How to Prep and Freeze Slow Cooker Meals

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Put your takeout plans on ice. With ready-to-make meals kept in your freezer, it’s a snap to get a wholesome supper going in your slow cooker (or pressure cooker!).

On busy weeknights, it is so tempting to pick up a quick dinner from the drive-thru. Especially if you have to make a stop at the grocery store somewhere between work, shuttling the kiddos around and actually cooking. Luckily, we have the perfect, hands-off solution: freezer slow cooker meals!

By prepping meat, veggies and seasonings ahead of time and storing them in a gallon bag in the freezer, dinner is as straightforward as tossing everything in the slow cooker, turning it on and heading out for the day. To get you started, we put together some helpful tips for freezer slow cooker meal prep, plus three delicious recipes.

While you’re at it, check out our guide to freezing almost everything.

Freezing Tips for Prepped Slow Cooker Meals

Which Ingredients to Keep Fresh

While you can freeze just about anything, it’s better to keep broth, canned tomatoes, beans, wine and other watery ingredients out of your freezer bag. This is because these ingredients will freeze your meal prep bags solid, taking up more space in your freezer and extending the time it takes to defrost the bags. Not to mention, there’s a chance the bags will leak that liquid all over your freeze, and no one wants that. (If you do have a mishap, here’s how to clean your freezer.)

You’ll also want to keep thickening agents, like cornstarch and flour, from the freezer as they can clump up from moisture in the bag.

How to Prepare Ingredients

To make things easy on yourself later on, do as much preparing as you can before the ingredients go into the freezer bag. That means washing, peeling and dicing vegetables and cutting and browning meats, if needed.

For vegetables that are added later in the cooking process, like peas, store them in a smaller zip-top bag within the freezer bag, or just keep a separate, store-bought bag of frozen peas in your freezer.

When it comes to herbs, spices and garlic, sprinkle dried seasonings and minced or sliced garlic right into the freezer bag. If you prefer to use fresh herbs, hold off on preparing and adding them until everything is going into the slow cooker.

Once all of your ingredients are prepped, layer them in a sturdy, gallon-sized freezer bag.

How to Store Freezer Slow Cooker Meals

We recommend laying the bagged meals flat in the freezer until they’ve frozen solid. That way, you can stack several prepared meals on top of each other or store them standing up in a plastic magazine file. Here are more products that make freezing food so much easier.

Most freezer meals will last about 6 months in the freezer when stored properly. Don’t forget to write the date you packaged the ingredients on the freezer bag! Take a look at these other freezer organization tips.

How to Defrost Freezer Slow Cooker Meals

The night before you’re planning on cooking, transfer the frozen meal to the refrigerator to defrost overnight. You may want to place the bag in a bowl or casserole dish to prevent condensation from getting your fridge wet.

In the morning, your freezer meal should be pliable enough to transfer to your slow cooker. We’re sure these freezing and defrosting tips will come in handy.

Freezer Slow Cooker Recipes

Now that you have the basics of prepping freezer slow cooker meals, here are three recipes to try with this method.

Southwestern Pork & Squash Soup

Southwestern Pork & Squash SoupTaste of Home

What You’ll Need

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 1-in. cubes
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can (141/2 oz.) diced tomatoes with mild green chiles, undrained

Yield: 6 servings

To Prepare

Southwestern Pork & Squash SoupTaste of Home

Wash and peel the butternut squash and carrots, then chop them along with the onion. Next, cut the pork tenderloin into bite-sized chunks.

In a 1-gallon resealable freezer bag or airtight freezer container, layer squash, carrots, onion and pork, then sprinkle in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Squeeze out any excess air and seal the freezer bag. Store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

To Cook

Transfer the bag to your refrigerator so it can thaw overnight.

Empty the bag into a slow cooker, then top with chicken broth and an undrained can of tomatoes with green chiles. Cook the stew on low 4-5 hours, or until meat is tender.

Pressure Cooker Method: Thaw the meal overnight, then empty the freezer bag into a 6-qt. electric pressure cooker; add broth and tomatoes. Lock lid; close pressure-release valve. Pressure-cook on high 3 minutes. Quick-release pressure. (A thermometer inserted into pork should read at least 145°F.)

