If you have read my post about Freezer Dinner Starters you know I am not a fan of filling my freezer with fully prepped meals. To me, it feels a lot like eating leftovers – so I don’t do a whole lot of freezer meal prep in the traditional sense– and the same logic holds true for my instant pot prep. I like to prep everything raw and freeze. Prep day is easy (no cooking!) and food doesn’t feel like leftovers. On the cook day, it goes into the instant pot while I chat with my husband and small human about their day.
The instant pot has become an essential tool in my regular meal prep adventures. I use it for once a week meal prep (here's how), and now it is being incorporated into my freezer meal prep too.
Why wouldn’t I just use a slow cooker for these?
- I don’t want to wait 6- 8 hours to cook these during the week. I want to put them in my pot when I walk in the door and have dinner within the next hour – frozen or not.
- As much as I meal plan, sometimes I do forget to actually take the dinner out of the freezer and with the instant pot, we can still have that frozen dinner that night and it is nice to have the option to cook directly from frozen (which is not recommended with slow cooking).
I think that all of these recipes could be prepared in a slow cooker, but slow cooking is just not an option for me for weeknights. I am out of my house at least 10 hours and anything cooked for 10 hours is just not very good – in my experience. I do use my slow cooker on the weekends and when I am cooking for a crowd!
How & Why do I freeze them in circular containers?
- If I don’t pull out a meal to thaw, and have to cook it from frozen, it needs to be in a shape that fits in the instant pot. And, the packs store well like this - upright until frozen = no leaks!
- When deciding on a mould shape, place the container into the instant pot to make sure it fits for both diameter and height.
- I have found that the 6 cup round ziplock containers work well, as do 1L disposable plastic containers. Once frozen overnight in the containers, you can remove the containers and stack the meals to save space.
- The biggest challenge to these freezer packs is getting as much air as possible out. Using the foodsaver is a challenge because as the air is sucked out, the shape of the bag changes. BUT - you can transfer to a foodsaver for longer term storage once it is frozen. But- that is an extra step. I did it with one recipe as the contents were a bit much to have the ziplock close tightly.
Which tools are needed?
- 6 cup capacity ziplock plastic containers, or 1L plastic disposable containers.
- Freezer labels (freezerlabels.net) and a sharpie. You could also write directly on the bag and skip the labels, but it is much harder to read the contents.
- Ziploc Freezer Bags (gallon size)- not all ziplock bags are created equal. Ensure you buy the freezer specific bags.
- Optional Foodsaver system.
How to Store them?
- I am a fan of the plastic container and ziplock system for a few reasons.
- you can put the ziplock baggie into the container and just dump ingredients in as you go - no mixing bowls required.
- you can freeze these upright - less leaking issues.
- they store easily in bins in your freezer this way without any bulky containers.
- On prep day, put all of the ingredients into the ziplock bag (that is inserted into a plastic container). Freeze overnight so the meal becomes the shape of the container.
- Next day - you can slide the ziplock out - remove air and seal the bag. I use bag clips from IKEA to clamp as close to the frozen meal as I can.
- If you are storing long term, now that the meal is a frozen block you could transfer to a foodsaver bag. This is an extra step and added cost as you are now using ziplock bags and foodsaver bags, but it is up to you. One of my meals ended up being too full in a ziplock bag so I opted to transfer to a food saver bag.
So, what are some prep ahead freezer friendly instant pot recipes?
Not all recipes are created to be prepped ahead and frozen. Recipes with multiple steps in the instant pot, or contain ingredients with differing cook times are not great for prep ahead and freeze. I also avoid vegetables for this. The biggest reason is that if you put cut up veggies in with your meat, you will end up with veggie mush as the cook times are so significantly different than meat.
If you select recipes that require steps after cooking (adding dairy or cornstarch for example, make sure you write that on the label.
Here are some IP recipes that are great for prep and freeze that I have done:
Korean Ribs *I wouldn't recommend cooking this recipe directly from frozen. The ribs cook unevenly* But, the flavour of these is AMAZING, and the pressure cooker makes the ribs really tender!
Honey Bourbon Chicken - be aware that honey doesn't freeze so this pack will always be a bit squishy - and high risk for leaking if you don't keep it upright.
Spicy Orange Beef - For this one, remember to add the cornstarch slurry after it is cooked and not into the prep bag. Write a reminder on your label about this. I also skip the browning/saute for this recipe.
Thai Chicken Thighs - if your peanut butter is really thick for this one, you may need to add a bit of broth on your cook day to make sure there is enough liquid to come to pressure.
Chili Lime Chicken - This recipe doesn't call for liquid. I do add a splash of broth at cook time - but many have done this recipe without the broth and it has worked.
Putting all of these together took me under two hours - and I am pretty sure it took me longer to write this post and take picture of these creations than it did to prep the meals. #foodbloggerproblems.
3 Whole Chickens – no recipe required. Here is how to cook a whole chicken in the instant pot.
- For each chicken, I cut the skin on the breast side and stuffed it with garlic cloves. I also seasoned with seasonings I had in my pantry – I used ClubHouse Greek, Applewood Smoked, and Tex Mex seasonings. I have done whole chickens from frozen and thawed and they taste awesome either way. My only cautionary note is that if you plan to cook from frozen make sure your chicken is small enough to fit as an ice block! My favourite storage method for these is the foodsaver system.
To Thaw or Not to Thaw?
While you can easily cook these meals right from frozen, and I will do that when I am in a bind, I typically still thaw the meals before I cook them. The main reason is that if you are putting a giant ice chunk in your pressure cooker it takes extra time for the block to melt and for the pot to reach pressure, and the cook times are increased.
If you are going to be cooking from frozen often – here is a great resource on cooking frozen foods in the pressure cooker.
One last note, that cook times from frozen will depend on the final shape of your meal. Always ensure your meat is cooked to the correct internal temperatures.
This week (January 16th 2017) , I will post pictures as I cook my way through these during the week - after work! Come follow along @mealplanaddict.
So, there you have it, ANOTHER easy way to fill your freezer so you can do better things with your after work hours!