With back-to-school often meaning back-to-back activities, this time of year can be hectic and challenging—especially when it comes to mealtime. After a grueling day at work, the kids’ homework and extracurriculars, the last thing you want to do is hover over a hot stove.

That’s why slow cookers set the perfect pace for fast times. A few minutes in the morning (or even the night before) free you up for the rest of the day, and dinner will be ready when you are.

The go-to gadget

Old or new, there’s a reason the slow cooker remains a gadget go-to for busy families. Offering maximum taste for minimal effort, simply drop the ingredients into the pot, turn it on and walk away. Allowing foods to braise the day away means broths and sauces are richer, meaty morsels more tender, and flavors fully permeate every piece.

While there are whole cookbooks dedicated to slow cooking, as well as endless recipes online, slow cookers are almost so foolproof you can create meals without any instructions at all. Many delicious dinners have come from combining a little of this, a little of that and in an instant, you’ve got a hearty and healthy meal just waiting to be devoured.

Something for everyone

While the idea of slow cooking conjures up images of hearty stews, heavy roasts and cream-based meals, slow cooking can actually help keep your meals healthier. For instance, you typically don’t need to add extra fats when cooking meals in a slow cooker. You can also use lean cuts of meat that could otherwise be tough if cooked over a stove.

In addition, people with dietary restrictions need not fear since this handy appliance can adapt to recipes of all kinds in fix-it-and-forget-it fashion. Soups, stews, casseroles, pastas and even meatloaf come out flavorful and moist, without drying out like they can in the oven. In fact, the sealed-in moisture ensures even tougher cuts of meat and the densest root veggies come out perfectly cooked.

Be a meal prep master

To further help make mealtime simpler during an over-scheduled week, consider meal prepping. Practiced “preppers” know it’s a proven way to help busy, health conscious people and their families stay on track with their eating plans by keeping nutritious meals and snacks at the ready.

But for many, the thought of spending hours in the kitchen on Sunday just to save a few minutes during the week—or eating the same thing for days in a row—seems overly complicated, a tad monotonous and frankly, not worth the effort.

According to registered dietitian and nutritionist Kristina Hallberg, meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated or boring, and it really can help you eat better while spending less time and money on food.

“We all know we’re going to get hungry and need to eat, and most of us know what we should be eating to manage our weight and health,” she says. “It’s lack of planning that causes us to make poor choices.”