As avid slow cookers we are all aware of how convenient they are in our busy, busy lives.
If in any doubt pop by and read our earlier blog on ‘Why use your slow cooker for that!?‘
But is there even MORE convenience we can get from these wonderful machines??
The answer is Freezer Meals or Freezer Bags for Slow Cookers – sometimes called ‘dump bags’ … because on the day of cooking you need only to ‘dump’ the bag contents into the slow cooker and dinner is done! 😉
Often the longest process in slow cooking (even as short as it may be) is the preparation time. The dicing, peeling, measuring and prepping of your ingredients.
Dump bags take the work out of this for you.
The basic technique is to prep all your recipe components in advance…. many people will do several batches of each recipes, and often several recipes, on the one day.
Each bag contains all the ingredients of the recipes already prepared and in the bag and any you don’t want to add in advance you simply mark on the outside of the bag with a permanent marker to add on the day when you cook.
If you clearly label your Dump Bags in the freezer then you just browse your selection, pick the bag you want the day before, pop it in the fridge to defrost then hey presto the next day you dump and run!
Here are some basic tips to remember with Freezer Meals/Dump Bags in general:
# Label all meals with the name of the meal, the date it was frozen, any ingredients it that may need to be added (stock, water, canned tomatoes, etc.) and cooking time (e.g. 8 hours on low, 4 hours on high) Use a water proof permanent marker to ensure the writing stays on.
# Use the best quality bags zip seal bags you can afford for the best seal and least chance of any tears or rips.
# Store meals as flat as you can to save space and for a more even defrosting time.
# When packing foods in to the bag for freezing remove most if not all the air. The air in the bags will cause freezer burn. This is why it is a good idea to use good quality freezer bags so you can also add liquids (tinned tomatoes, stock, soup mix) to fill the gaps between your ingredients. Vacuum sealing the bag is great too if you have that option.
# Avoid adding potatoes to the meal base that is to be frozen. To save time during the week peel potatoes and store in a container of water ensuring that the potatoes are covered.
# Other foods to avoid are ones high in water content such as zucchini’s (courgettes), yellow squash and again potatoes. You can always Google your particular vegetable and its suitableness for freezing if you are unsure. Also dairy products should be avoided as they will curdle and split upon defrosting.
# Freezing bulk raw meals will save you time but they also have an expiry date, a maximum of 3 months is the general consensus for keeping raw frozen meals.
# If you are unsure how a meal will freeze, take a portion of the next slow cooker meal you are about to cook and freeze it as a test run.
# Try out new recipes to be sure you like them before you do bulk lots of them to freeze.
# Blanch vegetables before freezing where possible to preserve quality.
# Make a menu, decide what you want to prepare and how many of each. Then make a shopping list from this menu. You will often find cooking in this way is cheaper since you can buy in bulk.
# Keep in mind how some foods will respond to freezing. eg some fresh herbs and seasonings could decrease in flavour, pastas and grains if pre-cooked can be softer after the freezing process etc.
# Schedule ahead a day or a half a day to prep, chop, and bag your freezer meals. The time you spend now will save you in the long run.
# Remember to always thaw safely prior to slow cooking. Some people will cook these bags from frozen but I advise against this (see the section of cooking from frozen on our Tips/FAQ page). Defrost in fridge overnight or in microwave in a microwave safe container. Do not thaw on bench tops at room temperature.
That’s really all you need to know to get started 🙂
Why not comment below with your favourite meal to freeze ahead from our recipes section!
Or start with one of our ready made recipe and shopping lists that has all the preparation work done for you!