I love my crock pot. Seriously, my family would not have eaten for the first year of my twins' lives without it. Now that I have discovered freezer meals I love it even more.
If you haven't tried this, do it. It is not that hard if you prepare well and you will be so happy when you don't have to cook dinner for weeks at a time. Yesterday I made 13 meals in 2 hours - one nap time for the boys and now I won't have to worry about dinner for at least 3 weeks (since there's 2 adults and 2 toddlers in our house these meals pretty much always leave enough for leftovers).
I've done this a few times now so let me share some of my tips to make it easier and my menu list for this batch. I wanted to use a lot of fresh produce that I had on hand from my CSA and my garden, and try out some very Fall flavors.
The basics. Here's the general idea of freezer cooking - you put together your meals, uncooked (with some exceptions), in gallon sized freezer bags. Bags are labeled with the meal name, cooking time, and any instructions. Freeze flat. Then when you are ready to cook a meal, thaw overnight, dump the entire bag in the crockpot, and go about your day. That's it!
Preparation is key.
The first couple of times I did this it took me quite a while to decide what to make and collect my recipes. I've done that here for you! When I'm deciding on a batch of meals, I start with meat. I decide how many meals I'm going to make with each type of meat (based usually on what is on sale). I also like to have at least 2 vegetarian options.
I made these meals with 8 pounds of pork roast, 8 pounds of chicken (boneless skinless breasts but you can change to your preference), and 3 pounds of ground turkey.
I also choose my recipes based on what fresh produce I have and want to use - we get CSA vegetables for part of the year, so I always have a lot of veggies on hand.
Once you've decided on your recipes, print them all out. I keep all the recipes for each type of meat together to make it easier when assembling.
I also like to make a list of my ingredients - I take a big sheet of paper and make 3 columns - "Pantry" "Produce" and "Spices". Then when it's time to make my meals I can easily make sure I have everything and get it all out on the counter before I start.
Making Your Meals.
First, start with clear countertops and empty your sink, trash can, and dishwasher. You're going to need all the space you have.
Label gallon sized freezer bags with the name of the meal, cooking time, and anything that needs to be added (I generally only pick meals that are all inclusive, but occasionally I need to add some water or broth on cooking day).
I sort my recipes by type of meat so I can assemble all the chicken meals at once, pork meals at once, etc.
Chop all your veggies first.
If you have a food processor, use it. It will go so much faster!
Do vegetarian meals first. This will reduce your risk of contamination from any uncooked meats.
If you are doing ground turkey/beef meals that need to be cooked, do it in the microwave. This is a time saver and you can do other things while it's cooking. You are really only cooking the meat so that you can drain the fat, not so that it is nice and browned. At least that's my opinion, especially for things like chili and soups.
Put your gallon freezer bags in a big bowl while filling them. This will help them stand up straight and catch any spills.
Put a cookie sheet in your freezer and lay your bags flat on top. Otherwise your bottom bag will end up smushed and hard to remove from the shelf.
With the exception of the ground turkey, nothing in my list of meals needs to be cooked ahead of time. Just follow the recipes, put all the ingredients in the freezer bag, and seal. That's it!
Fall Flavors Freezer Meal List:
Chicken Broccoli Alfredo (Six Sisters' Stuff)
Chicken with Apple & Sweet Potato (Stockpiling Moms)
Sweet Teriyaki Chicken
Peanut Butter BBQ Chicken (I modified this one for the crockpot. Use all the ingredients except the olive oil. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours).
Pumpkin Maple Pulled Pork (I made 2 of these because it sounded so good).
Thai Peanut Pork (Who Needs A Cape) This is my husband's favorite meal. It is also absolutely delicious with chicken. I add a bag of frozen broccoli as well.
BBQ Applesauce Pork (Mommy's Fabulous Finds)
Pumpkin Turkey Chili (Whole Foods) I made 2 of these and adapted this one as well. Omit the olive oil. Cook the ground turkey, then place all ingredients except the 1 cup of water in your bag and freeze. Be sure to label your bag to add the water (I add chicken broth for more flavor) before cooking.
Italian Turkey Soup (Our Best Bites). Modified for freezer meal - omit olive oil. Cook the ground turkey, then place all ingredients except chicken broth in your bag and freeze. Add broth before cooking.
Butternut Squash Chili (Stockpiling Moms)
Ravioli with Pumpkin-Tomato Sauce - I added one package of cheese ravioli to this sauce recipe. Cook on low for 3 hours.
That's the list! I also print out a list of the meals that I have in the freezer and hang it in my kitchen command center (more on that later). I check off the meals as we eat them and then I know when it's time to start planning again.
Now sit back and enjoy the Fall flavors!