New York Times bestselling author, slow cooking expert and mommy blogger next door
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A Year of Slow Cooking

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Slow Cooker TV Dinners

One of the finer comforts in life is having a well-stocked freezer. Before our family became gluten free, I regularly bought packaged frozen lasagna, pizza, and hot pockets (mmm, hot pockets) to pop in the oven on a busy weekday night when I forgot to plug in the slow cooker.

This really isn't a possibility now: not only is packaged gluten free food terribly expensive, I'm just not comfortable feeding the family manufactured food on a regular basis.

So I've combined two of my favorite loves into one completely awesome package: Slow Cooker TV Dinners. 

I've always been a meal-planner, but I like that I can plan two or more weeks of meals and get them all in plastic zipper bags in the freezer, so I'm not chopping onions or potatoes each and every day. I figure if I'm already chopping an onion, I might as well chop up 10 and get it over with!

(or you can go the environmentally-friendly route and use Tupperware!)

One of the easiest ways to stock your freezer is to cook large batches of food, and freeze half of it. Clearly label and date the food, and then serve it again a few weeks later.

My family will ALWAYS eat the following things--- no matter how often I serve it:

Instead of saving the leftovers for the next day, I freeze them to pull out later in the month. The food is already cooked-- so I thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then microwave or heat on the stovetop. I don't find the slow cooker all that useful to reheat leftovers.

Another way to successfully stock your freezer is to assemble freezer bags with raw meat, vegetables, sauce, and spices. I like to buy my meat in bulk, and then I simply put the ingredients needed for a specific recipe into a freezer bag and clearly label the outside with a magic marker. I then pull the frozen bag out the night before to thaw in the refrigerator. In the morning, I dump the food into my slow cooker and cook according to the recipe's directions (I'd suggest writing that on the bag, too).

It's recommended to thaw the food overnight, and not just put a block of ice into your slow cooker in the morning. In general, it's fine to cook with frozen meat, vegetables, etc., but the other ingredients should be room temperature, and the stoneware should always be room-temp before being plugged in. You can read more about this on Crock-Pot's official website

Read through the ingredients and directions on each recipe-- if it makes more sense to add chicken broth, etc. in the morning, do so, and if I've got directions to add something right before serving, follow those guidelines--- don't just dump everything into the bag if it doesn't seem appropriate. :-0

10 Chicken candidates for Slow Cooker TV Dinners:

10 Beef candidates for Slow Cooker TV Dinners:

10 Pork candidates for Slow Cooker TV Dinners:

my kids will also eat the following fish dishes (ooh, Dr. Seuss!) twice a month:

 I hope this helps a bit with your meal planning! 

P.S.: some of the photos in these recipes are HORRENDOUS-- they were taken before I (somewhat) knew what I was doing with food photography. If you make a recipe of mine and take a better picture, send it my way and I'll give you full credit.

P.P.S.: if you would prefer an itemized meal plan with a full grocery list, I have crockpot meal plans available, here. 

other stuff you might find useful:
meal planning for dummies (or for normal people, whatever)
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Newlyweds on a Budget said...

I love this!! I'm definitely going to have to try out some of these recipes. You should also do a post on top 10 easiest slow cooker recipes, and maybe your top favorites too.

Debbi Does Dinner Healthy said...

Awesome post! We used to live on processed junk thrown in the oven too, but no more. (okay, not as much). I love to do freezer cooking or TV dinners as you call it. It makes things SO much easier.

I buy chicken in bulk and cut it in to strips to use for fajitas. I throw the spice right in the bag. Then I have another bag with peppers and onions that I have in the bag. So they are together, but separate. I love to make like 3 or 4 batches of these at a time. I get the peppers and onions at Costco too so they are cheaper and in bulk. We'll make a batch of chicken fajita goop, stick it in the refrigerator and use it on salads, sandwiches, eggs and even as fajitas! :-)

Crockpots rock.

TheFishie said...

Fantastic post! I'm expecting and starting to worry how the grownups are going to eat during the newborn months, especially since I'll also have extra family in town. The idea of bagged slowercooker meals sounds so much better than filling the freezer with casseroles. thanks for sharing.

Lauren said...

What a great idea. I do chop 10 onions at a time and freeze them but the whole meal would be so much better. Also, I find that I won't get my food processor out to chop a single onion but if I'm doing a bunch (and maybe some carrots, celery, peppers, at the same time) it's totally worth washing the appliance.

The other thing I've done is invite several other moms over for a bulk cooking morning. We chop, stir, saute, and assemble large quantities of 3-4 different meals. We all help watch kids and it's much easier than cooking alone. At the end we each get a couple of meals of each recipe to take home. It would be SO easy to adapt this idea to assemble slow cooker meals.

Diane Eblin-thewholegang said...

I love making my own fast meals by freezing my leftovers. I love all your ideas here! Thank you.

Mary Malone said...

OMG thank you for all the great information here. I swear. I was reading your post and just remembered that I DO HAVE A spaghetti/hamburger casserole fozen in my freezer. I just got it out and we will have it for dinner. Busy day for me - not so busy if I didn't read computer stuff for too long...
God Bless and thank you for all of your work and recipes.

Kalyn said...

What a useful post!

kathymack56 said...

Thank you so much for all the great recipes all in one spot. I plan to cook chicken this weekend so rather than a lot of one thing, now I can prep several different meals.

comfortcookingislandtime said...

