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It has been almost two years since I first tried out freezer crockpot cooking. And I will be honest- while revolutionary (not having to figure out dinner from scratch every night is seriously the best), there has been a decent amount of trial and error in learning how to make this work best for our family.
Since I get questions daily about freezer crockpot cooking, I thought it high time to put together a little review of our experiences so far. Before I start, I should say that the manifesto of Freezer Cooking should be “Do what works best for your family… even if that isn’t what seems to be best for every other family.” If you leave this post with one prevailing thought, let it be, find what works for you (especially since, in all likelihood what works for our family won’t work for yours).
At the same time, in the hopes that our trial and error will be helpful as your muddle your way toward your own what-works-for-us Freezer Cooking Model (and to answer questions left daily in the comments on the freezer cooking posts), here are a few things that I’ve learned-
1. Only a few of the recipes we’ve tried really work for our family. My first four freezer cooking posts (find 1, 2, 3 and 4 here) are all whole process posts, meaning that I chronicled the shopping, prep and assembly of the freezer cooking I was doing for our own family in real time (they aren’t recipes I’d tried beforehand). All three of those lineups included recipes that were keepers for our family and also many recipes that I won’t put in another rotation for one reason or another. Since I want my kids to look forward to the night when I use a freezer meal just like they look forward to us cooking dinner, I am fairly ruthless in what gets to stay on the ‘keeper’ list. Right now, Honey Rosemary Chicken and Coconut Curry get thrown into every rotation multiple times and Lime Salsa Chicken, Pineapple Pork and Man Pleasing Chicken (with more maple syrup than the original recipe calls for) are all occasionally in the rotation as well. But those are the only ones! Take heart if some of the recipes don’t work for you.
2. Expect variation. I’d love to say that every time I try the same freezer crockpot meal, I achieve the same results, but that just isn’t true. I have run down the list of possible culprits- perhaps it’s the variation in produce/ingredients? Or the crockpot itself? But I don’t have a definitive answer on this one. Defrosting the freezer meal the day before and cooking for a shorter amount of time seems to help, but that isn’t fool proof either.
3. Move beyond the crockpot. I’ve made a habit of cooking up a double or triple batch of soup each time I prep a batch of freezer meals. We eat soup for dinner that night and then I package up the leftovers and put them in the freezer for another meal or two later. And frozen pesto, while not a crockpot meal, is a go-to standby for our family. Also, we’ve had great success with regular freezer meals, prepped in casserole pans and ready to heat in the oven. While less compact than crockpot meals frozen in ziplocs, and without the crockpot factor (which is a deal breaker for some people, but not for us), we’ve found some really great recipes this way.
4. A few other assorted tips– Add fresh herbs or ingredients at the end if you have them on hand (it helps the meal have a little more flavor- just add in the fresh version of whatever is in the crockpot). I also try to serve every freezer meal with a generous portion of fresh veggies, a big salad (here’s a whole list of ones to try) and some yummy fresh naan/tortillas/bread. That way the meal feels more homemade and fresh, but without a ton of extra work.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips, friends- have you tried freezer crockpot cooking? Anything to add? What’s worked for your family?
Great Post! I had a freezer FULL of pre-made meals for the crock pot…and only a handful of them actually came out as great as I had hoped. I decided I would rather just chop and make everything from scratch the day of, rather than have a mediocre supper. I use a menu board now, so I can know my supper plan early in the week.
Menu planning changes everything for me- if I have a plan, my life is so much easier…
We do have a few freezer meals that we love (and Jord is taste testing some more possibilities), but I think it’s good to know beforehand that not everything will work for your family. 🙂
Freezing leftovers is best way to freezer cook. It ensures you have recipes that everyone will actually eat. I like to double or triple favorite recipes and get a stockpile in the freezer. I try to always keep spaghetti sauce in there. Then I can throw it over chicken or any number of pasta types to change it up.
Val, I keep spaghetti sauce in the freezer too! Love it!
I found that crock pot freezer meals just don’t work for me because I’m horrible at taking them out the day before to thaw. Or if I did remember to do that something would come up the next day and we wouldn’t be able to eat it. But what does work great for me is cooking 6 or more chicken breasts in the crock pot at once, shredding and freezing in 1 cop portions. Then it’s quick to thaw and throw in a casserole, heat up in BBQ sauce for pulled chicken sandwiches, or add some spices for tacos. I’ve also made double or triple portions of a meal to freeze and reheat. And with every dinner I make an extra portion to send as Nolan’s lunch the next day. No packing lunches that way 🙂
I like all your honest feedback about how previous posts worked in real life for you.
