Freezer Cooking: Make-Ahead Slow-Cooker Dinners

September 17, 2012 | By | Comments (18)
Make-Ahead Crockpot

Photo by Sara Claro

After a long day at work and a hectic after-school activity schedule with kids, dinner is the last thing on your mind. Until it’s time to eat and all you hear is “I’m starving!” So what do you do? Plan ahead and spend some time on the weekend assembling ready-to-go slow cooker meals for the week!

Here are 4 simple steps to take any of your favorite slow cooker recipes and turn them into a made-ahead freezer meal.

1. Make a grocery list. Include all the recipes you want to cook that week and don’t forget to add 2 gallon freezer zip-top bags. I like to find out what’s on sale before I plan my menu for the week, it really helps with the budget.

2. Label the bags with a waterproof marker. Write the day you plan to prepare it, the name of the recipe, cooking time (ex: crockpot on HIGH 4 hrs or LOW for 8 hrs), and what to serve or top with.

3. Chop, chop, chop. Start chopping all your vegetables and meat. For larger recipes, (like my favorite Italian Pot Roast) divide the meat in half and separate into two different zip-top bags.

4. Pack it up.  Place the meat in the bag and top with remaing ingredients. Seal the bag, get all the air out, and lay it flat in the freezer.

These are some of my favorite slow-cooker meals that work wonderfully with this make-ahead method:

To cook your pre-made meals, place the bag in the refrigerator to thaw out the night before. In the morning, pour the meal into the slow-cooker, cover, set it, and forget it. No clean up required. I have a slow-cooker with a digital timer, which I love because when it finishes cooking, it automatically turns to the warm setting and stays warm until you turn it off. It’s safe and when you come home from work, dinner is waiting to be served!

Italian Pot RoastFor recipe inspiration, see our gallery of Slow-Cooked Comfort Food Classics.


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  2. meredith

    I understand everyone being worried about cross contamination, but think of cooking a pot roast, raw meat sits atop raw veggies while it cooks…also turkey, raw stuffing is put inside raw poultry.

    April 15, 2015 at 9:50 am
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  5. jules

    Another way you can do this is to freeze everything but the meat and then throw the thawed meat in with the frozen veggies, etc. in the morning. Still time saving.

    October 7, 2012 at 9:17 am
  6. anonymous

    If you cook the meat and veges together you will be fine. The problem with cross contamination is when you cut raw meat and then use the same utensils or cutting board to prepare veges that will not be cooked (ie salads). I have had several years of medical school and also worked in high end restaurants.

    October 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm
  7. Wenonah

    You could put the meat in a separate bag and put on each bag (1of 2 and 2 of 2,) that way you know you have to have 2 bags to fix the meal. I agree I don’t like the idea of putting meat and vegetables in the same bag.

    October 5, 2012 at 10:02 am
  8. Velma T. Hingson

    Simple, freeze potatoes in separate bag from meat. I don’t like the idea of freezing raw meat and vegetables together and it thawing out over night and sitting together.

    October 2, 2012 at 7:17 pm
  9. buttercream bakehouse

    very helpful. I am one busy mama and I need to prepare meals ahead of time. Thanks

    October 2, 2012 at 2:05 pm
  10. Jenn

    Sounds like great time savers for people who don’t care how food tastes.

    October 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm
  11. Nikki Grace-Strader

    Another option for freezing potatoes is to peel and chop them to desired size and then blanch them in salted rapidly boiling water for 3-5 minutes, allow to cool completely and then add to your ez cook crock pot freezer meals. It’s also works for “plan ahead” mashed potatoes, when I get a great deal on potatoes I prep 30lbs at a time and make my own “steam and mash” freezer bags for easy meal planning later on. When I make ahead potatoes for mashers I boil in smalted water about 25 minutes and after frozen bags can be defrosted and cooked in microwave!

    October 2, 2012 at 11:54 am
  12. Leah Johnson

    This sounds like the best idea! I’m a college student who loves to cook and this will definitely save time on busy nights when I don’t have time to prepare everything. My dinner can cook while I’m in class! I’ll definitely try this.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm
  13. Melissa

    I’m wondering, with something like the pot roast, the day you prepare you will still have to pan sear the meat, correct?

    September 23, 2012 at 7:48 pm
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  15. Sara Claro

    @Lori: The trick to freezing potatoes is to coat them with some kind of acid, which this recipe already has, and freeze them quickly that way they won’t turn brown. They will be tender and break apart in the slow-cooker, but that’s ok for this dish.

    @Kim D: Not if you arrange your zip-top bag and place it in the freezer right away. The cold temperature will stop bacteria from spreading. And when it’s in the slow-cooker, the meat and veggies will reach a very high temperature and stay there for a long time, ensuring that any bacteria is killed and nothing is contaminated.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm
  16. Kim D

    doesn’t the “raw” chicken of beef kinda contaminate the rest of the meal???

    September 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm
  17. Lori

    I have never had much success in freezing dishes with potatoes in it. What’s the secret?

    September 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm
  18. Gay

    Use crock pot liners and then you have no clean up for use. Just wash the crock pot lid. Sometimes the liner will break from a spoon or knife poke but are an additional time saver.

    September 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm

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