Okay, confession. Sorry Mom, but when I was a kid, I hated the Crock Pot. My mom had food allergies and four picky kids so she stuck to what was safe: chicken. She even had a book “365 Ways to Cook Chicken”. For most of my life, I equated “Crock Pot” with “dry, bland chicken and long evenings of ‘no dessert until you clean your plate!’”
My hatred for all things related to the slow cooker continued well into adulthood. When I got my first job out of college, my mom gave me a Crock Pot. I made a few bean soups but those got stacked away in my freezer and labeled with “consume only in case of apocalypse”.
But then, my friends, everything changed. One evening as I was browsing on Pinterest I saw a delicious looking stew. I saw it had “slow cooker” in the title and my world was turned upside down. I decided to give the recipe a try, and from then on I was hooked. I realized that my failure to embrace the slow cooker was simply from a lack of exciting recipes. I quickly realized that embracing my slow cooker meant I would eat healthier and cheaper. It meant I would have real meals to eat on days when I leave for the gym at 5am and don’t come home from work until 7pm. It meant I could get extra work done at night instead of cooking. It meant less dishes!
Over the past years I’ve found some ways to streamline my slow cooking process and save even more money on food. In short? Prepare a huge batch of ready-to-go recipes, dump everything into giant baggies, and store in your freezer.
Steps for Slow Cooker Batch Cooking
Step 1: Assemble your necessary supplies:
Step 2: Find your recipes. Recipes have to pass three criteria to make it on my slow cooker list. First, they have to be a healthy, complete, meal-in-a-bowl. That means protein and veggies and maybe some complex carbs. No dairy. Second, they have to look delicious. I gravitate towards hearty meals with lots of spices. Third, they have to be fairly cheap and I should be able to buy most of my ingredients at bulk warehouse stores. For this go-around, I chose four recipes: Beef Chili, Curried Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew, Caribbean Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew, and African Vegetarian Peanut Stew. (some of you may remember another favorite of mine is my chicken enchilada stew)
Step 3: Make a list. I make several batches of each recipe and plan out all the food I’ll need to buy. I then make a list indicating what to buy at the warehouse store and what to buy at the supermarket. I know this looks time consuming, but the process of searching recipes, making a list, and buying the food all took less than 4 hours. Here’s my list (after shopping):
Step 4: Prepare your recipes! Chop the veggies, dump in the cans, pre-cook your meat (for me that only meant browning the ground beef). Put the ingredients for one whole slow cooker batch in one gallon freezer bag. Label the bag with the recipe as well as any other instructions (like how much water to add, other ingredients, etc).
Step 5: Pack up the freezer! I purposefully do not let my bags freeze flat, since I want the entire bag to be able to plop down in the slow cooker.
It’s that simple! Although the entire start-to-finish time commitment was probably around 8 hours (I do this weekends after big races), I now have a freezer full of over 80 meals ready-to-go (and the ingredients cost me less than 200 dollars). In the morning I can just grab a bag, dump it in my slow cooker, and head off to work. (Note: since you’re starting with a full frozen block you probably want to let it cook an hour or two longer than usual). I typically will do two to three different meals on back-to-back days and then have different lunches/dinners to choose from for the week.
So there you have it—my tips of healthy, even more streamlined slow cooker cooking. I am always on the hunt for more recipes, so please share any recipes or tips you have in the comments below!