Stocking Up on Freezer Meals

freezer meals: My Life in Transition

Let me admit something to you in this post: I really don't love to cook. Maybe it's just because in this season of our lives, dinner time is hectic and not exactly 'fun' at all. Especially on the nights when Nate doesn't get home until 7:30 pm, dinnertime is just freaking rough. It usually involves me trying to throw together whatever we have on the meal plan while two out of three children are crying/need me to hold them. Since have the meals planned ahead of time it always *seems* like a super doable recipe, but once it's crunch time I find that chopping anything, manning the oven, or opening any jars proves to be way too much for me to handle. Yes, I have tried wearing my baby. Yes, I have tried prepping during nap time and keeping the recipes simple. But there are always constant interruptions of Porter needing to nurse/be changed/crying, and Cecelia needing all of my attention as well.

During my maternity leave, I started to realize that on Nate's late nights, which are Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays, I needed to revamp our routine a bit. It just wasn't working to make anything with fresh produce---although we love our veggies and fresh fruits. Name of the game: survival mode. Our family needs to eat but it cannot be at the expense of my mental sanity and dinner time and it cannot take me 3 hours to complete.  And so? Enter in freezer meals. If I'm feeling especially energetic I can always try to throw together a side salad or fruit in a bowl, but I cannot promise anything on those 'solo parenting/dinner/bathtime' nights!

When mom was visiting us, she suggested that we team up and assemble a ton of freezer meals together before I returned to work. I can then use this stash on Mondays and Wednesdays, and when Nate is home on the other nights we can do more fresh and elaborate dishes. (Note: by elaborate I mean grilling burgers, making a giant spinach salad, or doing anything that takes longer than 5 minutes. That is elaborate to me!)

I will also admit that I don't have a super-refined palate by any means, and I'm pretty boring with my food choices. Nothing spicier than ketchup will touch my lips and I really just love chicken or beef with various amounts of cheese and veggies. So my meal choices are not fancy or special, but they work for us! And since our kids don't usually eat much of our 'adult' meals, I planned these portions to suit just Nate and I. This is a separate issue, I realize, and no---I'm not a 'short order cook' for my children. But I would rather make them something that I know they will eat, then encourage them to try a bite of OUR dish as well, to keep dinner time as pleasant as possible. Again, I realize this is a debatable topic on the internets but that is what works for our family! And: survival mode does not include constant food battles at the dinner table, especially when I'm alone with three kids during the hardest hours of the day. I just cannot right now.

I figured that I should document our little journey through seven different freezer meal recipes in case we do this again in the future, but also because it might be really helpful to anyone else out there who wants a supply of ready-to-go meals in their freezer. I'm hoping we can always have a few meals like this on hand because it's just so nice to have them! Planning it all out and making the grocery list was half of the work, so I will try to save you some time here.

SO. I made this post with a grocery list, all of my recipes and tips/explanations of each meal, and then the general procedure we followed. I hope this helps someone!

Grocery list for all seven recipes:
*Note--I did not include the spices or items we already had in this list. So eggs, butter, milk, olive oil, flour, etc were all in our kitchen already and possibly yours, too. But I figured it might be helpful to see a grocery list that we used to purchase the other items for these recipes. Definitely read all of the specific recipes first to make your own shopping list, but this part did take me awhile to organize so I wanted to share it with you. Hopefully it helps! Our grocery bill was $200 for this but that also included other weekly staples like deli turkey meat, milk, eggs, bread, etc. Not too bad for 23 meals!

-one 6 pound 'bone-in' pork shoulder (for the pulled pork recipe)
-8 chicken breasts (for enchiladas, quinoa casserole, and the white chicken chili)
-2 pounds of beef chunks for stew (beer beef stew)
-3.5 pounds of ground beef (lasagna and the beef chili)
-1 pound of breakfast sausage (lasagna)
-1 pound of bacon (for the beef chili, special addition for fun)

Canned products:
-2 cans of black beans (enchiladas)
-2 cans of white beans (white chili)
-2 cans of kidney beans (beef chili)
-2 cans red beans (beef chili)
-2 cans mild chili beans (beef chili)
-2 cans diced tomatoes (beef chili)
-2 cans whole tomatoes (lasagna)
-2 cans tomato paste (lasagna)
-2 cans green enchilada sauce--or one large 28 oz can (enchiladas)
-1 can of tomatoes with green chilis, like Rotel (beer beef stew)

-1 package of cream cheese (enchiladas)
-2 bags of shredded Monterrey and Colby cheese mix (enchiladas)
-2 big bags of flour tortillas (enchiladas)
-1 bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (quinoa casserole)
-1 tub of cottage cheese (lasagna)
-parmesean grated cheese-2 cups from our big can (lasagna)
-1 block of mozzarella cheese to slice accordingly (lasagna)

-1 medium onion (white chili)
-2 celery stalks (beer beef stew)
-2 large carrots (beer beef stew)
-1 pound of potatoes (beer beef stew)
-1 head of broccoli (quinoa casserole)
-2 shallots (quinoa casserole)

-BBQ sauce (pulled pork)
-1.5 cups of quinoa
-1 package of no-boil lasagna noodles
-disposable 8x8 pans-we used nine of them

Lasagna: my version inspired by the Pioneer Woman

{Made three 8x8 pans} {Took me 1 hour to assemble and store}


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-1.5 lbs ground beef
-1 lb breakfast sausage
-2 cloves of minced garlic
-2 cans (14.5 oz each) of whole tomatoes
-2 cans (6 oz each) of tomato paste
-2 T dried parsley
-2 T dried basil
-2 T dried oregano
-1 t salt
-2 cups (one big container) of cottage cheese
-2 beaten eggs
-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
-1 block of mozzarella cheese, sliced up
-1 package of no boil lasagna noodles

-Pre-cook the beef and sausage.

