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Crock Pot Freezer Meals: How to Stock Your Freezer With Last-Minute Dinners

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Crock Pot Freezer Meals: How Bags of Frozen Prepped Ingredients can Solve the Dinner Dilemma 


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With a little advanced planning, you can stock your freezer with ready-to-go bags of ingredients. Fast forward to a busy week when homemade dinner seems impossible and reach for a freezer bag. Slow cook away!

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With a little advanced planning, you can stock your freezer with ready-to-go bags of ingredients. Defrost overnight and then start up that slow cooker in the morning for a homemade dinner that can be yours even when cooking is out of the question.

By Tory L. Davis

The slow cooker offers a range of culinary experiences, from white tablecloth-worthy gourmet meals made in your personal tabletop braiser, to last minute desperation dinners of frantically throwing ingredients into the crock right before you dash out the door. Now, this can make for some odd dishes: “Why does this pork taste like a pine tree?,” especially if you’re not grounded in the basics of slow cooking (learn the simple rules in Slow Cooking 101 here — it’s not your mama’s Crock Pot anymore!). But even if you’re a pro at serving up delicious food, last minute tossed together slow cooker meals can still be a roll of the dice.

Instead of depending entirely on pantry staples swimming in sodium (looking at you, cream of canned soup!) and the odd veggies from the back of the fridge when you’re in a pinch, take a little time when you’re already in meal prep mode to put together these freezer bags of ingredients you can defrost overnight and then pour into the slow cooker (or Instant Pot set to slow cooker function) before a hectic day begins (learn the fundamentals of freezing here). A little meal planning and prep saves you from yet another night of expensive take out or sad, dry frozen pizza. It also gives you a break from burn out when you just can’t bear to think up another meal. 

Below are tips for how to get it right, along with a few recipes to get you started.

Jump ahead to:

Freezer to Crock Pot how-to’s: Braise it like it’s hot >>

Satisfying stews >>

Comforting classics >>

Southern specialties >>

Fiesta! Beyond Taco Tuesday >> 

Better than takeout: An homage to Chinese & Thai favorites >>

Mangia! Italian favorites >>

Chili bonanza >>

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Freezer to Crock Pot how-to’s: Braise it like it’s hot

When your days are too full or you’re desperate for a break from the daily dinner grind, you’ll be delighted you followed these simple guidelines for maximum deliciousness… and food safety! 

How am I supposed to find time to prep Crock Pot freezer meals? I’m already too busy! 

One of the reasons some cooks avoid meal planning is the belief that it eats up a ton of time, in the kitchen and the mental effort required. But that’s not so, especially when it comes to freezing ingredients for the slow cooker. The answer is ridiculously simple: When you’re planning to make a slow cooker dish you love, simply buy double the ingredients the recipe calls for, do the prep for both, then freeze half the ingredients (except any broth) in a one-gallon freezer bag with the air squeezed out. (Find some healthy and delicious slow cooker recipes here.) When you’re in the zone, chopping four carrots instead of two, or dicing two pieces of chicken instead of one adds so little time it’ll feel like you did nearly no prep at all. 

So can I freeze any ingredient?

Most Crock Pot freezer recipes specifically call for ingredients that freeze well, so trust the carefully curated recipes below. But it’s worth it to note: Raw potatoes that go from freezer to slow cooker don’t hold their shape well, but fall apart in the slow cooker. So feel free to swap potatoes out for a similar root vegetable (When’s the last time you ate a rutabaga?), or accept and adjust for a naturally thicker dish than originally planned.

Does size really matter?

You know it does! Especially in the slow cooker. If you chop ingredients with similar densities (like carrots and parsnips) into similar sized pieces, both will cook at nearly the same pace to ensure everything ends up at the right doneness and texture. 

So I can throw everything into one bag, right?

Ideally each meal would be in one bag, ready to be thawed and cooked as needed. And some are. But taking a moment to separate out any delicate ingredients and storing them in a separate bag can be the difference between a succulent dish and a bowl of mush. 

