Surviving the back-to-school season without resorting to convenience foods!
How to make twenty-four to twenty-seven simple chicken freezer meals for your Instant Pot or crock pot in just a few hours.
I prepared these recipes (chicken lentil stew, chicken white bean chili, Tuscan chicken stew, chicken veggie soup base, and chicken enchiladas) plus those from my fully prepared meal post and my ground beef post in the last few days using the planning method I explained here. You can do it too! Now I have roughly sixty total meals in my freezer to use when I can’t spend much time in the kitchen. The grand total cost was about $200, which makes each meal less than $5 for my family of four. Isn’t that fantastic?! I will use these meals over roughly the next six months and they will save me stress and many hundreds of dollars on busy days when we’d be tempted to eat out or order in.
- These meals all used boneless/skinless chicken breasts that I picked up on sale. You could also use boneless/skinless chicken thighs. Check out my planning post for more help converting your own recipes to freezer meals.
- We leave the broth out of these recipes and substitute Organic Better than Bullion right in the freezer bag. It’s a concentrated bullion paste to which you add water. Add about 2 Tablespoons BTB per bag.
- You will add the water (or broth if you prefer) on the day you cook the meal, not to the bags you freeze. When you cook the meals, you need to add the quantity of water from the broth in the recipes, PLUS the water to finish the beans. A good rule of thumb: Cover soaked beans with enough water to reach up to your second knuckle on your index finger (about 2 inches). You’ll have to experiment with your preferences.
- Also, leave out dairy, greens, raw mushrooms, and potatoes. These things don’t freeze well so add them on the day you cook the meal. Add greens and dairy at the end.
- I only made five different recipes, but I made multiples of each so I can use them over the next six months or so. This isn’t like once-a-month cooking where you use all the meals the same month, so I am able to simplify my selections and make multiples of each meal. This is so. much. easier.
- Yes, in the Instant Pot you can make these meals from frozen. I do. Just defrost the meals enough to break them into chunks and fit them in the pot. You don’t need to adjust the cooking time, just know it will take longer to come up to pressure. Be sure there is at least a half a cup of liquid in the bottom of the pot when you cook it or it won’t come up to pressure properly.
Step One: Prep
- On the night before you plan to do your meals, clean up your kitchen and do your dishes so you have counter space and all the dishes you need available.
- Check your inventory. Print each recipe and go over them checking to be sure you have enough of each ingredient. Don’t skip this. I always do, and I always seem to forget something or think I have enough when I don’t. This time I ran out of Kosher salt. It’s the kind of thing you don’t think to check but should. Do you have enough freezer bags? Do you have two disposable foil cake pans for your enchiladas?
- If using dry beans for chili or Tuscan stew, soak them overnight if you’re going to be cooking these meals in your Instant Pot. If you plan to cook these meals in the crock pot, cook your beans first or use canned beans. You’ll notice that I didn’t soak my beans ahead of time for my beef chili, and that’s because beef can handle a longer cooking time than chicken breast. If you want to use dried beans in your instant pot, you can, just use chicken thighs instead of breasts so they don’t overcook by the time your beans are done. Don’t soak the lentils.
- Cook the beans you want for your pans of enchiladas (unless you are using canned).
Step Two: Chop Veggies and Cook Rice
- On the day of your freezer meal session, chop all your vegetables first. For these recipes, I used five large onions and 12-15 cloves of garlic. I have carrots in my garden so I peeled and sliced these as well. You could easily just get a large bag of baby carrots and use those. I also sliced and cleaned six leeks for the Tuscan stew.
- While you are chopping veggies, cook your favorite rice for enchiladas. My favorite rice is the brown basmati I get from the bulk section at my local Winco. I cook it in the Instant Pot in this ratio: 1 cup rice to 1 1/4 cups water. Add a pat of butter and some salt. Cook for 18 minutes. Quick pressure release, fluff with a fork. Set aside. Make 2-3 cups of uncooked rice.
- Drain all your soaked beans and set aside in bowls.
- Get out all the spices you will be using.
Step Three: Portion Chicken and Cook Some for Enchiladas
- Label all your bags and set aside. When you label them write down on each bag what to add on the day of cooking. For example, on the White Chicken Chili, write “Add water” and “Finish with Neufchatel cheese”. Always write on the bag to remind yourself to add water to soups and chilis. Ask me how I know. 🙂
- Now you’re ready to portion chicken into gallon-sized zip top freezer bags. Put two raw chicken breasts in each bag. That may not seem like enough, but with beans and vegetables it works out to be plenty. This portion keeps each meal under $5.00 for a family of four, but you can add more if you prefer.Here’s my breakdown of how many meals per recipe:Chicken Veggie Soup Base: 2 bags that will feed us for two to three meals depending on how I use them. Four to six total meals. My soup base is just chicken breasts, frozen mixed vegetables, poultry seasoning, and Better Than Bullion. It is the base for Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Gravy Over Rice/Potatoes, or Chicken and Wild Rice (or Barley or Noodle) soup. It just makes the prep easier for me when I’m making these meals. If these aren’t family favorites for you, just leave this recipe out and substitute something you prefer.
