I don't know what got me started with making crock-pot meals. I didn't really start using my crock-pot like I do now until about a year ago...but I don't know what/who got me started. I do know that since I started working if I didn't have this way to cook a good healthy, filling dinner that we'd be eating out, or breakfast for every dinner on a night that I had to work. Yes, my husband can cook but he's busier than I am.
Greg and I (each with two kids) usually arrive home between 5:15 and 5:45 (some days I'm home earlier) and about four nights out of the week he needs to be back out the door by 6:00-6:15...which doesn't leave much time for dinner, which means it needs to be pretty much ready to eat when we get home. So without the crock-pot we wouldn't eat...okay we'd find something but you get the idea. We like to eat healthy, unprocessed whole foods as much as possible. We buy organic when it's on sale but really just focus on buying lots of fresh fruits and veggies to go with a protein. We currently are not eating wheat (but that's another whole blog post for another time) We're not sure how long that will last but for now it's what is right for our family. You may not have a problem eating wheat and that's okay...no judgments here.
All that being said, I recently learned how to prepare freezer crock-pot meals making my mornings and meal planning SO much easier. It works for us and it could work for you. It takes some prep work and a little planning but when you're finished you will feel so good about having a freezer full of healthy whole food meals waiting for you to cook whenever you'd like. So here's a little "tutorial" if you will about how I prep my crock-pot freezer meals. I know there are other types of freezer meals that can be made -lasagnas, pot pies, etc - but like I said the meals for us need to be pretty much ready when we walk in the door so we don't have time to put something in the oven an hour earlier. I also do not use aluminum and I don't have enough glass pans to freeze lasagnas in.
FIRST. Scour the internet for some crock-pot meals. A google search for crock-pot freezer meals will lead to many different options. Six Sisters Stuff is one of the first sites I found and have used recipes from. I don't use them as much any more as I felt there was more processed foods in them than in the book I am using. You can also find some recipes and ideas at The Busy Budgeting Mama and KoJo Designs
The book I actually use for most of my freezer meals is From your Freezer to your Family: Slow Cooker Freezer Recipes by Stephanie Brandt Cornais 95% of her meals in the book are grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free. She has a new ecookbook out now that I'd really like to get also. You can check out her original post about freezer meals to get even more tips! And she even shares three recipes!
After you pick out your recipes then you need to compile your shopping list. The good thing about these recipes is that a lot of them use the same type of ingredients so you can buy in bulk! Don't forget to put gallon ziplock freezer bags on the list!!
Then write out the name of the recipe along with the date on the ziplock bag. In the top left corner of the bag I like to write how long to cook the meal on high and on low (just in case) and on the top right corner of the bag I write any ingredients that I would need to add on the day of the cooking. I used to write all the ingredients on the bottom left side of the bag but I don't do that as much anymore since lately my recipes all come from the same place. The reason it would be good to write the ingredients is in case you gift the meal to someone you would know what was in the meal in case of allergies. Also you may want the ingredients listed for yourself in case you change some thing in your families diet (it can look so different when frozen).
Then I like to make a list of the recipes I am making and write down anything that needs to be chopped or prepped for that recipe. Then I know that i need to chop up 5 green bell peppers and 8 tomatoes so I can chop all of one kind of veggie at a time. The only hard part about doing this is when you come to 10 onions!! Just make sure the onions are refrigerated so they won't sting your eyes as bad!
Then just chop chop chop or assemble the ingredients.
After everything is chopped I add any spices that are listed in the ingredients. It helps to make some of them ahead of time (such as Italian spices). After the spices I grab my meat from the fridge and add it to the bag. I do any meat that does not need to be chopped first...then I can pop it in the freezer right away. If any meat needs to be chopped I only bring out one kind at a time. There are TWO reasons for doing the meat last. 1) You're not leaving meat out to get warm while you chop everything else 2) The meat will be at the top of the bag thus making it the first thing in the crock-pot when you dump it in!
Then you need to seal the bag and get all the air out...or at least as much as possible! Use a straw in the corner of the bag to suck the air out if you want to. Someday I'll get one of those fancy sealing machines! Lay the bag flat and put in on a freezer shelf. Once it is frozen you can stack them vertically. The first time I made freezer meals I just plopped the bag down and left it, lying it flat really does save space. We have a freezer (two actually) in the garage so I like to write what freezer meals are in there on the outside of the door with a dry-erase marker. If you have your meals stored in your house that may not work as well but you could just as easily write it on a piece of paper and cross the meal off once you use it. This has been so helpful to me when planning meals. No need to prop the freezer door open for minutes while I figure out what's inside. Just make sure to cross things off as they get used!!!
Here are a couple of other little hints and things to remember if you're new to this type of "cooking".
*Potatoes can turn brown in the freezer but they don't always, regardless they still taste the same.
*Some recipes will call for you to brown the meat before you freeze it. I have made these types of meals and they turn out fine but I don't usually make them anymore because it takes me a lot longer to assemble my meals if I'm cooking two or three pounds of ground beef during my assembly session. You could always pick those meals and just brown the meat on the day of cooking. I simply don't have time to do that so I choose meals that are just assembly required and not any pre-cooking.
*Some people are freaked out by recipes that have raw meat touching raw veggies but let me assure you that since everything is going to be frozen right away and then cooked either on high for a while or on low ALL.DAY.LONG there's really nothing to worry about. We've probably eaten 60 freezer meals and haven't gotten sick from them even once. But if that still worries you just freeze the meat in its own bag and make sure to label both bags that they go together!!
*There are some ingredients that you can just add on the day of cooking like stock or broth. Sometimes there's not much room left in the bags for the liquids even though the recipe calls for it!
*You don't have to be a great cook in order to provide great healthy meals for your family. You are literally chopping a few things and dumping things into a bag. Then you dump it into a crock-pot and call dinner done!! Just don't forget to turn the crock-pot on...not that I would know from experience ;)
I know there's a lot of information here! Please PIN this so you can come back to it later and share it with your friends. I'd love to answer any questions that you have so please leave a comment with questions and I'll make sure to come back and answer them to the best of my knowledge!! Happy freezer stocking!