Jill, I love your idea… Even more, I love it that you found something that works for you guys! 🙂
Thanks for the hints and the recipes!! We have tried several crock pot (and other types) of freezer meals in recent months. As you said, what works for one, may not work for someone else. But, I can take some of your suggestions and incorporate into what I know works for us!! We have found recipes that are keepers and some that we were just glad they were gone!! Thanks again and keep the suggestions and recipes coming, we thoroughly enjoy them!! (the soup cooking while you prep your meals is a great idea!!!!)
What a great comment Cheryl! One thing that we’re trying for the next batch is trying all of them before we publish them. Even though the process is way longer, it also results in tried and true recipes. 🙂 Glad you’ve found some that work for you guys!!!
Can I freeze fresh vegetables for juicing, will they hold the same value as fresh?
Hey Margaret, I haven’t ever tried juicing veggies from the freezer… I will say that, since freezing has the tendency to change the consistency of some produce, it might not work. If you try it will you let me know?
Connie Abbott says
I don’t think you could probably juice them very well; they wouldn’t have the same resistance against the juicer blades that fresh vegetables have….but what you could do with some (I do regularly with kale) is make smoothies in a smoothie blender with the frozen vegetable; where they’re pulverized rather than juiced, and all is consumed. The result doesn’t depend on the texture of the vegetable; the texture is gone into a beverage and the fact that it’s frozen just makes it more smoothy-ish and the veggieness may also be less of a flavor impact than if it were fresh. The fruit flavors can shine through. It also makes it faster at smoothie-making time to have the kale all pre-washed.
I have a crockpot meal you will love if you don’t mind a Mexican dinner. Everyone I make this for wants the recipe. Takes only mins to prep. 3-4 chicken breasts. 1 can of diced tomatoes. 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Cook all day on low. An hour before serving, shred chicken (falls apart). Serve on tortilla with cheese. Yum yum. My children love it.
Kristin, sounds delicious!
We make this too! It’s awesome with a can of black beans added too 🙂
One of my favorite tips has been that “you can fudge it!” Cooking just the meat usually takes up quite a bit of time. so if we are having grilled chicken one day, and need 3 chicken breasts I will grill 7 or 8. Use the three I need, stick one in the fridge for sandwiches the next day, and freeze the rest. (Don’t forget to label! BBQ/plain, date, etc.) Instead of dedicating a day to prep, we just prep as we go. Cook regularly one week, make 4x what you need is a great way to start. The next three weeks can be frozen meals. The other thing is if we notice onions or peppers that aren’t getting used, we dice half, and julienne the other half. Put them in cup sized portions and freeze. We can toss these into almost anything…and all the work was already done! And the best part is not much produce heading to the compost heap. I do freeze bags of soup occasionally, but prefer to cook things down and freeze before adding bulky pieces. Awesome broths and stocks this way, less freezer space taken, and we can turn these into whatever strikes our fancy the night we decide to eat it. (Just add noodles or whatnot, and even using broths/stocks in recipes to make non-soup related things!) I usually leave out items like salt, pepper, garlic if I am freezing something, unless it is a main ingredient. I find these best if added day of in terms of freshness and in case any guests have dietary restrictions. I don’t really get the “is this frozen” questions or comments. One trick is to try not to microwave items. And only put things into your frozen meal bags that can usually be frozen well. Anything that doesn’t turn out right, add when you are ready to eat it. (some cheeses, pasta, etc.)
ps. Whenever you start to make any dinner, always put a teakettle or pan of water to boil first thing when you enter the kitchen. You will usually use it, and you get the bonus of not waiting for it to boil. If you don’t use it to cook, by the time dinner is over it should have cooled enough to use it to soak the crockpot, or pans you did use. 🙂
Hope this helps someone.
Lizz, what fantastic tips! I love the idea of putting small bags of chopped produce in the freezer and then tossing those into everything. Great suggestions all around. 🙂
I love freezer meals! And I love how easy the crock pot meals are….but hate that everything ends up mushy or the same texture. So I’ve found it works best for us to package the veggies (not necessarily the onions, but peppers carrots potatoes) separate and throw them in after the meat has cooked about 3/4 of the way. That way you can still freeze the whole meal together….. thanks for your tips!
