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Tips for creating perfect slow cooker meals

Lori is a SheKnows parenting expert. She's a single mother of three young girls and proud author of A Day in Motherhood. She blogs about motherhood, reviews products and travels. "My passion is writing and being able to share my thoughts...

Getting dinner on the table fast — that's my goal every night when I sit down for dinner with my kids. One meal, three happy kids and the knowledge that I did not slave over a hot stove for an hour before hand.

One of my favorite go-to appliances to help me get tasty meals out fast is my slow cooker. The slow cooker is so versatile and, with a few great recipes and great ingredients, I can get more positive reviews with a lot less effort.

I have a full schedule, as most moms do. Work, home life and kids' activities take every ounce of awake time I have. So being able to put dinner in the cooker in the morning and serve it up eight hours later is a wonderful thing. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your slow-cooker meals:

Always use the highest quality ingredients you can find. No slow cooker is a miracle worker but if you use good quality you can count on the real flavors of the food to come through.

Pack in the flavor

Hidden Valley Original Ranch is a staple in our house. I often use the dip packets to flavor chicken and pork and recently discovered a new recipe that uses the Hidden Valley Original Ranch dressing. The chicken and stuffing slow cooker casserole has things we all love: chicken, mixed vegetables, stuffing and ranch dressing.

Prep and plan ahead

If you do all your chopping, measuring and mixing the night before you can save yourself a ton of time in the morning, All you have to do is pop everything in the slow cooker, secure the lid, set and you're done.

Don't peek!

Resist the urge to open the lid or stir the meal. Each time you open the lid you're releasing all that built up heat and adding 15 minutes or more to your cooking time.

Safety first

It happens. In the morning rush you load in all the ingredients but forget to actually turn the slow cooker on. If you find this happened, don't try and cook the meal that's been sitting in there all day. Toss it! Dangerous bacteria can build up and no one wants a sick family.

Slow cookers can be a great way to save time and still be able to sit down and enjoy a hearty family meal.

What are some of your favorite ways to use your slow cooker to feed your hungry brood?

Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration with Hidden Valley and SheKnows.

Photo credit: Barry Murphy/Vetta/ Gettyimages
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