Slow cooker sides dishes to make potlucks easy

Maybe you're a potluck regular, looking to get out of your boring rut of bringing the same old side dish to every get together. Maybe you're just hungry for an idea that will wow them at the next block party. I've rounded up some of the best ideas for potluck side dishes the internet has to offer, and the great part is, they can all be made in your slow cooker.

Beans

Beans, beans the magical fruit… what's not to love? Economical, versatile, nutritious, and the perfect protein-punch for any vegetarians you may have in your mist. If cooking dried beans in the slow cooker for the first time, be sure to follow a good recipe, as timing can vary to bring your beans to the proper tenderness before they go all mushy on you. The Kitchn has a great primer on cooking beans in the slow cooker.

 Over at The Spruce, you'll find recipes for literally dozens of slow cooker bean recipes, like white chili, spicy black-eyed peas, Mexican-style pinto beans, honey-baked beans with ground beef, and a classic red beans with rice.

Potatoes

Good old spuds are great for stretching your budget, and filling up the bellies of a hungry crowd. There are a ton of potato side dishes you may be surprised to learn actually cook up beautifully in a slow cooker.

Did you know you could make baked potatoes in a slow cooker? It really couldn't be easier. Simply prick the potatoes with a fork, and wrap them in foil. Add them to your slow cooker (you don't even need any liquid!) and cook them at the low setting for at least two to four hours, depending how large they are. How cool would it be to have a baked potato bar at your next potluck?

If you're looking for potatoes guests can enjoy by the spoonful, check out the slow cooker cheesy scalloped potatoes at Damn Delicious, the garlic ranch slow cooker potatoes at The Cookie Rookie, and the slow cooker spiced sweet potatoes with pecans at Food Network.

Veggies

Someone has to be the one who brings something a little bit healthy to this party! How healthy you want to go depends on what you want to add to your slow cooker veggies, of course.

Let's start with the light and healthy slow cooker vegetable choices. At The Lemon Bowl, we find a hearty and nutritious recipe for a slow cooker vegetable and chickpea curry that will likely not be duplicated at your potluck. At Chowhound it's a super simple slow cooker summer squash recipe with onions and zucchini. The Spruce offers us some slow cooker stewed tomatoes flavored with green pepper, celery, and onion.

If you prefer a few more calories mixed in with your vegetables, how about a slow cooker cheesy cauliflower and broccoli casserole from the Lady Behind the Curtain, with a rich and luscious sauce of fontina and cheddar cheeses, topped with ranch flavored slivered almonds. At Recipes that Crock, we find a slow cooker creamed spinach recipe that's made easily with frozen chopped spinach, cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese, and a packet of Italian dressing mix.

Rice

Yet another way to economize when feeding a ravenous crowd, rice can be the super-affordable base for a big slow cooker full of as much or as little as you want to add to it.

Gal on a Mission has her version of a slow cooker Spanish rice, made with white rice, spices, canned tomato sauce, green chiles, and fresh jalapenos. At Family Fresh Meals, we discover a stick-to-your-ribs slow cooker cheesy chicken and rice, made with boxed yellow rice, sweet corn, cheddar cheese, and chicken breasts.

Would you believe that even risotto can be made in a slow cooker? While it may not be a traditional risotto like you would make on your stove top, some of these creations are too good to pass up. Moms with Crockpots has a slow cooker mushroom risotto made with the classic addition of white wine and chicken broth. Food and Wine features their slow cooker sausage and vegetable risotto, with sweet Italian sausage, baby spinach, and zucchini.

Pasta

Pasta — another easy and cost-conscious way to feed a hungry crowd. And the good news is that the possibilities are practically endless when preparing pasta dishes in your crockpot.

Let's jump right to the head of the line with the pasta dish that everyone will be clamoring for, macaroni and cheese. Food Network has Trisha Yearwood's slow cooker mac and cheese using evaporated milk and sharp cheddar. Julia at Julia's Eats and Treats makes her slow cooker mac and cheese with canned cheddar cheese soup and sour cream.

If you want to go more Italiano, try the slow cooker lasagna from Tastes Better Than Scratch, with beef, sausage, and three cheeses. Be Your Best Mom makes some dynamite spinach and cheese stuffed shells in the slow cooker. Well Plated has a slow cooker pasta chock full of veggies like mushrooms, bell peppers, and spinach, along with red sauce, ricotta cheese, and whole wheat noodles.

Whole grains

If you want to get creative with whole grains, there's no better place to do it than in your slow cooker. Besides, people will likely appreciate a more healthful and unexpected choice at their potluck meal.

Chelsea at Chelsea's Messy Apron whipped up a mouth-watering cheesy quinoa enchilada "bake" complete with veggies, lots of cheese, ground turkey, and canned enchilada sauce. The folks at Real Simple show us how very simple it is to make a slow cooker chicken with mushroom and farro risotto, made with chicken thighs, cremini mushrooms, and leeks. Over at Ellen's Kitchen, they are serving up a whole host of slow cooker whole grain recipes, including millet stew, green chile grits, bulgar wheat pilaf, and a barley and mushroom pilaf.

Soups and stews

Delicious whatever time of year, soups and stews are at home in a slow cooker, where their flavors can marry and improve over the lingering cooking time you give them.

At Goop, they make a hearty vegetarian stew of cannellini beans, farro, and spinach with diced tomatoes and veggie stock. Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman, makes a chicken tortilla soup in her slow cooker that's loaded with veggies and heart warming spices. Country Living offers us 16 of their very best slow cooker soup recipes, like butternut squash soup, broccoli cheese soup, loaded potato soup, and a red-eye brisket stew.

Meatballs

Meatballs as a side dish? Sure! Why not? Call them a side dish, an appetizer, or main dish, but whatever you call them, there is sure to be a slow cooker meatball for every palate.

Katya from Little Broken makes some sensational Asian slow cooker sesame meatballs using pork and beef, which she combines with panko breadcrumbs and fresh cilantro. The meatballs are in a zesty sauce of soy sauce, honey, and ketchup, and sprinkled with sesame seeds and scallions. Michele, the Paleo Running Mama, makes some paleo-friendly slow cooker meatballs in marinara using grass-fed beef and blanched almond flour. At Chef Savvy we are served spicy and sweet slow cooker firecracker chicken meatballs, made with ground chicken and buffalo wing sauce.

Of course there's no shame in just dumping a bag of frozen meatballs in the slow cooker and topping with a jar of pasta sauce. Or maybe you should try one of my party go-tos that are so embarassingly easy, they only require three ingredients. Toss a bag of frozen meatballs in the slow cooker, along with a jar of grape jelly, and a bottle of chili sauce. Bam. Sweet and sour meatballs. You're welcome.

Bread

Here's a side dish that you can make at home in your slow cooker, but don't even really need to bring the slow cooker along to serve at your potluck.

If you've never heard of cooking fresh bread in the slow cooker, you're in for a real treat. The Huffington Post has definitely caught on to the idea, and offer us nine different slow cooker bread ideas that start with breakfast and end with dessert. Some of my favorites include cinnamon rolls, rosemary olive bread, cheesy cauliflower garlic bread, and a good old fashioned corn bread. As some of these recipes do require the kneading and resting of dough, it's best to follow the recipes to the tee until you become a slow cooker bread making master.