Generally speaking, slow-cooker meals are pretty easy to make—set it and forget it, as the saying goes. But most recipes need a little TLC in the form of slicing, dicing, and even sautéeing before the ingredients can actually go in your Insta-Pot, which often means prep can end up taking longer than you expected. That’s fine on your day off when you have time to spare, (hello, hygge!), but not so great when you’re rushing around in the morning. Yes, you do want a tender, fall-off-the-bone-style stew for dinner, but you’d also rather take a shower and eat breakfast than brown some beef.
Luckily for you, I have a little meal-prep secret that has completely revolutionized my slow-cooking game. On Sunday night (when I’m doing the rest of my prep for the week), I pick out a handful of Crock-Pot recipes, do any necessary chopping or sautéeing, put all my prepped ingredients into labeled Ziploc baggies, and then pop them in the freezer. Much like freezer-pack smoothies, these slow-cooker meal-packs last a while and can be made in bulk, and they allow me to quickly get my dinner started in the minutes before I leave for work—no additional prep required. Suddenly dinner any day of the week is a total cinch.
One other bonus: Because the ingredients are all frozen, they take longer to cook. That’s especially great if you work long days and don’t normally make it home in time to turn off the heat before your food starts to burn.
Here you’ll find 11 slow-cooker dinners that easily lend themselves to this prep-and-freeze ahead-of-time method. Each recipe includes a few helpful instructions to get you started: which ingredients need to be cooked, chopped, and frozen in advance; as well as ingredients that don’t need any maintenance and can be added at the last second (grains like quinoa and liquids like chicken stock, for example). Add them to your meal-prep plan ASAP.
1. Honey-Garlic Chicken and Veggies
With this dish you’ll want to first make the soy sauce mixture (which is a combo of soy sauce, honey, ketchup, garlic, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, and black pepper). Then, pour that into a bag with chicken thighs, potatoes, and carrots. Freeze it, then cook it for eight to nine hours on low. Add green beans in the last 30 minutes of cooking so that they maintain their crunch. Get the recipe here.
2. BBQ Lentil Chili
Chopped veggies, rinsed lentils, spices, and sauces are what you’ll be putting in your freezer bag. Add vegetable broth directly to the Insta-Pot when you start cooking. Find the recipe here.
3. Sausage Kale Soup
Start by cooking sausage in a pan until it’s browned. Then, let chopped onions, garlic, celery, and carrots sauté in the reserved fat. Add all of those ingredients (plus herbs and spices) to your freezer-pack and save for later. When you start cooking, top everything off with chicken stock. Hold off on adding kale until 10 minutes before it’s all finished, because kale cooks quickly and therefore doesn’t need much time. Get the recipe here.
4. Chicken Quinoa Enchilada Soup
This one is super simple. Just put all the raw ingredients (except for the quinoa, which you can add when you start cooking) in a baggie, then into the freezer. Get the recipe here.
5. Corn Chowder
First, chop and cook your bacon until crispy. Then, (along with the bacon) add diced onion, carrots, celery, frozen corn, and spices to your freezer bag. Reserve broth and almond milk to be added later. Within the last 30 minutes of cooking, whisk together cornstarch and broth mixture and add it back to the pot. Try the recipe here.
6. Chicken Curry
This is not how I usually make chicken curry, but it is always nice to change things up. Sauté your veggies, then your chicken with the spices, and transfer it all to a freezer bag. When you’re ready to cook add those ingredients, plus canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, and coconut milk. Sprinkle on a bit of cilantro when it’s finished cooking and dig in. Get the recipe here.
7. Creole Chicken and Sausage
The only ingredients you need to really prep for this are the onions and garlic, which both need to be chopped. From there, everything can be frozen and then cooked whenever you desire. Get the recipe here.