13 Thanksgiving sides you can make in a slow cooker

stuffing thanksgiving

  • Whether you're hosting a downsized Thanksgiving dinner or planning to drop off some food for a loved one, a slow cooker or Crock-Pot can be an essential tool this holiday season.
  • From stuffing to cranberry sauce and autumn-inspired soups, slow cookers can help you whip up a number of easy, crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving side dishes.
  • You might not know that you can also make dinner rolls, mashed potatoes, and various casseroles in a slow cooker.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Thanksgiving is likely going to look quite different this year.

Many families nationwide might be planning downsized Thanksgiving celebrations or choosing to drop off food at a loved one's home to minimize face-to-face contact amidst surging coronavirus cases.

One tool that can save a lot of time and energy when it comes to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, no matter what you're planning, is a slow cooker.

Insider spoke to Sarah Olson, who runs the blog "The Magical Slow Cooker," about her favorite slow-cooker Thanksgiving recipes, tips for newbies using their slow cookers for the first time this holiday season, and dishes you might not know can be made in a Crock-Pot.

"I fell in love with the slow cooker when I became a new mom and also had to work full time," Olson said. "I was always too tired to make anything after work and we often ate fast food instead of preparing a meal. When I discovered a few of my favorite childhood recipes that I could cook all day while I was at work, that is when I became hooked."

Here are 13 Thanksgiving sides you can make in a slow cooker.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows can easily be made in a slow cooker.

Sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows is a Thanksgiving favorite, and there are multiple recipes out there explaining how to make it in a slow cooker.

One recipe by Damn Delicious explains that the residual heat from the slow cooker is the perfect method for achieving gooey, melted marshmallows on top of your casserole — without taking up any oven space.

"Making a side dish in a slow cooker saves room in the oven (which usually has the turkey or ham in it). Also, if you are traveling to another house for the holidays, the slow cooker will keep your dish warm at the party," Sarah Olson, the blogger behind "The Magical Slow Cooker," told Insider.

Meatballs make a great appetizer for guests while you're busy cooking on the stove.

There's nothing worse than having hungry guests hanging around the kitchen waiting for dinner to be ready. Meatballs make the perfect appetizer for parties big and small, and are super easy to make in a slow cooker. 

Simply place your seasoned, raw meatballs into the slow cooker, top with sauce, and let the slow cooker finish them off, says one recipe by Spend With Pennies.

You might be surprised to learn you can make mashed potatoes in a slow cooker.

Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple — the meal simply wouldn't be complete without them. However, mashed potatoes can be a big hassle, from parboiling them to mashing and finding a space for them on the stove.

Don't fret — mashed potatoes can easily be made in a slow cooker. Just make sure to add water to your pot or you won't get the desired consistency for mashing.

"Mashed potatoes are great in the slow cooker, though it does take a bit of time for the potatoes to soften, so plan ahead," Olson said.

It can take about four hours for the potatoes to soften.

Try making your stuffing in a slow cooker, rather than in the oven or inside the turkey.

Everyone has their preferred method of making stuffing for Thanksgiving. While some might opt for oven-baked stuffing or stuffing cooked inside the turkey, it's also totally possible to make it in a slow cooker. 

Olson said you can use either prepare store-bought boxed stuffing in the slow cooker or homemade stuffing, depending on your preference.

Some people swear by mac and cheese on Thanksgiving.

While Olson's recipe for slow cooker macaroni and cheese can be made on the regular, it lends itself perfectly for Thanksgiving. Olson uses cream cheese, milk, sharp cheddar, and white sharp cheddar to make her noodles super creamy and flavorful.

Other unique Thanksgiving dishes that can be made in a slow cooker are ham and cheese corn, collard greens, and acorn squash, Olson said.

Turkey chili is a super easy slow cooker recipe to make on Thanksgiving, or the next day with leftovers.

If you're looking to utilize your turkey leftovers the day after or simply want a hearty appetizer for the Thanksgiving football game, look no further than a delicious turkey chili.

Turkey chili, like this chipotle turkey chili, is super easy to cook up in a slow cooker and leave simmering all day until you're ready to dig in.

Butternut squash soup is another festive soup you can make in a slow cooker.

This butternut squash soup recipe from Delish advises you to buy pre-cut butternut squash cubes, sautée your vegetables first, and use a low-sodium broth. The soup should take around four hours to cook, so make sure you start early in order to have it done by the first course.

Candied yams are one of Olson's favorite Thanksgiving recipes to make in a slow cooker.

"My husband adores southern style candied yams and I finally took the time to make them from fresh yams, from scratch," writes in the blog post detailing her recipe.

For Olson's Southern-inspired candied yams, you'll need peeled thick-sliced red garnet yams, cornstarch, melted butter, cinnamon, cloves, salt, brown sugar, and molasses, among other ingredients. 

Slow-cooked glazed carrots are delicious and unbelievably easy to make in a slow cooker.

One of the most popular Thanksgiving side dishes to make in a slow cooker is glazed carrots. The best part of this recipe is how easy they are to make — simply toss the carrots into the slow cooker with a little salt, brown sugar, and butter and let sit for four to five hours, until tender.

Green bean casserole is another Thanksgiving side dish that can be made in a slow cooker.

"My family can not go without the green bean casserole. It's pretty much the best side dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas," Olson said. 

This recipe for green bean casserole is perfect for a large group. Alternatively, with fewer guests this year, you'll have delicious leftovers for days. 

Buffalo chicken dip is a quick and easy crowd-pleaser you can make in a slow cooker.

One of the benefits of making a slow cooker Buffalo chicken dip — or any other side dish in a slow cooker — is that it can be prepared well ahead of time and reheated when you're ready to eat.

Dinner rolls can also be made in a slow cooker or Crock-Pot.

You might be shocked to discover you can actually make warm, fluffy dinner rolls in a slow cooker. One recipe from I Heart Eating teaches you how to make the perfect dinner roll dough, then bake them only using a slow cooker.

Another one of Olson's favorite slow-cooker dishes around the holidays is cranberry sauce.

Cranberry sauce in a can is undeniably nostalgic, but slow-cooked homemade cranberry sauce is just as easy to make. Olson's recipe for slow-cooked cranberry sauce requires only a few ingredients — fresh cranberries, marmalade, and brown sugar to taste.

For slow cooker beginners who might be using their pot for the first time this holiday season, Olson recommends being prepared.

"Plan ahead and stay on schedule. Slow cooker recipes need to be prepped and set to cook early in the day," she said. "Don't wake up late and forget to start the recipe or you'll have to cook said recipe on the stove or in the oven."

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