As a busy working mom, I often find that the dinnertime crunch is, shall we say, overwhelming. And that’s grossly understating it. Friends: when even your kids complain about the regularity with which you serve chicken fingers & oven fries, KD or (my personal favourite) cereal for dinner, then you know it’s time to make a change in the routine.
But let’s face it: when you leave for work at 7:30 a.m. and often don’t get home again until 6:30, I think we both know that the freezer has to be a part of the equation. So last weekend, I put my thinking cap on (read: spent about three hours on Pinterest) and settled on some make-ahead meals that I felt were doable for a novice batch-cooker, were easy to heat up (all were freezer-to-crock pot recipes) and, most importantly, would be most likely to be consumed by my children.
All-told, it took me under two hours to put all the freezer meals together, and it cost me just shy of $80 to buy the ingredients (a pretty thrifty venture, it turns out). Each of the freezer packs required only basic chopping and bagging skills – essentially all you do is chop the meat and veggies into chunks and then toss them into a large Ziploc bag with the remaining ingredients (there’s one exception: the Mongolian Beef requires browning). Pop them in the freezer, and make sure you take one out to thaw for a day in the fridge before you dump the whole bag in the crockpot to cook. When you get home, the house smells great and dinner is only a pot of rice or noodles away. A few tips I learned as a first-time batch-cooker:
- Write the name of the meal and the reheating instructions on the front of each Ziploc bag with a permanent marker before filling the bag with your ingredients.
- Chop all the different ingredients at once and then make each meal assembly-line style. So, if you need nine chopped chicken breasts 2 onions and 3 peppers altogether, then chop all nine chicken breasts before moving on to the onions and then the peppers and so on. This is much more efficient than chopping 2 chicken breasts, half an onion and a green pepper, then having to do it all again for the next recipe.
- If you’re cooking for less than 4-5 people, divide each recipe before freezing. It’s much better to make enough for one meal and then have another fresh one waiting to go into the crock pot than making twice as much as you need and then having leftovers. Unless you prefer leftovers, of course!
Here are the recipes, along with my review of each:
in the bag:
- 1 pound flank steak, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 large green onions, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root (I used powdered)
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
- Place flank steak and cornstarch into a resealable plastic bag. Shake the bag to evenly coat the flank steak with the cornstarch. Allow to steak rest for 10 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir steak until evenly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.
- Place all ingredients in a Ziploc bag.
- Cook on Low setting for 4-6 hours.
- Serve over rice or rice vermicelli.
We loved this recipe! The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and had a pretty authentic Chinese takeout flavour. Served with steamed broccoli it was a real treat. This is definitely a recipe we will repeat.
CILANTRO LIME CHICKEN
in the bag:
- 3 chicken breasts
- juice from 2 limes
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 (16 oz) bag corn
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tsp cumin
- salt and pepper
- cook on low for 8 hours
- shred meat and serve in tortillas
- garnish with sour cream, salsa and grated cheese, if desired
I was looking forward to this meal most of all; maybe that’s what made it so disappointing. It might be worth making again, with a few changes. For instance, I would add the corn only at the end, maybe for the last 15 minutes or so and just to heat it through. I’d also add more heat to it; maybe some chill powder or cayenne pepper.
in the bag:
- 2-3 chicken breasts (whole)
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbs soy sauce
- 1/2 can of large pineapple chunks
- 1/2 cup of pineapple juice (from can)
- 2 chopped bell peppers (I used red and yellow)
- cook on low for 6-7 hours
- shred and serve over rice
Hello, Hawaii? Delicious called and wants its chicken recipe back. Or something like that. Anyhow: suffice to say this one was a hit. Juicy and sweet and bursting with flavour, this one will become a family ‘classic’ for sure.
in the bag:
- 3 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 cup teriyaki sauce
- 1 cup water
- 2/3 cup brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- a few sprinkles of ginger
- cook on low for 4-6 hours
- serve over sticky rice or udon noodles
I thought this recipe was decent, but my kids couldn’t get enough of it. We did not have leftovers the night I served this…my ten year-old went back for seconds, which is unheard-of around here. I served it over rice and we had some quickly stir fried snow peas on the side. Definitely doing it again.
in the bag:
- 2 cups carrots
- 2 cups bell pepper (I used green)
- 1 lb chicken breast, cubed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 8 oz orange juice concentrate
- Cook on low 4-6 hours.
- Serve over rice.
We’re big fans of Orange Chicken around here, and I have a tried-and-true Sweet & Sticky Orange Chicken recipe that we all adore, so it was a risk trying a new (albeit easier) recipe. Having said that, this one delivers. Both the kids and I enjoyed it (although maybe not quite as much as our favourite) and I’ll likely make it again just because it’s so easy to prepare.