Full-Time-Working mom, Part-Time-Working mom, Stay-at-Home, Homeschooling mom, one kid, four kids, pregnant, nursing- I’m telling you I have done it all and NONE of it is easy. The summers offer some relief but I have often chuckled to myself as other moms talk about the break they will get with the start of the school year. As a teacher and now as a homeschooling mom, I have never really known that relief. In fact, after a few weeks back to routines, I think most moms agree- school year schedules never seem to have enough down time and the days never seem to have enough hours. The daily juggle of carpools, clubs, homework, projects, games, and concerts can often get overwhelming. Trying to squeeze in healthy, home-cooked dinners is a task that can be quickly tossed aside. Last year however I was able to put together a project that freed up time and saved me from the drive through on more than one occasion. Enter- the freezer to slow-cooker meal.
We had two days a week that were crazy-busy from sun-up to sun-down (and beyond). These were the days that, despite my best intentions, I was very likely to turn to fast food or boxed items. While this is not bad once in a while, twice a week was getting both expensive and unhealthy. So, when I found a great deal on chicken I decided to make 36 freezer meals. I came up with that number easily- 2 meals per week for one full school semester (18 weeks). I knew 36 meals would last until Christmas break when I would again be able to dedicate a full day to making the meals that would last us through the next semester.
Now, here is the crazy planning part. First, I gathered my recipes. This felt risky as I hadn’t tried any of them I was really worried. Some are better than others I will admit. And some needed a little tweaking (the recipes given reflect my changes). But all passed the test- my four children ate them and hubby didn’t complain in fact, he enjoyed them.
After recipes were gathered I had to make my “shopping” list. I have to use the word shopping loosely because the key to keeping my cost down was actually Bountiful Baskets. I made this plan months before I actually made the meals and I used that time to gather items from my baskets. If zucchini showed up I made sure to chop and freeze and set aside just for this purpose. Same with carrots, celery, onions, and a few other items. BB didn’t take care of everything of course, but the baskets certainly supplied a good chunk of it. As I was gathering produce I was also stockpiling a bit of money each month. I use a cash-only grocery budget system and I took $20 or so every month and set it aside to help off-set the cost of the project. I did not want my budget for one month to be so drained that we would need to eat freezer meals every night thereby draining my supply and starting up the vicious drive-through cycle.
The morning of- Chop, Chop, Chop…oh, and did I mention Chop? I turned on “Master Chef” and watched episode after episode as I chopped bowls and bowls of produce. It may sound tedious but the Happy Homemaker side of me was in culinary heaven!
Once all was chopped I used a sharpie marker to label all my freezer bags with recipe title, cooking times, additional ingredients, and serving directions. Then, I gathered the minions (ie children and hubby) and we put together the meals assembly line style. I printed off a copy of each recipe and taped them to the wall one at a time. I lined up the ingredients for the recipe and we proceeded to fill the bags.
When the bags were filled I wiped them down with a paper towel (this is REALLY important- any little spill will cause your bags to stick together during freezing and tear as you pull them apart…not good). Then, I laid the flat on a cookie sheet with a clean paper towel between each bag. This method of freezing saves space and makes them very manageable in the freezer. One thing I learned- do not stack too high. When I stacked more than 3 or four bags the bottom ones took much longer to fully freeze and the pressure from the top bags caused some liquid to squeeze out…again, not good.
Some tips I’ve learned the hard way and am willing to share with you:
1- A little bit of citrus juice (orange, lemon, or lime) added just before serving will brighten up the flavor and
reduce the “freezer” taste.
2- Shop for the add-in items (like broth, green sauce, coconut milk, etc.) when you shop for the other items then
label them with the meal they are for and Don’t use them for anything else. There is nothing worse than needing
run to the store on a busy day.
3- The chicken will come out more tender and the meal more flavorful when cooked on low. High times are there if
needed but the final product just isn’t as good.
4- The night before my crazy day I transfer a meal to the fridge to let it defrost, then I follow the cooking
directions on the bag. You can skip the step of defrosting if you have to- it just makes the first hour of
cooking a little awkward (see picture below)
5- Adding different fresh vegetables the last hour or so can really improve the flavor and texture. Mushrooms,
water chestnuts, corn, peppers, onions, etc. can be fun additions.
