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Months ago, when I was getting ready to come back to work following my maternity leave I knew it would be important to prioritize self-care. A big part of that, for me, is eating healthfully.
But at this point I’m no stranger to this “work away from home” mom gig and I also knew how exhausted I would be at the end of each work day. Despite my best efforts to plan meals once E started eating solids, I was just too tired to cook dinner once we got home.
Having done some reading about making crock-pot meals ahead & freezing them, I decided that would at least be worth a try as I prepared to go back to work. My amazing mom came down the weekend before I went back and helped me make what came out to be 17 meals on a Saturday morning. It turned out to be wonderful. As its’ only E and I who eat what I cook for dinner most of the time, we generally go through 2-3 meals a week and there are “tasty good leftovers for me to pack in my lunch.
I posted about my adventure on Facebook (I mean, why wouldn’t you in this era of oversharing?) and Shawna over at The Honeyed Quill asked if I was going to make a blog post out of it.
My mom and I went through this meal making process again right after Christmas. As I mentioned in the beginning of January, I’ve started my Master of Arts in Public & Non-Profit Administration (MPNA) and I am also an elected official (in addition to working full time & being a wife and mother). I knew, once again, that making healthy meals was going to be pushed to the back burner (pun totally intended). We have 41 meals
Having gone through the process twice, I think I’m finally ready to write a blog post about this. I wanted to offer up something that would be helpful, and I hope that this fits the bill for you.
- Pinterest can be your friend in this process, but it’s SO easy to get overwhelmed. A few things to watch out for:
- There are some tutorials (I started out with this one) that are great, but many say you can do 50 meals in a morning. I am convinced that folks that can make 50 meals in one morning must have magic powers. Plan on all day if you’re making that many means.
- If you’re short on freezer space (and that could mean all you have it your kitchen freezer or that you’ve planning to make a TON of meals) I find that vegetarian meals, particularly with dried beans (not canned beans) are particularly space efficient.
- Check your grocery list against your recipes several times! Both times I have been short ingredients in the end (although it was better the second time).
- I found a website called KitchenMonki. You put the recipe in your plan and then it makes your grocery list. I got the bright idea to combine lines on the list (for example, if one recipe calls for ‘Green Bell Peppers’ and the other calls for ‘Bell Peppers – Green’ they’ll be separate on your list) and that’s where I got into trouble being short on ingredients.
- My other tip when you’re looking at recipes in KitchenMonki is to just look for crockpot meals. At first I was looking for “freezer crockpot meals” and realized it was a little dumb because you can freeze pretty much anything. Turns out, even sour cream is fair game if you’re cooking with it.
- If you do use ground beef in your meals, cook it first, at least partially.
- This idea is my mom’s (she is a genius) – but you’ll need to suck the air out of the bags before you put them in the freezer. This prevents freezer burn so your meals will last. You don’t need a fancy pants “deflater”. Just get some straws, and you can suck the air out with the bag mostly closed. It works great (but if it grosses you out, by all means get a vacuum sealer.)
- If you’re one of those who likes to have rolls or something like that, maybe stock up on Warm n’ Serve style rolls. I really like Rhodes. I recommend this kind of roll because you can keep them in your freezer but they don’t need to rise. Seriously, I’ve had the kind that need to rise in my freezer for a year-and-a-half because the “long” rise time is 3 hours and the “quick rise” time is 1 ½ hours. Both are not good amounts of time for me, and I’m guessing they aren’t for you either.
- I would very strongly recommend getting a crockpot with a timer. For some silly reason, most crock pot recipes cook for no more than 8 hours. With commute time, I’m usually away from home for 10 hours. This is my crockpot and I love it. I recently got an InstantPot, which I really like as well. Rice still takes 20 minutes in it, but you don’t have that boiled over water to try and scrub off your stovetop either when you’re done.
- Finally, this is not a meal prep tip as much as it is a cleanup tip. If you are going to use meat, you’ll probably get some (or a lot) of “juice” on your floor. I recently acquired this Shark Steam Mop. It works like a dream and since it just uses steam to clean and disinfect I felt pretty comfortable letting my kids play on the floor after our day-long extravaganza.
Bonus meal planning pointer: I am the unfortunate combo of “must have breakfast” and “is not a morning person.” Truth be told, my peak time is generally 1:00 – 4:00 pm. What I try to do to accommodate this is to make crockpot oatmeal periodically. There are a ton of recipes out there. I update my own Pinterest board with recipes pretty regularly that I would like to try, and I’ve tried most of them. You can find my board here. Crockpot breakfast is another reason I like having two appliances I can use for this purpose. It takes some of the cleanup pressure off.
I hope all of this is helpful to you if you decide to make your own crockpot freezer meals! It’s been quite the learning experience, and a very helpful thing in my home!