free to use frozen if needed), chicken broth, canned tomatoes, and a package of chef’s choice tortellini (the chef being you). The recipe calls for a block of cream cheese as well, and while that sounds SO GOOD, I’m sure it can be omitted in the name of “health.” Make it vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals Slow Cooker Whole Chicken 2

Slow Cooker Whole Chicken (via Oh Sweet Basil)

There’s nothing more versatile than a whole juicy chicken. Cooked up for dinner one night and the leftovers are easily used in wraps, sandwiches, salads, or soups for days to come.

Easy Kid Friendly Slow Cooker Meals Garlic Butter Chicken And Veggies 1

Garlic Butter Chicken and Veggies (via The Magical Slow Cooker)

You can’t really go wrong with chicken, carrots and potatoes covered in a herby butter. I would probably sneak some extra veg in the form of green beans.

Vegan White Bean Soup (via Just What We Eat)

This vegan and dairy-free soup relies mostly on dried herbs and dried navy beans to create a warm and filling dinner.

Hot Tip

I'll bulk chop onions, carrots, and celery and store in mixed baggies in my freezer, so I don't have as much chopping to do when I want to make soup. But Trader Joe's also has a great pre-packed mirepoix.

Taco Chicken Chili

Chicken Taco Chili (via Skinny Taste)

Between the canned veggies and dried beans, this recipe is truly a pantry’s best friend. Serve it over rice, in a burrito, or as fillings for tacos. Plus, there’s a lot of room for improvisation.

Instant Pot Dahl – aka Lentil Stew (via Bon Appetit)

Dahl (lentils) are one of the most versatile dried legumes. If you’ve got an Instant Pot (or equivalent), water, and dried lentils you’re in business. Then throw in whatever spices or veggies you have on hand to add flavor. Serve covered in yogurt, with naan, or over rice for a hearty vegetarian dinner. This post has a handy graphic that helps you understand exactly how different lentils can be cooked.

Back to me, Emily. Now I can see my problem, I clearly have no ingredients in my pot!!! In case you missed it from earlier this week, here’s my latest delicious chicken tomatillo soup. It’s not a slow cooker recipe, but it is wildly delicious and if I can prepare it, anyone can. But we were also thinking that it easily COULD be made in a slow cooker – once you get to the step about adding your chicken to poach, just throw a lid on your slow cooker and let it simmer away for a few hours. It’s only going to soften your veggies more (great for blending), and deepen the flavor of the tomatillos. And don’t miss my extremely professional, highly produced step-by-step video at the end of the post. Bon appetit!

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4 years ago

It’s so troubling to me how tone-deaf this is to current times. Really really tone deaf.

4 years ago
Reply to  KR

I’m confused as to why?
I was certainly interested in a few of those recipes, they will make my apartment smell delicious as I work from home. Just the encouragement I need.

4 years ago
Reply to  KR

Please explain to us how this is tone-deaf.

Cris S.
4 years ago
Reply to  KR

I’m confused as to how this could possibly be tone deaf. It’s a cooking post about using pantry ingredients so as not to go to the store during the pandemic. No, it isn’t a doom and gloom tone and it doesn’t get in depth as to what’s happening in the news, and frankly, I appreciate that. I’m avoiding the news as much as possible so as not to trigger more anxiety. It’s part of why I’m checking in on a design blog on a Saturday. Which begs the question, why were you here?

4 years ago
Reply to  KR

I feel like if you had bothered to actually read the article instead of just jumping from the title to the comments, you might have see that the entire reason for this post is to encourage using what you have and support everyone who are now cooking from home much more often.