With a little extra planning ahead of time I can use these meals to ensure that I get everyone fed and where they need to be and even have a few minutes to spare. (I spoke too soon- the third grader just informed me that he has a science project due tomorrow…there go those spare minutes)
- 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/3 c balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 c honey
- 1/3 c olive oil
- 3 T chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 t salt.
- Put all the above ingredients into a labeled ziploc bag.
- Let marinade for several hours in the refrigerator before freezing.
- When ready to serveLet defrost completely in the fridge.
- Put 1 cup of broth (or water) in the crockpot and stir in the contents of the bag.
- Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours.
- Ten minutes before serving, add cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
- Serve over rice, or Asian style noodles
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 2 cups chopped carrots
- 2 cups cubed zucchini
- 1 red pepper chopped
- 1/2 t grated lime peel
- 2 T lime juice
- 2 T soy sauce
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 2 T flour
- 4 garlic cloves diced
- 1 can diced water chestnuts
- 2 lbs. cubed boneless, skinless chicken breast cubed
- Put everything into a gallon Ziploc bag and freeze completely.
- When ready to use empty contents of bag into the slow cooker
- Whisk together 3/4 cup chicken broth and 3 T peanut butter and pour over chicken mixture.
- Cook on low for 5-6 hours.
- Add in 1 can of light coconut milk and freshly grated ginger a few minutes before serving.
- 1.5 lbs chicken breast
- juice 2 limes
- 1 bunch cilantro chopped
- 1 bag frozen corn
- 2minced garlic cloves
- 1/2 red onion chopped
- 1 can black beans drained and rinsed
- 1 tsp cumin
- s and p
- Place all of the above ingredients in a Ziploc bag and freeze completely.
- When ready to use put the contents of the bag into the slow-cooker.
- Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
- About 1 hour before serving pour in 1/2 to a full jar of your favorite salsa verde and shred the chicken.
- When done serve over rice or in tortillas.
- 1 lb chicken tenders
- 3 T olive oil
- 1 cup honey
- 2 T sesame seeds
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 t. salt
- 1 t. pepper
- 1 package frozen brocolli
- Place all ingredients in freezer bag, toss to coat and then freeze.
- When ready to serve, defrost and empty ingredients into the crockpot.
- Cook on low for 4-5 hours.
- Remove chicken & shred, then return to sauce.
- Add in one can of chopped water chestnuts.
- Serve over hot cooked rice
- 6 chicken tenders or 1 lb. chicken breasts
- 1 can yellow corn drained
- 2 cups butter beans
- 2 cups canned tomatoes
- 2 white potatoes cut in cubes
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 ribs celery chopped
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup barbecue
- 2 t. onion powder
- 2 t. garlic powder
- 2 T. brown sugar
- 1 T. worcestershire
- 1t. hot sauce
- 2 T. butter
- Place all the ingredients into a large freezer bag and freeze completely
- When ready to cook place ingredients along with 3 cups of chicken stock in the slow cooker.
- Cook on low 5-6 hours.
- Remove cooked chicken from the stew, shred them and return to the stew.
- Stir in one can of tomato paste.
- Stir in chicken broth until stew reaches the desired consistency.
- If you like it thick you can serve over rice. If a bit thinner, serve with a side of cornbread or herb rolls.
- PS- Hubby thought this was a bit too sweet so I add in a few drops of Frank's hot sauce this is optional but VERY good.
LOVE IT! THANK YOU!!!
Hi Donnie, Each recipe above is for one gallon ziploc freezer meal. Put the items in the one bag, in the order listed. If you want to make more than one of each meal, just multiply the ingredients by the number of that meal that you want to make, and then measure in the recipe amount for each bag. Have fun!
How do you get 36 meals from the above recipes? Do you triple the recipes. Or will each recipe make enough for 3 or 4 family sized meals.
I need help in figuring out how you portion out each of the 5 recipes so that you end up with 18 baggies for the freezer.
Do you put all of one recipe in a big bowl and blend it and then divide it between 3 or 4 baggies, or do you triple each recipe? I want to do this this winter so I need to know which approach to take to get the 36 meals. Thank you for your time.