I recently posted about our first experience with freezer crockpot cooking. It was a great success, and we’ve been doing it every since. It has made a major difference in the way we live. Every single morning, I take a meal out of the freezer and stick it in the crockpot. And every single afternoon, just when I used to hit a wall of lethargy and begin to do some internal whining about not feeling like starting dinner, I now have a free hour. An hour for reading aloud to my kids (we’re doing the Narnia series), or watching them play outside while I do some Bible study.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Find 10 or so recipes that look good to you. Group them by meat: Chicken, Ground Beef, Stewing Beef, Roast. It really doesn’t matter, after all, whether a recipe calls for chicken thighs or chicken breasts. Just make note of how much of each meat you want in total.
2. Pull the ingredients from each recipe, and put together a shopping list, organized by grocery aisle. Check your cupboards to make sure that you’re not getting what you already have, particularly in the spices.
4. Modify the recipes to suit your family. Make them a little healthier by adding some extra vegetables — or make the meals a little less expensive by substituting vegetables that are in season and on sale.
5. No matter how carefully you prepared that list, once you get cooking, you will inevitably find that you have forgotten something, or that you need more of something than you thought. Don’t run back out to the store if you don’t have to — improvise. Flour, tapioca, or instant potatoes all thicken a sauce. Maybe you can substitute one for another. Or use tomato paste, if it’s a tomato-based meal. If you’re not sure what to substitute for something, go online and do a quick search for what ingredient would make a good substitute.
6. Now that you’re ready to prep these meals, there are two ways to go about it:
a) The first time I made freezer meals, I did it like a factory worker. I cut up all the carrots that I would need for all ten meals, then all the peppers, then all the onions. You get the idea. Super streamlining the process like that saves a little bit of time otherwise lost to activity changes, but it takes a lot of extra time in preparing the recipes to do this. It also makes a bigger mess, since your counters get more and more full as you go. And it’s just not as enjoyable a process. It’s like working in a factory, where you are so focused on the detail that you don’t get a good idea of the big picture.
b) My preferred way to go about this is to do one recipe at a time. That way, I can clean up as I go (except spices, and certain ingredients that are going to be used a lot), and I get a better idea of what is going into each dish as I prepare it.
7. Label the freezer bags all at once. Don’t forget to date them, and add cooking instructions, as well as any other ingredients that you need to prepare on the day of eating (ie. noodles, rice, tortilla shells to be prepped separately, or ingredients that need to be added during cooking).
8. Divide meals by meat. Brown all your ground beef at once, then do one ground beef recipe after another. Then tackle your chicken recipes, prepping each one, then plopping the chicken into each waiting bag. As you finish with each meal, zip the bag while pressing the air out, flatten and pop into your freezer.
9. If you prep each meal separately, you will start to get a feel for what goes well in different types of dinners, and you will feel more comfortable making up your own recipes. When you’re at the end of it all, take stock of what meat, veggies and spices you have left over. Throw together another meal or two — a recipe all of your own! Don’t forget to write down what you’ve done, in case you want to recreate your masterpiece.
10. Make the meals healthier still by eliminating a couple of processed ingredients. Use real tomatoes instead of canned tomato sauce. If the recipe calls for ketchup, use tomatoes, vinegar, and sugar instead. Substitute honey or brown sugar for white sugar.
Extra Tip for the advanced freezer cookers:
11. Why not eliminate the canned soups? Look up an easy mushroom soup recipe, and make a huge batch of mushroom soup to freeze in bags. Next month, do tomato soup, then make your own beef or chicken stock. If you make a different soup each month, before you know it you will have all kinds of homemade soups to use in your freezer meals — and your dinners will be so much healthier.
My family eats dinner almost exclusively from these freezer meals, so eliminating the processed foods from the ingredient list is of major importance to me. At first, I used the canned soups and prepared sauces, feeling that if the alternative was eating take-out half the time, this was a big improvement. But as I got better and faster at my monthly cooking, I began eliminating the processed foods, one at a time.
12. Triple the recipes, then divide each one into three freezer bags. It takes almost a full Saturday (from 9am to 5pm) to make thirty meals from ten recipes. But it is well worth it, to have a stocked freezer. Every morning I take out a different home-cooked meal, stuff it in the crockpot, and forget about it. For one big grocery shop, and one day’s labour, we save so much money on all the eating out that we used to do when I was too exhausted at the end of the day to even think about cooking!
Extra Tip for those with Picky Eaters:
13. Let your kids help on Cooking Day. They can wash vegetables, peel carrots, or just pour stuff into the freezer bags. If they are a part of the process, they will enjoy eating their creation so much better than if it’s just some weird new thing Mum put on their plates. I have four under seven, and while sometimes I have all of them cooking with me at once, it is a long day for them. It’s better if they can take turns working one-on-one with me. My husband takes care of the others while each one takes shifts with me. It’s great quality time.
Enjoy your meals, but even more, enjoy the process!