I have been looking for more slow cooker recipes for week nights. So glad I found your blog. I will check it often. I have my slow cooker going right now with an italian style pasta dish. When I get home my house will smell yummy!

Linda said...

LOVE this post! We novices out here applaud you for continuing to remember us. There is so much to learn about this wonderful appliance!

Juana said...

I live alone and love my crockpot, so I'm always making whole batches of a recipe and then freezing in single servings for lunches. A lot of these can even be frozen with the vegetables, rice, or whatever you serve on the side, just try to keep everything as separate as you can in the container.

It's hard to know what types of things freeze well though, so this list is really handy!

quinn said...

Hi Steph - always so glad to see a post!!
I have a general question, which I couldn't find the answer to...sorry if I missed it on the sidebar. I did look!
When you put a smaller container inside your large crock (to make a smaller amount of something), do you put a cover on the smaller container? I've got a pyrex casserole that fits nicely in my giganto tagsale (Made in US!) crock, but I don't know if I should use the pyrex lid or not.
Thanks so much!!!

Stephanie O'Dea said...

Hi Quinn, I usually don't--- most of the time my food is kind of mounded in there. For creme brulee, cheesecake, no lid.

I've used the lid a few times for dips/fondue, and then take the dish out for serving. It's really up to you--- the heavy glass lids of corningware and pyrex are completely oven safe, so they are fine in the crock, and will add another layer of insulation if you are worried that your small-batch of food in a large crock might dry out.


quinn said...

Thanks, Steph! I was wondering if things cook faster with the extra lid, because I made rice pudding (usually takes less than 4 hours) and it took about 9. Of course, that MAY have had nothing to do with a MAY been because I ran out of the arborio rice I usually use, and experimented with brown and learn, eh? And the result was edible, but that's about all - heh!

Amy said...

AMAZING post!! Thanks for all the great ideas. I have tried several of your recipes and my kids LOVE them, as do I. Keep them coming.


LindaG said...

So glad I found your blog. I love using my crockpot, too. Looking forward to reading back over your blog.
Thanks so much for the meal tips! :)

Mamaruzz said...

I'm expecting baby number 2 in just a few short months and my son will only be 22 months old when the baby arrives, yes I know I'm crazy :) Needless to say we are going to have our hands full. This is a brilliant idea seeing as my darling husband is not so good in the kitchen. I can't wait to get my crockpot meals all set to go. It's great to know my family can eat healthy meals even with Mommy is tied to the glider with a nursing baby.

Julius said...

Very useful post - Thank you, you have a nice blog here.

Zhanna said...

It's great that you are cooking wholesome foods for your family. And freezing batches for later use makes perfect sense. But I don't understand why you would microwave it.

Microwaves radiate the food. They kill all nutrients and enzymes, making the food completely lifeless.

I encourage you stay away from it. Reheat your food in the oven or stove top.

Anonymous said...

Dear Steph,

The creation of brown bag freezer lunches is what I have always used your site for. I'm single, working and most nights have an engagement, to go out, to study, to volunteer. Not much time for cooking good food. I decided to eat fewer grains, which eliminated my Lean Cuisine lunch habit. I started by making 3 recipes in one day, dividing them into 4-6 servings, and freezing. Now I make one or two a week and I'm set. It's nice to know that there's a stockpile of lunches in case life gets busy. Thanks for your great recipes. Beef bourgonion and chicken makhani are also in the freezer. Going to try the peanutbutter pork next.

hschween said...

LOVE this post, thank you! Expecting baby #3 and this is very helpful. I do have a question about the fish dishes mentioned at the end. The Parmesan Tilapia sounds delicious - do you mean you "make" the foil packets with everything inside, and then freeze them?? Or were they included in this list because you can use frozen fish? And if the fish is frozen, how does that affect the cooking time? Thank you!!

Kaye said...

Thank you for introducing me to ZipList, and for taking the time to put your freezer-friendly recipes on there. I have saved them to my recipe box! Like you, I have had to give up buying processed food due to the gluten problem, so I am trying to stock the freezer. This is a great help. I cook big batches of g/f foods on the weekend and store them in small containers for at-work lunches and family dinners. Thanks again!

Charleevan said...

I am fairly certain that I saw a quick recipe on your sight for peanut butter cookies. It was not your crockpot recipe but off to the side. Everyone LOVED the cookies and evidently I did not save the recipe. Can you help me, please? I think it only had about 3 ingredients - sugar (lots) peanut butter and vanilla - I think.

Thanks so much!


Barbara said...

I've stopped freezing so much (expensive, uses up too much space, alters texture of some things) and started dehydrating. My dehydrator is on the porch right now turning a whole bag of onions into chopped dried onions that would cost a fortune in those tiny jars at the store. I fit a whole bag of onions into a pint jar, with room left over. I make oodles of noodles and spaetzle and dry those, too, so they become instant noodles in water. I will spend a morning making homemade noodles to dry and then we are months eating them. They taste so much better than commercial pasta and a far, far less expensive. My canning jars are vacuum sealed so everything stays fresh. Everything takes up so little space now, and I even do half pint jars of left over spaghetti sauce so it won't go to waste. It reconstitutes in 2 minutes in hot water. When we have a hurricane and lose power, all I need is hot water, and that part is easy. And my food won't spoil in a thawing freezer.

Rachel Page said...

I want to start crockpot/slow cooker freezer meals on a smaller scale.

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