Delicate vegetables like asparagus, spinach, bell peppers, zucchini and yellow squash take less time to cook than sturdier root vegetables. Likewise shrimp and seafood cook through quickly. Pay attention to your recipe; if certain vegetables are meant to be stirred in towards the end of cooking, pack them in their own bag, label each with a marker as “1 of 2”, and “2 of 2”, and clip or rubber band the bags together in the freezer. (But thaw them together. A little extra time in the fridge for the more delicate veggies won’t matter a bit.)

How do I keep track of these in the freezer? And how long do Crock Pot freezer meals keep?

Embrace your inner Beyoncé: If you like it, put a label on it! Frozen slow cooker meals can be stored in the freezer for up to three months as a general rule, but it can be hard, at two months and three weeks, to remember exactly what’s in the bag and how long and at what setting to cook it. But with a piece of masking tape (or specially designed labels) and a permanent marker you can quickly note the date it goes in the freezer, the ingredients inside, and the cooking instructions. Voila! No confusion, and nothing to figure out when you’re digging through the icebox a month later.

So can I cook frozen chicken or beef in a slow cooker? Or: Safety first!

It can be tempting to simply dump a bag of frozen ingredients into a slow cooker and walk away. It sounds like the epitome of convenience, right? Well, except for the potential food poisoning. There is some debate on the subject — some experts think it’s fine, as long as you cut the chicken into small enough pieces to speed the time it takes for it to cook through. 

But science suggests otherwise: Both timing and temperature are key to slow cooking safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states poultry has to get up to 165°F internally to kill off the bacteria that causes illness (pork, beef, lamb and veal only have to get to 160°F). But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. In the thawing process, there is a food safety danger zone while it’s between 40°F and 140°F; this is when bacteria multiplies the quickest, and in the process releases toxins. Thawing food in a slow cooker takes way longer than it does on a high heat stove. Most slow cookers are designed to keep food between 170°F and 280°F, and once the food reaches 165°F the bacteria is generally destroyed — but the heat-resistant toxins that have been released don’t always get killed off. That’s what causes illness much of the time.    

This is where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of food poisoning cure — free yourself from worry with a pinch of planning: The night before, take the baggies of ingredients out of the freezer and set them on a plate in the fridge before you go to bed. In the morning, everything will be thawed and ready to go. And what a thrill to sit down to a delectable meal you brilliantly planned. Go you.

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Satisfying stews

Stews from the slow cooker taste like your grandmum spent all day stirring a cozy pot …  and make your home smell a little like her love.  

Slow Cooker Mushroom Barley Stew

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Mushroom-Barley-Stew-_Freezer-Meal-Kit_-2660462

This cozy, Old World, vegetarian freezer Crock Pot meal creates a stew that warms both the belly and the soul on a cold night, and with its collection of healthful ingredients — mushrooms, barley, leeks, rutabaga, carrots, celery, parsnips, and tomatoes — it’s a great easy meal when you need a healthy pick-me-up.

Freezer Crockpot Beef Stew

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-Crockpot-Beef-Stew-1451376

A classic beef stew that’s fragrant with rosemary and thyme comes together in a snap when all the prep is done and in your freezer. Be sure to add the beef to the bag last so it goes to the bottom of the slow cooker first.

Freezer to Crock Pot Bacon Lentil Soup 

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-to-Crock-Pot-Bacon-Lentil-Soup-2370067

This elegant soup eats like a stew and makes a great weeknight dinner with a hunk of crusty bread; the bacon is cooked and crumbled before freezing, the little green French lentils are fun to eat, and it’s full of diced vegetables and garlic.

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Comforting classics

Sometimes you want a nostalgic taste of some old school Crock Pot classics. Here are a few — but with cleaner flavors and less tin can tang. 

Slow Cooker/Crock Pot Mock Swedish Meatballs

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker_Crock-Pot-Mock-Swedish-Meatballs-9005424

Any fully cooked frozen meatball can be popped in the Crock Pot for this yummy and simple dish!

Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs (Freezer to Crock Pot)

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Lemon-Garlic-Chicken-Thighs-_Freezer-to-Crock-Pot_-2575590

The sunny flavors of lemon, basil and garlic will brighten up every bowl at the table, especially with juicy boneless chicken thighs braised in a buttery sauce laced with white wine.

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff {Freezer Meal}

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Beef-Stroganoff-_Freezer-Meal_-9271039

Everything except the sour cream and mushrooms (neither freezes well) is ready to go in this slow cooker freezer meal. Be sure to thaw the ingredients thoroughly in the refrigerator before adding them to the Crock Pot.

Slow Cooker Garlic Lemon Chicken Freezer Meal Recipe 

[Good image of a table full of slow cooker freezer meals on the Directions page!]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Garlic-Lemon-Chicken-Freezer-Meal-2678015

This healthful Crock Pot freezer meal is naturally gluten-free and is delicious over rice or sautéed green vegetables.

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Southern specialties

There are many slow simmered or smoked dishes in Southern cuisine, but today’s cook doesn’t always have a day to devote to the stove — but with these Crock Pot freezer recipes, there’s no need to sacrifice flavor for time.

Freezer to Crock Pot Jambalaya

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-to-Crock-Pot-Jambalaya-9320894

This flavorful jambalaya has sausage, chicken and shrimp, is easy to assemble and will make your kitchen smell like a party in Louisiana. Be sure to thaw the ingredients thoroughly before adding them to the Crock Pot.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Freezer Meal 

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Pulled-Pork-_Freezer-Meal_-2685103

Everybody loves a zesty pulled pork sandwich, and this one is super simple: All the ingredients (except the buns!) go into a freezer-safe plastic bag, and voila! Your Arsenal of Deliciousness is armed and ready.

Healthy Chicken Spaghetti Crock Pot Freezer Meal 

[Marni: This image isn’t terribly pretty, though the dish itself sounds pretty fun and indulgent. I’m wondering if we could use a stock image of something like grated cheese and/or salsa fixings instead?]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Healthy-Chicken-Spaghetti-Crockpot-Freezer-Meal-1849806

This traditional Southern dish usually calls for a block of processed cheese and salsa from a can; in this easy Crock Pot freezer recipe, low-fat shredded cheeses and fresh salsa not only make it healthier, but provide fresh authentic flavor as well.

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Fiesta! Beyond Taco Tuesday 

Can you really make great Mexican food by going from your freezer to your slow cooker? Sí se puede! Yes you can.

Tortilla Soup {Freezer Meal}

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Tortilla-Soup-_Freezer-Meal_-1993496

If you skip the cheesy toppings, this vegetarian tortilla soup recipe becomes a hearty and comforting vegan freezer Crock Pot meal! And putting it together for the freezer (simply leave out the broth and toppings) takes fewer than 10 minutes!

Pulled Pork with a Mexican Flair {Freezer Meal}

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Pulled-Pork-with-a-Mexican-Flare-_Freezer-Meal_-1599313

A big pork shoulder is slathered in a savory wet rub full of traditional spices from south of the border, then slid into the freezer to await the call. Then simply thaw in the refrigerator before low and slow cooking for a lush and satisfying dish. (And yes, this nod to carnitas would be great in tacos.)

Crowd Pleaser Mexican Soup {Freezer Meal}

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Crowd-Pleaser-Mexican-Soup-_Freezer-Meal_-2701000

A sincere homage to the great flavors of Mexico: cumin, pinto and black beans, tomatoes, corn, taco seasoning, and more. Plus, this kid-friendly freezer Crock Pot meal instructs you to sauté the ground beef, yellow onion and garlic, cool, then mix with the remaining ingredients (except broth) and pop it in the freezer, for a food safety thumbs up. Olé! 

