Classic lasagna flavor, with a rich grassfed meat sauce packed with veggies, layered with cream and noodles, all in the convenience of your slow cooker!
Michigan born and bred has made us quite used to months of piles of snow and cold, but right around the middle of February, we usually dip well below even our threshold for cold air! These kids are pretty used to playing outside everyday no matter the weather, though, and we embrace the cold with warm campfires, cozy blankets…and comforting lasagna!
Warm lasagna made in the slow cooker!
Not that popping a casserole dish in the oven is that hard, but there is just something about being able to get dinner done before noon that makes me smile. Checking dinner off the list early in the day always makes me feel 10 steps ahead of the game, and this slow cooker lasagna will warm up even the most chilled to the bone kids and adults alike in just a few easy steps.
Veggie packed but so kid friendly
I don’t mind a big salad to get our veggies in on lasagna night, but sometimes a cold salad just doesn’t work in February. And little kids eat cooked veggies easier than raw. This lasagna is super packed out with plenty of veggies, but chopped small, and sautéed until sweet, they are the perfect kid friendly way to get flavorful and nutrient loaded vegetables in on lasagna night. Just look at all that veg!
The Method :: The Veggie Meat Sauce
The veggie meat sauce can be made up to a day in advance. If you have a prep day, this is the perfect activity for that day. Or if you plan to make this for a school night, simply make the sauce the night before, so that you can just get everything into the slow cooker in the morning without any fuss. To make the veggie meat sauce, you’ll pull out all the sweetness and flavor from the veggies first by sautéing them in butter or olive oil. This time is precious, and will create so much flavor. Once the veggies are perfection, the beef will get browned, the sauce will be added, and a few minutes of simmering will pull all the flavor together.
The Method :: The Creamy Bechamel Sauce
If you are dairy free, you are in luck! You really can have a creamy element to your lasagna without dairy, and this creamy sauce is just the ticket to your creamy dreams! Make a quick rue with rice flour and butter (if you can have it) or olive oil, then whisk in some coconut milk. If you tolerate dairy, cream or milk work fine here. The creamy bechamel sauce comes together in mere minutes, and this too, can be made a day in advance so that you can build your lasagna easily.
The Method :: Building and Slow Cooking the Lasagna
Once you have the 2 sauces made, you are ready to go! Get a little of the meat sauce down on the bottom of the greased slow cooker, and then build 3 layers of lasagna noodles, bechamel sauce, and veggie meat sauce. If you tolerate a lot of dairy, you can add some cheese on top of each bechamel layer. This is totally optional. Two of my family members only tolerate sheep’s milk or goat’s milk cheese, which is pricy, so we just add some Manchego to the top of the lasagna and are happy! If you are completely dairy free, just leave the cheese off the top – it still tastes so good!
A note on the eggs
I know this is a weird ingredient, but in years of testing out slow cooker lasagnas, I have found a couple eggs whisked into my creamy sauce makes the lasagna set up better. I’ve even used up to 4 eggs! If you are egg free, I would suggest simmering the meat sauce down a bit more so there is less liquid. It does work without the eggs – you may not get perfect little square slices, but it works.
A note on prepping and timing
If you have a slow cooker that has a timer function, you are going to want to use that. I have a super old school slow cooker that does not have a timer, so I have to remember to turn my slow cooker off a the 4 hour mark. When the lasagna is done cooking on low for 4 hours, you want to let it rest with the heat off for at least 30 minutes, but I prefer more like 2 hours. It allows the juices to be soaked in by the noodles, and helps the lasagna to set. You really can make this an all day slow cooker meal while you are at work if you have a timer to shut off the slow cooker while you are gone. If you don’t, like me, you’ll want to save this meal for the weekend, or if you work from home like I do, just set a timer to remember to turn it off.
Lasagna Noodle Tips and GF Brands
So one of the things that my “type A” personality had to get over to make a slow cooker lasagna was that slow cookers are oval…and lasagna noodles are not. It about killed me the first time I broke some noodles up to cover the area needed in my slow cooker, and truth be told, it really doesn’t matter! It all comes out looking the same! By the way, if you are gluten free, you can use the Jovial GF Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles, or the Tinkyada Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles! Some regular grocery stores even carry these now!
Kid Friendly Veggie Packed Slow Cooker Lasagna
For the Veggie Meat Sauce:
- 3 tbsp olive oil or butter
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 bell pepper diced
- ½ head cauliflower chopped small
- 4 ounces of mushrooms sliced
- 4-5 cloves of garlic minced
- 2 handfuls baby spinach finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 lb grassfed ground beef
- 1 – 32 ounce jar marinara sauce
- Sea salt & pepper to taste
For the Creamy Bechamel Sauce
Make the Veggie Meat Sauce:
- Over medium high heat, warm the olive oil and then sauté the onion, bell pepper, cauliflower, and mushrooms for 5-7 minutes until fragrant and soft.
- Add the garlic, spinach, and tomato paste, and stir to combine.
- Add the ground beef with a big pinch of sea salt and pepper, and brown the beef, stirring it into the cooked veggies.
- Once the beef is fully cooked, add the marinara sauce, stir to combine, simmer for 5 minutes, and then set aside.
Make the Creamy Bechamel Sauce:
- Use a medium saucepan and melt the butter over medium high heat.
- Whisk in the white rice flour, making a paste, and then gradually stir in the coconut milk, whisking along the way. Add the sea salt and pepper.
- Keep the heat on high and whisk the mixture until creamy and smooth. This takes a minute or 2.
- Turn the heat off. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and gradually add little bits of the egg at a time to the bechamel sauce whisking along the way until full incorporated.
Assemble and Cook the Lasagna
- Spray the slow cooker with avocado oil spray before you assemble the lasagna.
- Scoop enough of the veggie meat sauce onto the bottom of the slow cooker to generously cover the bottom.
- Layer your uncooked lasagna noodles over the meat mixture. You’ll have to break up the noodles a bit to cover the area.
- Pour about 1/3 of the creamy bechamel sauce over the noodles, and then scoop some of the veggie meat mixture over the top of the bechamel sauce, spreading it out to cover all of the surface of the noodles.
- Add another layer of noodles, bechamel sauce, and veggie meat sauce.
- Add the last layer of noodles, the last of the bechamel sauce, and the last of the veggie meat sauce, and then sprinkle with shredded cheese of your choice.
- Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. Turn the slow cooker off and let the lasagna rest for at least 30 minutes to soak in the juices and set up before cutting and serving. Up to 2 hours is even better and will still be hot!