8 Make-Ahead Freezer Meals for Your Slow Cooker

It's the ultimate make-ahead dinner strategy: Prep ingredients, pop them in the freezer and slow cook them later. Here are tips and recipes.

Make and freeze meal packs now — slow cook them later

Perhaps you're already in the habit of cooking big batches of soups and stews, and then freezing them for future dinners. Good for you: That kind of plan-ahead cooking saves money and time. But there's another method which requires even less work: Rather than stashing fully prepared meals in your freezer, you can instead prepare and freeze the ingredients needed to create a fresh-tasting dish in your slow cooker. Stay tuned for top tips and some of our favorite crockpot freezer meals.

Strategies for Freezing

Step #1: Wash, chop and otherwise prep all ingredients. It's not necessary to pre-cook meat. According to the USDA, it's perfectly safe to store raw meat and raw vegetables together in a sealed plastic bag. So long as food is kept at zero degrees, there's no reason to worry about spoilage or dangerous pathogens being introduced at this stage.

Step #2: Combine all of the ingredients in a gallon-sized plastic freezer bag, remove as much air as possible, and freeze for up to three months.

Flavor is the only concern when it comes to how long you ought to leave your ingredient packs in the freezer: In most cases, quality begins to degrade after two or three months. Flavor can also be compromised by using ingredients that don't freeze well, such as rice, pasta, and cream sauce. Some home cooks don't like the taste of broccoli or potatoes after being frozen, thawed, and slow-cooked, but you may have to experiment with various recipes to determine your personal preferences.

Chicken Crock Pot Freezer Meals for Slow Cooking
Chicken Crock Pot Freezer Meals for Slow Cooking.

Going from Freezer to Slow Cooker

As always with frozen food, it's important to take precautions when thawing: The only thawing methods endorsed by the USDA are refrigeration, a cold water bath, and microwaving.

With ready-to-slow-cook meals, it's ideal to move the entrée from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook it. Although it may not be fully thawed by the morning, you won't have to wrestle an icy block of ingredients into a round appliance. Thawing the meal before cooking also contributes to food safety and flavor. Add an extra hour to the cooking time if your meal isn't completely thawed.

Freezer-Slow Cooker Recipes

When working with a slow cooker, you're not limited to soups and stews: You can make appetizers, side dishes, and desserts this way. Here are a few suggestions for enjoying the freezer/slow-cooker combo all year long:

Spring Recipes

Frank's Favorite Slow-Cooker Thai Chicken. Photo by love2cook
Photo by love2cook.

Summer Recipes

  • Cuban Ropa Vieja: This Cuban classic - which can be served on tortillas - is perfect for when the weather takes a tropical turn.
  • Texas Style Baked Beans: When you're invited to a barbecue, offer to bring the baked beans.

Fall Recipes

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Turkey Chili. Photo by Sugarplum
Slow Cooker Pumpkin Turkey Chili. Photo by Sugarplum.

Winter Recipes

Slow Cooker Chicken Marrakesh Photo by Occasional Cooker
Slow Cooker Chicken Marrakesh Photo by Occasional Cooker.
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