Beef Short Ribs Vindaloo

RMS: 132182 Beef Short Ribs Vindaloo Prep Shot, Meal Planner, Food Stylist: Shannon Norris, Set Stylist: Stacey Genaw, prep shot, overhead, gray white marble tabletop, close-up, ziploc plastic bag, beef, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fresh gingeroot, mustard seed, bay leavesTaste of Home

What You’ll Need

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh gingerroot
  • 2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 11/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 cup fresh sugar snap peas, halved
  • Hot white rice, plain Greek yogurt and cilantro, optional

Yield: 4 servings

To Prepare

RMS: 132182 Beef Short Ribs Vindaloo Prep Shot, Meal Planner, Food Stylist: Shannon Norris, Set Stylist: Stacey Genaw, prep shot, overhead, gray white marble tabletop, close-up, ziploc plastic bag, beef, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fresh gingeroot, mustard seed, bay leavesTaste of Home

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and ginger, cooking and stirring for 1 minute. Add the spices and stir for another minute. Remove the seasonings from heat and allow them to cool completely.

Next, in a 1-gallon resealable freezer bag, combine the bone-in ribs, vinegar, bay leaves and onion mixture. Push out the excess air from the bag and seal tightly. Store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

To Cook

Thaw overnight in refrigerator before use.

Empty the ribs into a 4-qt. slow cooker and cook them on low for 8-10 hours, or until meat is tender. Stir in the halved sugar snap peas, and cover and cook them for 8-10 minutes longer, or until peas are crisp-tender.

Skim the excess fat and discard the bay leaves. Serve these ribs with some hot white rice, plain Greek yogurt and cilantro, if desired.

Pressure Cooker Method: Thaw the ribs overnight, then empty them into a 6-qt. electric pressure cooker; add 1 cup of beef broth. Lock lid; close the pressure-release valve. Adjust to pressure-cook on high 40 minutes. Let pressure release naturally 10 minutes; quick-release any remaining pressure. Press saute setting. Add peas; cook until tender, 8-10 minutes. Serve with rice, yogurt and cilantro, if desired.

Garden Chicken Cacciatore

Garden Chicken CacciatoreTaste of Home

What You’ll Need

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium green peppers, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 12 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 3 lbs.)
  • 1 can (141/2 oz.) diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic, undrained
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine or additional reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp. cold water
  • Cooked spaghetti and minced fresh parsley, optional

Yield: 12 servings

To Prepare

Garden Chicken CacciatoreTaste of Home

Wash the green peppers and chop them along with the onion.

In a 1-gallon resealable freezer bag, layer the onion, green peppers, minced garlic, salt, pepper and chicken. Push out any excess air and seal the bag. Store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

To Cook

Thaw the chicken and veggies overnight in the refrigerator before use.

Empty the thawed freezer bag into a 6-qt. slow cooker; add the can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth and red wine. Cook on low 8-10 hours. Then, in a bowl, mix cornstarch and water to form a slurry and stir into the Cacciatore. Cover and cook for a few more minutes until thickened. Serve atop hot cooked spaghetti and top with parsley, if desired.

Pressure Cooker Method: Thaw overnight, then empty the chicken into a 6-qt. electric pressure cooker; add tomatoes, tomato paste, broth and red wine. Lock the lid; close the pressure-release valve. Adjust to pressure-cook on high 10 minutes. Let pressure naturally release 10 minutes, then quick-release remaining pressure. In a bowl, mix cornstarch and water. Stir into chicken mixture. Press saute setting; adjust heat to medium. Simmer mixture until sauce is thickened. Serve with spaghetti and minced parsley if desired.

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Rachel Seis
As senior editor for Taste of Home magazine, Rachel has her hand in everything you see from cover to cover, from writing and editing articles to taste-testing recipes to ensuring every issue is packed with fun and fabulous content. She'll roll up her sleeves to try any new recipe in the kitchen—from spicy Thai dishes (her favorite!) to classic Southern comfort food (OK...also her favorite). When she's not busy thinking of her next meal, Rachel can be found practicing yoga, going for a run, exploring National Parks and traveling to new-to-her cities across the country.
Caroline Stanko
As Editor, Caroline writes and edits all things food-related and helps produce videos for Taste of Home. When she’s not at her desk, you can probably find Caroline cooking up a feast, planning her next trip abroad or daydreaming about her golden retriever, Mac.