That is a great idea Corrie! 🙂
Aless White says
I am wildly reactive to freshly cut onion (any type, even mild shallots)- BIG headache- so I ask my beloved husband to cut up loads of our home grown onions at one time.
I decide what shape I want (diced,sliced) and then DOUBLE bag them in ziplock bags and then freeze. So far the double bagging has avoided odour transfer.
When I need e.g 1/2 cup for a recipe, I use a cutlery knife (safer!) to hack off a section. Being quite moist before being frozen, the onion will separate easily, without being tray/loose frozen first.
Nasty headaches avoided!
Great idea Aless!
Dawn Larson says
Most ingredients absorb water as they freeze. If you freeze pasta dishes after being fully cooked, they end up softer than intended. Veggies have the same problem. The longer it’s in the freezer can make a difference as well. Some recipes just can’t be frozen with positive results because the ingredients are negatively affected by the freezing process. Also, since water doesn’t boil off in a crockpot, preparing an oven recipe as written, freezing it, then cooking in the crockpot will almost always yield unintended results. The book, “Dinner is Ready,” by Deanna Buxton as great tips on which ingredients do and do not freeze well, plus lots of recipes.
On a side note, you can freeze fresh tomatoes and as they thaw, you can peel them without having to blanch them (for sauce recipes and cooked salsa, etc.)
Thanks for the ideas here.
Thanks for the tips and the book suggestion Dawn- will definitely check that out!
corinne white says
I’ve been doing this for years but mostly with the extra portions I make. I think of it as mass cooking. I will spend an afternoon, rainy or before a busy time, prepping and cooking three meals for us. I’ll leave enough out for the short time and freeze the rest for busy days when I don’t want to deal with it.
Here’s my problem that I haven’t resolved. Mystery meals. I always use a sharpie to write on the bag but some how that goes away in the freezer. But not always. so when the kids ask, “what’s for dinner?”, I say “Mystery chicken, I think”.
The next problem is basically an inventory control thing. I forget what’s in there. It gets crowded. Stuff gets old and nasty looking and I end up doing the freezer purge which either goes OK into the trash or we have days of old Mystery meals. So I tried keeping index cards in there which helps but only if I keep crossing stuff off the list on the card.
Suggestions for solutions are welcome.
Oh a tried and true for me is to freeze raw Italian meatballs to cook later. Freeze them in a flat single layer. They are less mush y next time than when I froze them cooked.
Corinne, love the mass cooking idea! Especially because it’s probably dishes your family already loves, right?
And I have the same problem with inventory control. If you come up with anything great, let me know, ok???
We love meatballs too! My kids especially- good reminder!
I cook a mega batch of 1 recipe every Saturday. By mega I mean enough for at least 5 or 6 meals. Then I separate into family size square containers that stack nicely in my freezer. I use a label maker to stick on a label with name and date. When I started, I made multiple recipes to create a stock pile. But Now, I only have to make 1 recipe each week and always have at least 6 or 7 different things in the freezer for variety during the week. We just defrost and reheat.
My little P-Touch label maker is awesome. The labels even survive the dishwasher so the next time I make spaghetti sauce (for example), I just use one my containers already correctly labelled.
What a great idea!!!
I have a form I developed for our family that lists the basics of what we usually have in the freezer. There is also lots of lines for items that which are not our staples After each item, I have a place for tally marks or other notes. I slip the paper into a sheet protector and put it and a dry erase (or vis a vis) marker on a string on the freezer door. Now I can make notes, tally marks, etc. of what’s in the freezer. When I add something, I add a tally mark or date. When I take something out, I cross off a tally mark or the date. I use the same system for our pantry. Takes a bit of time on shopping/prep day, but I can check my inventory at a glance without having to open any doors!
Cindi, what a great idea!!!!
Best thing I ever found to stop freezer burn is a vacuum sealer – Food Saver. It’s a little more expensive than other brands, but the bags seal well, and keep freezer burn totally away. I have used meat and other products LONG after the date they tell you, and no problems at all. And you can freeze liquids (soup I do all the time) by freezing it first in a plastic container, then when it’s frozen, take it out of the container and put it in a Food Saver bag. Takes up less room in the freezer. This would work too for the pre-cut stuff for your freezer crockpot stuff too.