4 years ago
Reply to  KR

Perhaps you don’t get the point. Here is not the place to get the latest covid stats. Here is the place to rest your mind and body from the ultra extreme super scary stuff in our suddenly upside down world. Even if you don’t do a single thing–recipe, craft, redeco, buy something cute for yourself online, etc., just reading about others doing it can help reduce your stress level and keep you healthier for when the bad stuff comes your way. For previous health reasons, I’m at a hugely high risk for the more serious side of covid; as is my husband. As our safe world came tumbling down around us, I found myself addicted to checking online at CNN, Washington Post, NY Post, BBC News, etc., etc., for the latest gruesome detail for far too many hours of the day. Weaned myself off, and now I just follow my local news so I’m aware if it has reached our area and any important, local facts I need to know. Now instead of filling myself with fear and dread, I sit down every morning to read a few cheerful but realistic blogs such as this one. If this site doesn’t… Read more »

4 years ago
Reply to  KR

I don’t agree. I have been avoiding news at all cost this week since it’s not good my mental health and well being. We can’t be stressed all the time. We need to escape and focus on our lives. Read something light. Cook and have fun. I am actually writing this while recovering from something that might be covid. This is my 2nd week stuck in my room. My daughter is in another. So I’m very well aware of the situation. And very happy to read this blog!

4 years ago

Girl, I have great recipes for chili and Mongolian beef that are awesome in the Instant Pot. There’s no way you could develop the same flavor with regular or slow cooking unless you spent a lot of time and used a lot of electricity. Don’t give up on it yet!

4 years ago

Thank you for the recipes. I love my instant pot!! It does take quite the learning curve to not turn things to mush! One of my favorite things to make:
Garlicky greens- big giant bag of organic cut kale (TJ’s has a great one), 8 cloves of garlic chopped, salt, and 1/2 cup of water (water goes in first). Pressure cook on high for 1 minute, quick release. So yummy and great easy side dish for that chicken you always roast! Also great for beans.
I love making chicken thighs in it for various dishes that I will make that week. Very convenient once you get into it!
BBQ chicken wings that start in the pot and end on the bbq! Put the wings on a rack with a cup of water on the bottom, pressure cook on high 12 minutes, quick release, finish up on the bbq (5 minutes or so) with whatever sauce you use. I also keep the broth that it made and use it to make a quick egg drop soup or to saute bok choy.

4 years ago
Reply to  Dena

Garlicky greens sound SO good

Fiona jk
4 years ago

I have an old-fashioned pressure cooker, the kind you use on the stove top. I use it all the time for cooking dried beans and pulses. I’ve never had to pressure cook anything for longer than half an hour. Chick peas take 15 minutes, kidney beans 20 minutes, no pre-soaking required. Pressure release takes a few seconds as you just run a cold tap over the pressure cooker until the pressure valve goes back to zero. To my mind the InstaPot is not an improvement on a stove-top pressure cooker. The extra heating-up time plus the extra depressurisation time of the InstaPot are a real downside as you have found out.

4 years ago

Thanks so much for the recipes! Much appreciated. The conversation started with the instapot and then all the recipes are slow cooker? I LOVE my slow cooker and really hate the instaPot. I guess I am just not comfortable with it, the few recipes I tried were not good. Kind of mushy and dry at the same time. I do love the slow cooker and use it often.

4 years ago

Great ideas! By the way, you can turn whole cumin seeds into ground cumin in a mortar and pestle (I bet you have one from styling) or a spice grinder. You can also use a coffee grinder, but you won’t want to use it for coffee afterwards. This will be MUCH more flavorful than pre-ground cumin, especially if you toast it in a dry skillet first.

4 years ago

Instant Pot. Not Instapot. 🙂

4 years ago
Reply to  Kelsey

Yes, this;)

Also, hint to all, boneless skinless chicken breasts take no more than 7 minutes cooking time.

4 years ago

The appliance you have is called an “Instant Pot.” It’s popular enough now that people might find the right thing googling “Instapot” but Instant Pot is the brand name.

4 years ago

But, dear one, it’s an Instant Pot. Not Instapot, although that’s what they should have named it.

Just want to make sure people find you!

4 years ago

The chicken tomatillo soup is amazing!!!! Even my picky son loved it. I left out the chicken and added Mexican squash and corn, since my husband is vegetarian.

