Today I made between 24-27 meals and saved up to $1000.00. This is why I hassle with Instant Pot/Crock Pot freezer meals. The investment of time is absolutely worth it.
In part one of this series, I explained how to do fully cooked freezer meals. In part two I helped you think through planning so you can apply the method to your own meals. Follow the links for more information.
Here in part three, I am showing you how I do a freezer meal cooking session for ground beef/turkey meals in the Instant Pot and Crock Pot. On the day of cooking, these meals take mere minutes of hands on time to prepare. Incidentally, they are also gluten free and dairy free when I freeze them.
I started with 20 lbs of ground beef which I have gathered and frozen as I’ve found it on sale. With this beef, I will make multiples of only four different recipes that I can adapt into different meals on the days I cook them. I have a super tiny kitchen so I need to do this in two sessions. In session one, I made taco meat and chili. In session two, I made plain seasoned ground beef and Italian pasta sauce.
I can use the taco meat for tacos, taco salads, taco mac, taco soup, baked potato topping or whatever else I can think of.
I can use the chili as just plain delicious chili, toppings for potatoes for a lunch, or, because my husband totally loves it: chili tortellini. It’s like Mexico and Italy had a little rolly poly mexi-talian soup noodle baby. It’s wrong in all the most delicious ways.
I can use the plain seasoned beef in salads, soups, hamburger veggie stew, goulash, or if I’m really missing my mom and dad, hamburger gravy over rice. There were some lean years of hard work growing up, but somehow my mama put home-cooked dinners on the table every single night, and this was one of them. I have sentimental feelings about hamburger gravy over rice and a side of steamed green beans.
I can use the Italian pasta sauce in spaghetti, baked penne, or lasagna, or any other application where you’d need a meaty delicious homemade marinara.
From that list, you can see that although I am freezing multiples of these different recipes, it doesn’t mean we are eating the same thing over and over. Flexibility and variety are built in because I keep the recipes I choose simple and versatile.
These 24-27 meals cost less than $3.00 per dinner for my family of four. Considering the taco meat and plain seasoned beef are just main ingredients, the fully composed meals will be more expensive, but still easily under $5.00 each.
If we went out to dinner or ordered fast food/take out, it would easily cost at least $20.00-$50.00. My freezer meals are specifically designed to fill a need on the days I’d be most likely to cave in and order something. This means I am saving a potential $45.00 each time I cook one. That’s real savings!
If I estimate twenty-five meals, and I use them over six months time when we’d be otherwise tempted to eat out, I will have saved my family between $575.00 and $1125.00!
Best of all, this means that I just made between $143.20 and $281.00 PER HOUR of my four-hour freezer meal prep today. Boom. That’s fantastic. This is part of how I honor my husband for his hard work to provide for our family while I stay home. It’s part of how *I* provide for us, and that makes me feel good.
How To Do It
Session One: Taco and Chili
10 lbs ground beef or turkey
8 cups of dried chili beans (instant pot) or 16 cups of your favorite cooked or canned beans
4 28oz cans of diced tomatoes
4 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
6 packets of chili seasoning or about 1/3 cup of your favorite chili spice
Additional cumin and coriander
3 large sweet onions diced
8 cloves of minced garlic
1/3 cup taco seasoning
Directions: Use two large pots. Dice onion and mince garlic. Get out your spices. Rinse and portion the beans in four gallon-sized freezer bags. Label them “Chili–add water”. Label another two “taco”.
Brown approximately 1/3 of the total beef in one pot for taco meat and the 2/3 in another pot for chili. Don’t overkill the beef. Be gentle. It’s all going to cook again. Add onion and garlic to these yum-tastic pots of meat. Drain them and return them to the pots.
Season one for taco add extra cumin and coriander. Set aside to cool. one for chili. Add extra cumin and coriander to each. It’s yummy. Note: you’re going to feel like you’re over seasoning this meat, especially the chili meat. Do it anyway. You have to remember that you’re storing the seasoning for an entire big pot of chili in this meat. Fat carries the flavor compounds and the heat will bloom the flavor even further. Your chili meat will look dark brown and it will be thick. Go with it.
Add chili seasoning to the remaining meat. Stir and wait till it smells super good. Add extra cumin and coriander again, and some cayenne if you’re spicy. It’s yummy. Note: you’re going to feel like you’re over seasoning this meat, especially the chili meat. Do it anyway. You have to remember that you’re storing the seasoning for an entire big pot of chili in this meat. Fat carries the flavor compounds and the heat will bloom the flavor even further. Add the can of tomato paste and stir it in good. Let it cook on the bottom of your pan for a while. When it’s all hot and happy your chili meat will look dark brown and it will be thick. Go with it.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly while you open your 8 large cans of tomatoes (4 diced, 4 crushed).