Andrea- my parents have a vacuum sealer, so whenever my mom and I make the freezer meals together, we use it. You’re right- it’s great!
For the Inventory Problem You could make a list on your freezer meal bagging day and post it where you’ll make it off when you use it. If you usually make the same meals often you could print up a list with columns to check off. Place them in a sheet protector and hang it on you frig or the inside of a cabinet near the crock pot. Next you get a dry erase marker to keep track of you’re inventory by putting a / for what is made and put in the freezer (one / for each batch), then turn the / into an X once its used. When you get ready to make your next batch of a recipe you can use a paper towel to remove the marks from the sheet protector and begin again. Hope this helps.
What a great idea! Love this!
Try double bagging your meals. Inner bag should have the ID info written on it. Then place a 2nd bag over the first and seal both.
Kim, that’s a good way to keep away the freezer burn. Plus, I’m sure you could reuse the outer bag, right?
When I freeze meals. I put in baggies and then in bigger containers in the freezer. (all the same meals in one container) and write in an index card what meal is in the container and any other instructions) just put the card in another little baggie and you will alway’s know what you have. I also use containers to seperate my beef ,chiken,fish and pork. Easy to find and rotate. Hope this help’s someone.
Great idea Penny!
Hello, You re right that some recipes are a hit and others not so much..but I love the ease of having things ready to go in the crockpot…I have also been experimenting with dehydrating fresh veggies and herbs from the garden…when they are dry… i add some veggie cubes and some pasta or rice to a ziplock bag…these are also very quick and handy soups for home and especially for camping with no worries about refridgeration and power….just add water and simmer….Love your tips…TY, Deb from Northern Maine
I love the idea of saving veggies and herbs…
My friends think I’m mad because I keep an inventory of what’s in the freezer and write out a menu for the week – but it saves me time in the long run. I work full time and don’t want the stress of having to think what’s for tea when I get in. I shop on Saturday for the week, knowing exactly what I’ll need.
I make a list of what’s in each freezer drawer so we don’t have to go rooting through them all and I cross off/add on until the list is illegible by which time the freezer needs defrosting and I start again!
Such a great idea! I love the organization…
Thanks for your honest opinions. I too have experimented and been disappointed. I made the Mama & Baby Love BBQ Chicken from her site. It had to be the grossest thing I have ever had in my life. I threw it all out. But you have to experiment and find the standard meals that work for your family. One that is so simple you can make it a freezer meal or just dump it all in the crockpot in morning. Mexican Pork Chops (Or Chicken) 4-6 bone-in/boneless pork chops or boneless chicken breasts, 1 pkg taco seasoning mix, 1 beef bouillon cube, 2 cans diced tomatoes and 1 can green chilies (or 2 cans Rotel diced tomatoes. Put the meat in the crock pot. Mix other ingredients together and pour over. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Serve over rice. You could also use boneless chicken thighs. I prefer using those when cooking a long time in the crock pot because they don’t dry out. You could add a can of black beans and/or frozen corn too.
Dawn, sounds so yummy!
Here are a few things that helps me out a lot :
1) I buy a large family pack of ground beef. When I get home I make giant meatballs (slightly smaller then a baseball) out of it then stick each one in its own freezer bag. I seal the bag most of the way then I lay the bag flat on the counter & press the meatball into a hamburger patty. I then press the rest of the ai out of the bag then seal it the rest of the way. Then I freeze each one. Now I have a bunch of pattys frozen & can take out as many as I need per recipe or for a quick meal I just grab a few & we have hamburgers. Takes up a lot less space doing it this way then keeping a bunch of 1 lb packages in the freezer.
