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Warm up this winter with these easy slow-cooker dinners

With a slow cooker on hand, hot and delicious dinners are a cinch.
/ Source: TODAY

Planning comforting, nourishing dinners for the week can feel like a feat, especially in the winter months. When thinking about the best meals that warm the bones from the inside-out, what comes to mind are often stews, hearty braised meat dishes and rich sauces. But those are far too time consuming after a long day at work, running errands or taking care of kids, right?

Wrong! When the craving strikes for something soothing, creamy and bubbling hot, turn to the slow cooker. The beauty about one of the modern kitchen's greatest devices is that it turns just a few minutes of chopping and mixing into a melt-in-your-mouth dish that has all the flavor and texture of a dinner that took hours of hands-on cooking.

5 slow-cooker dinners for easy winter weeknights

To transform those winter blues into joyous, cozy feelings with these family-friendly, easy-peasy slow-cooker recipes. Trust us, it'll be like the restaurant came to you.

It can't get any easier than a recipe that requires tossing everything into a slow-cooker and letting the wondrous device do its job. This satisfying chicken chili made with broth and white beans instead of a tomato-base is no exception.

Unlike many chili recipes, this one doesn't even ask home cooks to sauté or brown the chicken in advance. By setting the cooker to low, it slowly cooks the meat, broth and veggies to perfection until, after eight hours of you living your life to the fullest, it's ready to be gently shredded with a simple stir. The result? A tender, fragrant, spicy yet delicately sweet and comforting chili.

How many ways do you love your slow cooker? While you're still counting, here are three more one-pot pasta recipes you can make in it. Yes! Pasta cooked al dente in a creamy, dreamy sauce comes out perfectly in the slow-cooker. In this recipe, we share the basics of how to cook a simple, ever-so-slightly sinful Alfredo sauce with the pasta shape of choice: from penne to ziti to large shells or rigatoni. Then it's home cook's choice with a variety of add ins. Whether you go with vegetarian spinach and broccoli, shrimp Alfredo or tender chicken, you'll be set with several wintry winners.

Many overlook a making beef stroganoff no matter how deep a craving because it feels too laborious for a weeknight. Not this recipe! Enter this heavenly comfort dish with Russian roots. It's one of the most ideal dishes for a winter evening: rich broth filled with sweet onion, earthy mushrooms and succulent bites of beef. Use budget-friendly boneless short ribs instead of pricey beef tenderloin when making this slow-cooker version of the dish. The low, slow braising time melts tougher cuts of marbled meat into tender bites. Served over wide noodles such as pappardelle.

This casserole boasts the same comfort of one of grandma's comfort dishes but is a healthier homemade version devoid of any canned soup or boxed mixes. Even without those timesavers of decades past, it still comes together in a snap! All you need is 15 minutes to chop and combine the ingredients in the slow cooker.

Wild rice adds fiber and enhances the earthy flavors of the mushrooms while the protein-packed chicken cooks to perfection in a creamy sauce. Once everything's added into this one-pot wonder comforting recipe, just turn the slow cooker to low for seven hours or high for four hours. And just like that, you've got yourself a delicious, fuss-free chicken dinner fit for any weeknight.

Easy Slow-Cooker Carnitas

Make a beautiful taco spread any night of the week with this incredibly easy, moist carnitas recipe. Cooking the pork in the slow-cooker with warm spices like cumin, chili and garlic infuses the meat with vibrant flavors. A cup of orange juice adds just the right amount of acidity to help break down the meat until its melty and shreds to perfection.

While this simple Mexican-inspired slow-cooker recipe is perfect for tacos, it shines beautifully in burritos, lettuce wraps, as a topping for nachos or as the main protein in a grain bowl. Whatever speaks to you, make sure to use one of the kitchen's best timesavers for crispy-edged yet tender carnitas.

Need more one-pot or one-pan meal ideas? Try these:

Slow-Cooker Minestrone Soup
One-Pot Beef Stew
Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Want more family-friendly recipes? Get more recipe inspiration here.