So I just finished a batch of 22 crock-pot (slow-cooker) freezer meals. Woohoo! Have you done this? Let me tell you, this is something I started doing right around a year ago and it is such a time saver. It’s taken some time to go through and find recipes that we actually like, but it can also be fun to try new recipes!
When I posted on my personal Facebook account about the freezer meals, I had a friend ask what my process is, so I thought I would share.
- Collect Recipes. I know this is a no-brainer but first you have to collect recipes. Not all crock pot meals make good freezer meals, so I collected a TON from the internet. The first time I did this I made 40 freezer meals…2 x 20 recipes. I probably collected about 50 recipes and picked the 20 I thought would be possible winners for my family based on our tastes.
- Collate Your Grocery List. So after choosing your recipes, you need to make a massive grocery list. For me that means getting out some list paper (my printer has this paper as a type you can print) and making categories (Meat, Dry, Canned, Fresh, Frozen, etc). I go through each recipe and write down what I need for each (times 2 of course) and use hash marks to list what I need of each. This makes it easy to tally how many lbs of chicken breast I need for instance if it’s only one line on my list but with 10 hash marks for instance.
- Split Your List! If you want to get the best prices on items I then split my list. For me that’s between things I can get at Costco and things I need to get at a regular grocery store. I always get my meat at Costco and many times some of my canned goods or frozen. If I don’t need a lot of something, that goes on a regular grocery list.
- Find Coupons. I then take my regular grocery list and look up and clip or print any coupons I can use (warehouse stores such as Costco normally do not allow coupons). You can use coupon databases that are freely available on the internet (I use one at KrogerKrazy) to try to match your items to available coupons.
- Go Shopping! This one speaks for itself, but one tip I will say is that when shopping for my meat at a warehouse store like Costco, you are going to have trouble sometimes finding packages for the exact pounds needed. I just go ahead and buy a little more than I have to and freeze the extra meat or make extra meals because it will still be cheaper to buy a bit more at Costco than to buy my meat at a local grocery.
- Freezer Bags. The next step I take is to get out my freezer bags and prep them for all the meals. I put the name of the meal at the top as well as the cooking directions (i.e. cook low 5-6 hours) and any additional ingredients that need to be added to the bag. Certain items don’t freeze well, such as potatoes, so I just make sure to make the notation on the bag. Other items might be served over rice, or need tortillas, etc. and I write that on the bag as well.
- Assembly Day! If you have kids, I would say try to find someone to take them off your hands while you assemble. Less distractions will mean you get through the assembly process quicker, so I often have my husband take Creative Kid out of the house for an outing on the day I assemble the meals.
- If you have enough room in your kitchen, I would start by chopping all the vegetables. My kitchen in small, so I tend to chop everything that is used in my first couple recipes even if the ingredients are used in other recipes (i.e. if I need chopped onions in my first recipe, I chop all the onions for all the recipes at the same time). I do it this way just because my counter space is at a premium and I don’t really have room to have everything chopped from the beginning. BUT, if space is not an issue for you, I highly suggest you just chop everything first.
- Next I would sort my recipes by type of meat (pork, chicken, beef) so that you have less chances of cross contamination. I know these are being frozen and then cooked for a very long time in a slow cooker, but it’s still best practice to make sure you are cutting down the risk of cross contamination by preparing all of one type of meat before cleaning up the area and moving on to the next type.
- Choose a protein and prepare it. For my family, my beef may look like this: I may buy steaks for fajitas that need to be sliced, ground beef I need to brown for sloppy joe, and beef tips I need to split out and weigh via my kitchen scales for things like beef stroganoff.
- Now comes the actual assembly. I have found these bags holders are practically a necessity to my freezer meals. They are a little bit of a cost at first (depending on how many you buy), but they hold the bags open and fairly securely while you dump ingredients into the bags, including sometimes multiple cups of broth or pasta sauce, cans and cans of beans and pounds of meat. I go through and set up 4 to 6 bags (2 or 3 recipes) and fill the bags with the ingredients. If I had a bigger kitchen I am sure I could have more meals going at once, but that’s what I can handle.
- Seal the bags. To seal your bags you want to carefully squeeze out as much air as possible as you seal it. This may be a little tricky if you have a bag that has a lot of liquid, but really you just have to make sure you have a firm hold on the bag, seal it mostly shut, then squeeze the air out of the area left open and then finish sealing.
- Freezing. This may seem straight forward, but the best way to freeze these meals is to lay them flat. That will make them easier to dethaw as well when you want to use them. We have a medium size chest freezer and I just lay them flat and stack them up. Don’t freak out if they all don’t freeze right away. As long as your freezer is keeping the temperature in the freeze zone, they will eventually freeze, but you are putting a lot of stuff in that freezer all at once, so it may take a day or two before they are completely frozen. An upright freezer would probably freeze faster if you can split the meals up among multiple shelves, but with those of us with deep freezers, all the packages sit on top one another so freezing all the way to the middle of the stack takes some time.
- Now what? Well what I do is make a meal plan for the month and spread out my meals so that we don’t get a lot of duplication. I don’t use them every day, but definitely more through the week when my day is busy with house cleaning and homeschooling. I will mix them in with regular meals that I would normally make so that we don’t get tired of them. When we come across a recipe we tried that we didn’t like, I simply remove it from my list of recipes so I never use it again. If I think a recipe could use a little tweaking, I simply make changes to the recipe and make it ‘my own’. The day before I want to use a freezer meal, I take the meal out and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. It may not be completely thawed by morning, but normally it is good enough that I can get it into the crock pot.
Happy freezing and feel free to share your favorite crock pot/slow cooker recipes in the comments!Thanks for reading!