Portion out the chili meat into your 4 bags on top of your beans. Add 1 can of diced and one can of crushed tomatoes to each. You don’t need to mix it all in. It will mix as it cooks.
Portion out your taco meat into your two labeled bags.
Be sure your bags are close to room temperature before you seal them. Suck out the air with a straw so they don’t freezer burn.
Lay all freezer meals flat to freeze. When they are frozen you can stand them up like books and they’ll take up much less space.
Day Of Cooking Instructions:
Taco: defrost taco meat and use however you want.
Chili: For Instant Pot: Defrost enough to break it up and fit it in the pot. Add 4 cups water (ish? eyeball it), put on the lid, and push the bean/chili button and adjust to 40 minutes. Go read a book or clean the kitchen or do whatever you want till it’s done. It will take about 20 minutes to come to pressure so the total time will be about an hour, but your actual hands on time
For Instant Pot: Using dry beans. Defrost enough to break it up and fit it in the pot. Add 4-5 cups water ish? eyeball it, put on the lid, and push the bean/chili button and adjust to 40 minutes. Go read a book or clean the kitchen or do whatever you want till it’s done. It will take about 20 minutes to come to pressure so the total time will be about an hour, but your actual hands on time is about 2 minutes. No stirring. No checking. No mess. No nothing.
For Crock Pot: Using cooked/canned beans. Defrost in the fridge over night (or in your sink, but don’t tell the food police). Add to your meal and 2-3 cups water or till it looks right to you. Turn it on low for 6-8 hours or high for about 4 hours.
Top with everything you like as long as you include pickled jalapenos. DO IT!
Ok, at this point you are half way home. Clean up, wash out your pots. Put your first batch of meals in the freezer.
Session Two: Italian Pasta Sauce and Plain Seasoned
10 pounds of ground beef or turkey
4 sweet onions diced (I really like onions ok?)
8 cloves minced garlic
2 28oz cans diced tomatoes
4 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup Italian seasoning (I’m sure I use more)
Directions: Use two big pots on your stove. Label 4 gallon-sized bags “Italian Pasta Sauce” and 2 “Plain Seasoned GB”.Dice onion and mince garlic. Brown 1/3 of the total meat in one pot for plain seasoned beef, and 2/3 in the other for pasta sauce. Add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Drain when they are done. Return to pots. Set plain seasoned beef aside to cool.
For Italian, add a can of tomato paste, stir it in and cook it well. Deglaze the pot with diced tomatoes, then add the crushed. This fills my biggest pot. Add Italian spices. add extra basil, then simmer a while. You want it to meld a little. Turn it off and let it cool till warm.
Portion plain meat into two labeled bags and spread it out thin and flat. This is the only thing about me that is thin and flat. Suck the air out of the bags with a straw.
Portion sauce into 4 bags. Using a standard ladle, these bags will portion out perfectly with 7 generous scoops each. Lay flat. Make sure they are close to room temperature before you put them in the freezer.
Day Of Cooking Instructions:
Plain Seasoned: defrost and use however you want
Instant Pot: If using frozen, defrost enough to break it into chunks and put it in the pot. Add about 2/3 cup water. Don’t skip this if you are using frozen. It won’t come to pressure without water. Put on the lid, set the timer for 3 minutes on manual. Read a book or do whatever. Your sauce will be done in less than 30 minutes of hands-off time.
If using defrosted sauce, add to pot and set the timer for 3 minutes. You can also add a pound of pasta and 4 cups water right to the pot, add some salt, stir it, set it for 5 minutes, and have the pasta and sauce done at the same time. This works best with shorter pasta like penne.
Crock Pot: defrost overnight in your fridge or sink. Crock on low for 4-5 hours or high for 2-3 hours, or until it’s hot.
You can certainly also use your stove top. That’s still a thing.
There you go, ladies. I know there are many other websites and blogs you can go to for freezer meals and recipes, but I really wanted you to be able to see how a real remedial homemaker might simply and efficiently do freezer meals and save yourself real time and money. I hope it inspires you to look at your own recipes and think through how you might do the same. In my next post, I’ll walk you through how I do this for twenty pounds of chicken breast.
Lastly, yes, I do make other more elaborate, slow-foodie, homey dishes with traditional cooking methods. I don’t intend for these meals to be one month’s worth of food. I use them as filler around the on days when I am not able to make time in the kitchen. That’s why this post is different than some other posts you may have read. I’m preparing for low capacity days, that’s why I do so much with just two cuts of meat. These meals and the chicken ones I’m about to make will last me 4-6 months of busy days, and that’s such a blessing.
May your aprons and Bibles both be well-worn,
The Remedial Homemaker