Like many working moms, it can be very difficult to make healthy meals for my family during the work week. Between after-school activities and late nights at work, it is rare that we sit down to eat dinner before seven o’clock in the evening. For a long time, it seemed like I was making the same old meals every week, simply because they were quick and easy: spaghetti, fish fillets and french fries, baked chicken and frozen veggies that I could throw in the microwave. On the nights when dinnertime was closer to eight p.m., we would often just run out and get a pizza. I was glad that with our busy schedules we didn’t give up on having dinner as a family and catching up on daily events, but I felt like I wasn’t teaching my kids to have variety in what they ate.
Along Came the Crockpot
To change this pattern, I decided to pull out a kitchen appliance that had been collecting dust in my pantry—my crockpot. I’ve always thought crockpot meals took too much time to prepare. Crockpot meals are great on the weekends when there’s time to prepare one, but when you leave for work at seven a.m. during the week, an extra half hour of sleep is much more important than getting up early and getting the crockpot ready. Then my cousin posted a comment on social media about putting together ten crockpot meals that she could freeze and cook later. Why didn’t I think of that?!? She also included a link to a site that had multiple freezer recipes, so I opted to give them a try.
The first thing you need to know about making a bunch of crockpot freezer meals all at once is that you need to prepare ahead of time. Go shopping ahead of time to make sure you have all the ingredients and you don’t have to make an emergency run to the grocery store in the middle of cooking. Make sure you have freezer bags, a sharpie to write the name of the meal and the cooking time on the outside of the bag, and something to hold the freezer bag while you fill it. They have these cool little stands you can buy for this purpose (Jokari Hands-Free Baggy Rack), but I just balanced the bag inside a bowl. Finally, if you’re like me, plan on having a good chunk of time designated for putting your freezer meals together. Many recipe sites state that the meals can be completed in an hour or so. It takes me at least twice as long. But remember that the time you spend on a weekend putting these together will be worth it when you come home from work during the week and dinner is ready and waiting for you!
The Clean Plate Club
Some of the sites that specialize in crockpot freezer meals are Eating on a Dime and New Leaf Wellness, but I’ve also found quite a few recipes on Pinterest. You can find recipes for every taste and style of food. I asked my family to list the recipes they liked the best. Here they are with the recipe links included:
The all-time favorite is the chicken alfredo. I cook up frozen broccoli with the linguine noodles to add a vegetable to the meal. Everyone loved it! I was worried the cream cheese would separate and not blend well, but this was easy, creamy, and delicious. Even my picky eater had a second helping. We give this a five clean plates rating!
Second place goes to slow cooker cheesy tortellini. The recipe calls for ground beef, but I modified it so my oldest daughter, who is a vegetarian, would eat it. I swapped the ground beef for a “beef crumbles” meat substitute. Because of this the recipe was a little quicker to make because I didn’t have to brown up ground beef; I just threw the frozen crumbles into the freezer bag. I also added several cups of fresh baby spinach to get that extra healthy boost. The important thing with this recipe is you need to add the tortellini towards the end of the cooking time, so they don’t get mushy. My husband normally doesn’t like tortellini, but he asked me to make this recipe again, so I know it’s good. I also was able to get two meals for a family of four out of this recipe, which was a nice bonus. We give this a four clean plates rating!
The third place award goes to the Hawaiian chicken recipe. This one was so easy to put together — only four ingredients. The one change I made to this recipe is I shredded the chicken instead of cooking it in chunks. It was great over rice. Everyone loves the sweetness of the pineapple too. We give this a four clean plates rating!
The key with crockpot recipes is you can’t be afraid to play around with them. If there’s an ingredient you know your family doesn’t like, leave it out or substitute something else. Also remember that not every recipe will turn out the way you want. I have learned the hard way that there is no good recipe for crock pot mac and cheese (at least there’s not one that my family likes). The important thing is that with each new recipe I make, my family tries eating something new, and I have less stress when it comes to cooking dinners during the week– less stress is always a good thing! Good luck with your crockpot cooking, and enjoy!