Chicken Lentil Stew: 3 bags that will feed us for two dinners. Six total meals. Instant Pot: using dry lentils, cook time on “manual” is 8 minutes. Crock Pot: do low 4-6 hrs.
Chicken White Bean Chili: 2 bags that will feed us for two to three meals. Four to six total meals. LEAVE OUT the cheese and garnishes until your cooking day. Instant Pot: using soaked beans, cook time on “bean” is 20-25 minutes. Unsoaked, add about 10 minutes. Crock pot: low 6-8 hrs, high for 4-5.
Tuscan Chicken Stew: 3 bags that will feed us for two to three meals. Six to nine total meals. I just really love this soup. LEAVE OUT the potatoes, kale, and cheese until your cooking day. Add them at the end and simmer on “saute” until they are finished. Maybe 20 minutes? Instant Pot: soaked beans, cook time on “bean” is 20-25 minutes, unsoaked is 30-40. Crock Pot: low 6-8 hrs, high for 4-5.
Chicken Enchiladas: 2 pans to freeze that will feed us for two meals. and 1 to eat for dinner on the day I’m freezer cooking. Five total meals. I don’t use a recipe for these, but here are my ingredients: 4 shredded chicken breasts, about 5 cans of beans, 4-5 cups cooked and cooled rice, shredded cheese, 2 large cans of enchilada sauce, 2 cups of salsa, sliced olives, 2 small bags frozen corn, and 16 burrito sized flour tortillas. If you are gluten free (or just prefer corn) use corn tortillas but layer them in the dish like a lasagna rather than rolling them like enchiladas.
- Cook the four chicken breasts for the enchiladas. If using your Instant Pot, follow these directions for the simplest shredded chicken. Add taco seasoning if you like. Set aside.
Step Four: Assemble Raw Meals and Freeze
- Following the recipe directions, saute the aromatics for the Tuscan Stew and set aside to cool
- Go recipe by recipe and add the things you need for each meal. Add in this general order: chicken, beans, veggies, herbs and spices, bullion.
- As you finish the bags for each recipe, remove the air from the bags with a straw, close the bags, and lay flat to freeze. Flat bags store easier.
- Once the aromatics for the Tuscan Stew is cooled down to warm, assemble these meals as well, remove the air, and freeze flat.
Step Five: Assemble Enchiladas
- Shred your cooked chicken and in a large bowl, mix it with the set aside cooked rice, beans, corn, spices, and salsa. Taste it. Add cumin and coriander if you want to liven it up.
- Open up your olives and enchilada sauce, and get out your shredded cheese.
- Spray your two disposable casserole dishes with non-stick spray and pour 1/2 of a large can of sauce into the bottom of each pan.
- Fill your tortillas with the rice/chicken/bean mixture, then olives, then some cheese. Roll and place in casserole dish. I fill mine pretty generously and end up with 6 large enchiladas per pan. Reserve some of each for your dinner tonight.
- Pour an additional 1/3 of a large can of enchilada sauce over the top of each pan, sprinkle with cheese, then a few more olives. Cover with heavy duty foil and write baking instructions on top. “Thaw. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes-ish”. Freeze these.
- You should still have some filling, 3 tortillas, toppings, and 1/3 can of enchilada sauce for your own dinner. Layer them in a baking dish and top with the sauce. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes till it’s all heated through and cheese is beginning to brown.
- Now try to muster the motivation to clean up your kitchen, or delegate this task. Don’t let it wait until tomorrow though, you’ll be sad to see it in the morning.
- Eat dinner. Congratulate yourself for saving so much money and working hard.
This process usually takes me close to 6 hours. I’m sure many of you could do it faster. I just have a teeny tiny space and my kids are almost always home while I do it, so it takes longer than it should.
There you have it friends, my process for freezer meal cooking twice a year to save my sanity during the school year. I do hope you will read through these posts and apply the methods to your own recipes or try some of my favorites. I’ve already heard from so many of you who have made this idea your own or used these recipes and that makes my heart happy.
This series has been a labor of love for you all. It’s not fancy, but I hope it’s practical and informative. I sincerely desire to bless you in your homes and help relieve the pressure and stress of failing to get dinner on the table. Go with grace into the new school year.
May your aprons and Bibles both be well-worn,
The Remedial Homemaker