I poached eggs in the leftover soup for breakfast the next day and it was even better than the night before. Thank you so much for this and all the recipes above. I was getting sick of cooking the same things, but hadn’t taken the time to research new recipes.

Happy cooking y’all.

4 years ago

I also recently discovered the joys of a slow cooker (this carnitas recipe is AHmazing and now part of weekly taco nights - Loved your video ? & thanks for an enjoyable break from the news! Now I just need to figure out how to actually use my pressure cooker…

4 years ago

There are a lot of great Instant Pot recipes on the site dadcooksdinner. His pasta fagioli (white beans and pasta) recipe was so good that even my husband, whose pinnacle of cooking is his Italian grandma, approved of it!

That site also made a good point which was that I’ve always found the instant pot to perform poorly as a slow cooker. It’s partly because the IP slow cooker temperature settings don’t match up that well to regular slow cookers’, but I’m persuaded that it’s also because the IP liners don’t conduct heat as evenly as the ceramic crocks of a slow cooker.

Instant Pot soup success I’ve found is basically 1. Brown meat only in very small batches in it (to prevent steaming) or brown in a different pan, 2. Do your mirepoix, 3. Put in the longer cooking things like chicken thighs or tough stew meat or beans, 4. Simmer after pressure cooking is done to cook any remaining additional vegetables, even kale.

4 years ago

No instant pot anything here. We have a small, old (remodelling cononahold) with little counter space or storage.
We had to radically reorganize our shelves and cupboards to house our virus stocks.

Anyhoo, THIS one pot (normal pot – I use my Ikea pasta pot with lid) recipe is made once a week and it’s so, so good, friends and family frequently make it too!

I followed the basics from the recipe and … happy accident … was midway, having just brought it to the boil and there was an emergency that required me to go outside. I turned it off with the lid on.

20 minutes later, when I returned, it was perfectly cooked. No simmering required!

Now I make it this way all the time. You can use any veggies as l9ng as you chop them to relative sizes depending on hardness – i.e. carrots smaller than squash.

It. Is. So. Yum! ?

4 years ago
Reply to  Rusty
4 years ago

I thought I’d never use my Instant Pot but I use it several times a week for stuff like rice, steel cut oats, Starbucks style egg bites, dried beans and chicken dishes. There was definitely a learning curve. A few things that helped me: order additional (ideally different colored) seal rings so your oatmeal doesn’t smell like salsa chicken. For meats like shredded beef, chicken or pork, spread out on a foil lined sheet pan and pop under the broiler.

Rachel S
4 years ago

I don’t own an Instant Pot or a Slow Cooker, but enjoyed this article all the same. One thing caught my eye though is the reference to adding spinach for iron. Fun Fact about spinach is that while it technically does contain some iron, plant-based iron is poorly absorbed and that is even more true for spinach in particular because of its oxalic acid content. Cooking it helps, but if you’re eating a dish with meat, that’ll sort you, iron-wise. I’m a huge fan of throwing spinach into pretty much everything though, since it makes me feel better to have something green and cooked spinach has a neutral flavor so it skates by unnoticed! Just wanted to point out the iron thing… I find it interesting!

4 years ago

Sorry, I love the blog and have been reading for years, and I hope this message doesn’t read like an attack but like constructive feedback! I was disappointed reading this post: from the title I thought I would get some tips about how to use my IPot better (I’m still at the mushy soup stage with mine), and I wish you were sharing recipes that you have tested and loved. Every blog right now is sharing pantry staples meals, rounding up new recipes isn’t difficult, but I’d love to know what’s been approved in your homes…

4 years ago
Reply to  L

Hi! No, this is absolutely great feedback. We’re a little new to the recipe game and still figuring out exactly what we should share, so comments like this definitely help 🙂 will bring it up in our editorial meeting later!

4 years ago

Thank you Caitlin 🙂