#jump6

Better than takeout: An homage to Chinese & Thai favorites

Your go-to takeout dishes are even yummier made at home in a slow cooker. Just have a stash of chopsticks at the ready.

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Cashew-Chicken-2235843

Once you’ve thawed the ingredients, brown the chicken and proceed with the slow cooking for an homage to Chinese take-out. Feel free to briefly brown the cashews with the chicken for more depth of flavor.

Slow Cooker Teriyaki Chicken Freezer Meal

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Teriyaki-Chicken-_Freezer-Meal_-2370063#f6369d1c-ed4f-4341-9665-a81c947481e6

The sauce that gets mixed in with the chicken thighs creates a delicious marinade before it hibernates in the frozen tundra in your kitchen. This is an ideal chicken freezer Crock Pot meal. 

Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce: Slow Cooker Freezer Kit

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Freezer-Kit-and-Freezer-Meal-2154555

This clever recipe takes two, 1-pound pork tenderloins and freezes them in a Thai-style sauce. Once it thaws, the whole recipe simmers in the slow cooker, then has creamy peanut butter stirred in at the very end. 

Make-ahead Crock Pot Apricot Ginger Chicken (with Soy Sauce)

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Make-ahead-Crockpot-Apricot-Ginger-Chicken-_with-Soy-Sauce_-1637001

This fruity and sweetly spiced meal enrobes boneless, skinless chicken breasts with fresh ginger, jam, and minced garlic. And with the addition of green beans, all you need is some rice or quinoa on the side for a quick and complete busy night meal.

Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Thai Pineapple Curry  

[Marni: I think the best image is of the bag of ingredients about to be frozen on the Directions page.]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker-Thai-Pineapple-Curry-1363116

This sweet and spicy curry balances sweet with savory, with a kick from the curry and red pepper flakes.

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Mangia! Italian favorites

Enjoy an Italian feast in a flash, even without a nonna cooking in the cucina.

Slow Cooker Minestrone Freezer Meal

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Minestrone-Freezer-Meal-2334347 

This slow cooker freezer meal is vegetarian yet rich in protein and fiber, and full of interesting textures and flavor. 

Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Italian Wedding Soup

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker-Italian-Wedding-Soup-1383759

Who doesn’t love a soup with tiny meatballs? Plus, this soup includes escarole, a hearty Italian type of chicory green that stands up beautifully to the freezer and slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken and White Bean Soup {Freezer Meal Friendly}  

[Marni: Really pretty prep photos on the Directions page]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Tuscan-Chicken-and-White-Bean-Soup-_Freezer-Meal-Friendly_-2355026

This frozen slow cooker meal is redolent of the Tuscan countryside with notes of oregano, rosemary, garlic and thyme. Freeze ingredients except the broth; add that to the slow cooker with the thawed ingredients.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers (Freezer Friendly!)  

[Marni: Some good images on the Directions page too.]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Stuffed-Peppers-_Freezer-Friendly__-1329538

These stuffed peppers are easy to assemble, and are essentially an easy homemade Italian meatball cradled in a bell pepper. Feel free to swap out green for red or yellow peppers if you like.

#jump8

Chili bonanza

Have a living room picnic and eat like you’re around a campfire in the old American West with these hearty chili recipes.

Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Chicken Chili 

[Marni: There’s a nice image of the slow cooker on the Directions page.]

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Freezer-to-Slow-Cooker-Chicken-Chili-1077454

This colorful chili recipe can be prepped in about 15 minutes, and since it’s high in fiber and protein makes for a healthy freezer Crock Pot meal with minimal effort or fuss.

Slow Cooker Steak Chili {Freezer Meal}

https://www.yummly.com/recipe/Slow-Cooker-Steak-Chili-_Freezer-Meal_-1599335

Steak chili is the Rolls Royce of the beef slow cooker freezer meals, and this one delivers big time in Tex Mex tastiness and homemade comfort, all with minimal prep!

Ready, set, go! Let us know how it goes!

Below are some additional stories designed to help you become a slow cooker savant.