2) I mix up 2 big batches of meatloaf mix (I use the McCormick meatloaf seasoning packet & follow the directions on the packet, minus the sauce topping) Then I take and divide each batch into 8 equal parts (for a double batch you will get 16 equal parts) I make a ‘hamburger patty” out of each section & put each one in its own freezer bag, label it & freeze each one. Then for a quick & easy dinner take out as many as you need (usually 1 per person) & bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes. About 5 minutes before it is done I mix up my topping sauce (I use ketchup, brown sugar & dijon mustard – mix well) & pour over each patty & continue to bake my meatloaf. I serve with some veggies & baked potato
3) when I bake things like a turkey, chicken or roast I always bake them in an oven roaster bag. When the meat is done I have my husband lift the bag for me & I poke 1 hole in 1 corner of the oven bag & I drain the broth that has accumulated in the bag into a large bowl. I let it cool then I divide it into freezer bags & freeze it. It makes wonderful broth for soup or gravy
4) When I catch a good sale on chicken I try to stock up. When I get home I will divide it up according to how I will use it. Some I will freeze raw into single serving portions, The rest I throw in a large stock pot & cook on low for an hour or so until it is falling apart. I then drain the pot through a strainer into another pot to catch all the broth. When the broth is cool I put in freezer bags for later use. Then I tale my cooked chicken & shred it up & put in freezer bags in about 1 cup portions & freeze. Later it is quick and easy to add to things like soup or casseroles. I even add taco seasoning to it & use it to make chicken tacos, quesadilla or taquitos
** I also cook up a batch of about 2 lbs of ground meat & add taco seasoning to that as well & freeze it in 1 cup portions. Very quick for adding to recipes or quick on the go meals
Something I forgot to list in my 1st post :
Since summer is coming to an end I like to take all my tomatoes & I dice them up & freeze them for use in soups, stews & chili during the winter. Gives it a nice fresh taste.
I also take my fresh herbs & dice them up as I would for any recipe. However instead of using them right there I stick them in ice cube trays (each cube = amount I use per recipe) Then I add olive oil to each cube (enough to cover the herbs) & freeze. Once frozen I pop out of the tray & stick in a freezer bag for later use
Kathy- I love preserving the taste of summer to use in the winter! It’s my favorite part of having a garden!
Great reminder. 🙂
Kathy, these are such great tips! Do you have a giant freezer? What a great way to take advantage of sales so that your family can eat well (and so that it’s easier on you for dinner prep).
I love all of these ideas!!!
Sorry if this has already been suggested! But, I have to say that I’m intrigued by this concept of freezing multiple meals! One suggestion: since you are chopping all sorts of produce at one time, why not gather all of the “trimmings” and freeze to make stock at a later time? You can also freeze the bones/chicken, if that’s what you’re using. I usually have a Baggie in the freezer to collect. Then, once a month, I’ll make vegetable and chicken stock. It’s healthier – and cheaper!
What a great idea Jennifer- I love it when I have homemade veggie/chicken stock on hand (it tastes better too!).
While I’m no pro at this, I have been doing the frozen crock pot meals for several months. We have four kids and a VERY active schedule. During the fall football/soccer season (right now) we have either practice, games, or both every single day of the week. Add into that, two of my kids are particularly picky. This is what I have found that works best for my family, and my budget: When I find a particular meat on sale, I research a bunch of recipes using that meat. I make up one of each meal. When I find one that works, or that will work, after some tweaking, I make up a bunch of just that one. Last week, I found boneless skinless chicken breast for $1.88/#. Since that was such a great deal, and I had a little more time than usual, I made 6 each of our two favorite chicken meals. I try to make at least 6 bags of one meal that is tried and true every weekend. I currently have 5 different meals in my freezer. We have a frozen meal at least twice a week, but my crock pot gets used almost every night! There are a few super simple things that I can throw in on my lunch break or before I go to work in the morning that’s just not worth freezing. I’m always looking for new recipes, and there are a couple of yours that will be tested in the upcoming weeks.
Amber, I love the way you are making this work for your family. Finding recipes that work and making a bunch of them is such a great idea- I bet your family loves having those dinners.
Also, total aside, but we currently live on a tropical island where chicken is ridiculously expensive. $1.88 for chicken breasts is just silly. 😉
I like having a mixture of different types of freezer meals in the freezer, too. One way I save room is by freezing any casseroles where the ingredients are all mixed together anyway flat in freezer Ziplock. I usually use a gallon bag for an 8×8 casserole. The bags seem to take up less room in the freezer, plus I don’t have to keep buying disposable pans or use my dishes in the freezer. I always completely thaw the bags before I dump them into the pan I bake it in. The bags also thaw a lot quicker than a casserole in a pan. Sometimes, those are still a little frozen even after 2 days in the fridge! This doesn’t work for casseroles like enchiladas or lasagna, but it’s great for ones like chicken broccoli rice bakes or any where it’s all mixed together.
What a great idea, Jill! I love this!