The past few months I have gotten reacquainted with my slow cooker. It seems like I go in spurts with different cooking methods and for some reason my slow cooker hadn't ventured out of the cabinet much. Then when my son asked for his own slow cooker to use at school, interest in mine was piqued. And because this son of mine showed interest in cooking healthy meals for himself I decided to encourage his efforts by putting together some freezer crock pot meals that could be put into the cooker in the morning when he left for class and be ready to eat when he came home. I started to search the world wide web for ideas and recipes, finding some promising ones. Most of them would serve an average family and since he is living the bachelor life and my hubby and I are living the empty nest life, I decided that each recipe could be divided and provide enough for two meals, one for him and one for us.
The thing I discovered about freezing crock pot meals is that the prep is so easy and can be done in an hour or two. There is very little precooking involved. Mostly, it is a lot of chopping and measuring and filling freezer bags. Pretty simple stuff.
This past Friday night I assembled 16 meals in about 2 hours. Factoring in leftover meals, dining out occasionally and other meals I will prepare at home, that is the equivalent of cooking 2 months worth of meals for the three of us.
The process starts with collecting recipes. I found most of mine at Six Sister's Stuff, Who Needs A Cape, Ring Around the Rosies.
There are plenty of other gals who are sharing their secrets and recipes, too. Just do a web search.
These are the recipes I prepared this go around:
Vegetable Beef Soup
Balsamic/Onion Pot Roast
Healthy BBQ Chicken
Sausage and Peppers
Slow-Cooked Steak Fajitas
I really appreciated the sites that listed a shopping list so here is mine:
2 red onions
3 lb. bag yellow onions
1 large bag carrots (Baby carrots can be used if you want to eliminate some chopping)
2 Garlic Bulbs
6 Green Bell Peppers
3 Red Bell Peppers
Celery-1 Bunch (I only used part of a bunch though)
3 lb. bag red potatoes (I bought the 5 lb. bag because it was cheaper!)
1 bag frozen green beans
10 skinless chicken breasts (I used 5 per recipe. Adjust according to your needs)
3 lb. beef stew meat
1 bag frozen meatballs (or make your own if you so wish)
6 Italian sausages (pork, beef or chicken)
2 lb. ground beef
3-4 lb. beef chuck roast
2 lb. round steak (I used sirloin steak that was in my freezer already)
2 lg. cans pineapple chunks
16 oz. jar grape jelly
20 oz. BBQ sauce
2-14.5 oz. cans Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes
1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2-15oz. cans tomato sauce
2-6oz. cans tomato paste
2 cans Rotel tomatoes
V-8 juice (1 six pack individual cans)
1-32 oz. carton beef broth
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Steak seasoning (I use Weber Canadian Steak seasoning)
Quick cooking tapioca
Prepared yellow mustard
Dried Parsley Flakes
Cilantro (dried or fresh)
Gallon Size Freezer Bags (I prefer the zip lock closure just because they are easier to seal up when hands are wet from prep work)
I suggest reading through the recipes and making any adjustments to your shopping list based on what your family likes (i.e. lots of carrots vs. no carrots in the stew) and on what you have on hand. I substituted sirloin steak for the round steak in the fajita recipe because it was already in my freezer.
My favorite way of approaching the process is to shop shortly before I am going to assemble the meals so I don't have to put ALL those groceries away. They can just wait on my counter until I use them. (OK. If that makes you nervous, put the meat in the frig.)
Once your are ready to get this show on the road, begin by labeling all your freezer bags with the name of the recipe, cooking instructions, any additional ingredients that will be needed and serving suggestions.
Trust me! You don't want to do this after you fill the bags.
Now you are ready to clean and chop and open cans and fill bags. I have no photos of the assembly because it was not a pretty site. I am one messy cook!
But about 2 hours later I had this:
And once it was all tucked away in the freezer all I had left was this:
An additional perk to slow cooker freezer meals is the relatively small pile of dirty dishes that results. Most of it went into the dishwasher. In fact, I only hand washed the large skillet that I browned the roast in. Not bad for 2 hours of work.
A couple of suggestions:
Have a large cutting board for chopping all the veggies.
Line up the freezer bags and fill with meat first. Gets
all of that out of the way and cuts back on a lot of
hand washing between steps.
A good chef or santuko knife is invaluable.
Sort out all the ingredients into like categories before
you start (i.e. canned goods, fresh veggies, meats,
condiments). Makes finding the next ingredient in the
recipe a breeze.
Squeeze extra air out of bag as you close it up. Then
lay flat in freezer. The bags will take up less space if
that is an issue.
Any of these recipes can be divided into 2 bags like I did.
Here are the recipes:
16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat Recipes
16 Meals in 2 Hours Flat Recipes
I'll update this post with our reviews of the recipes. Feel free to add your suggestions and ideas in the comments.