-To make the meat/tomato sauce: in a big skillet, add the tomatoes and tomato paste, 2 T of parsley, 2 T of basil, and a bit of salt. Then add your meat and let this whole thing simmer for a bit.

-To make cheese sauce: mix the cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated parmesan, 2 T of oregano, 2 T of basil and some salt. Set aside.

-Layering: put a bit of your meat sauce down first, then noodles, then cheese sauce, then sliced mozzarella cheese, and more meat sauce. Keep going until you run out of room. I had two layers of this concoction in each of my pans. Then stop with a lot of grated parmesan, cover with foil, and store frozen. Will probably take at least an hour to bake with the noodles uncooked and with the dish frozen solid.

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*This was the first time I've made this recipe and I sort of changed it around from that link above. Apparently one large tub of cottage cheese is just a bit over 2 cups and I actually needed 3 cups. Oh well, it didn't seem to matter that I used less. I also used oregano and basil instead of the parsley for the cheese mixture. I fried the meat ahead of time then used it in a skillet with the tomato products to make a sauce later, which isn't exactly how PW did it. I didn't love using whole tomatoes and really tried to smash them up for the sauce, so I'd probably use diced tomatoes next time. Then our noodles were 'no boil' and a little oddly shaped, but they did fit perfectly inside our 8x8 pans. I doubt the ratio of meat to cheese to noodles matters *that* much anyway since I don't think you can go wrong with lasagna! This made three 8x8 pans for us and since I used no boil noodles, I will plan to bake this for a really long time since it will be frozen and noodles uncooked. It took about an hour to put this all together, wearing Porter on my chest.

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Cream Cheese Enchiladas: my version inspired by Pearls, Handcuffs, and Happy Hour

{Made four 8x8 pans, 5-6 enchiladas in each pan} {Took about an hour to assemble and store}

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-3 boiled chicken breasts, shredded
-one 8oz package of cream cheese
-two 10 oz cans of green enchilada sauce, mild
-2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed (original recipe calls for one can)
-4 cups of cooked rice (original recipe calls for 2 cups)
-2 bags of flour enchilada tortillas, the smaller size
-1 bag of shredded monterrey/colby cheese (original recipe calls for 1-2 cups)

-Boil chicken and shred. Make rice.

-Make your filling: chicken, cream cheese, and 1 can of enchilada sauce.

-Pour a bit of enchilada sauce into your pan. Start making your enchiladas by layering rice, black beans, and your filling mixture. Place these bad boys seam down into your pan and keep going until it's full. Top with a bit more enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Cover with foil and store. Will bake at 375 for about 25 minutes once it's thawed.

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*This is one of my favorite tried and true recipes that I love to make for friends with new babies AND for us:) It always seems to make a TON of extra filling when I follow the recipe portions, and then I run out of tortilla wraps, rice and beans to make more than just a 9x13 pan plus a few random extra enchiladas for a separate 8x8 pan. So this time I decided my goal was to make four 8x8 pans, using one pan for a 'meal' for Nate and I. The above recipe is what I used this time but you can visit the link for the original version if you'd like. Our children are not big fans of enchiladas so I didn't have to worry about feeding four mouths with each pan---I eat 2-3 enchiladas for a meal and Nate gets 3. Easy peasy.

I doubled my black beans to two cans, doubled my rice to 4 cups, I got two big bags of the small sized enchilada tortillas, and two bags of shredded cheese. But I kept the amount of filling (chicken, cream cheese, and enchilada sauce) the same to see if that would get me to four small 8x8 pans instead of one large 9x13 plus a few extra. Doubling everything except for the filling worked out well and I could fit 5-6 of the small sized enchiladas in one 8x8 pan, making four pans total. Therefore this gave us a total of 21 wrapped enchiladas (three pans of five, one pan of six).

Also, the enchilada sauce is VERY important in this one. We have tried red sauce and hated it so the green sauce is a must for us. Plus, since I suck and hate anything remotely spicy, we always stick to the mild green sauce which is sort of hard to find but worth it to me!

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Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Casserole: Made to freeze from Annie's Eats recipe
 {Made two 8x8 pans} {Took 45 minutes to assemble and store}

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-1.5 cups of dry quinoa
-1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
-3 T butter
-3 T flour
-2 shallots, diced
-2 cups of milk
-1/4 tsp. garlic powder
-1/4 tsp. dry mustard
-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
-1 8 oz bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
-2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken

-Cook quinoa according to package. Boil chicken (probably about 2 chicken breasts or so?).

-Steam broccoli in a skillet with a bit of water, covering it as it boils then removing from heat once it's bright green.

-Make cheese sauce: melt 3T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Make a bowl full of the following: flour, shallots, garlic powder, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper. Then add this bowl to your butter, whisking until it's light brown for a few minutes. Then add in your milk, stirring frequently, and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Finally, whisk in the cheddar cheese until it's nice and thick and pull it off the heat. Season with salt and pepper as you want.

-Put the quinoa, chicken, and broccoli together in a huge bowl. Then add your cheese sauce and stir it all up so it's nicely coated. Place this mixture in two 8x8 pans, cover with foil, and freeze. Will probably take about 30 minutes to reheat once thawed.

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*This was one where I followed the recipe directly, without any changes on my end, except I made it specifically to be frozen. It was pretty easy to make especially since I cooked the quinoa and chicken the day before. It very easily filled two of my 8x8 tins and hopefully it will cook from frozen nicely. I might even add breadcrumbs to the top before baking. It took me 45 minutes to put this all together, not including the quinoa and chicken cook times.

White Chicken Chili: Mom made this one for us before and we loved it, so it went back on the 'master list' for the big haul.

{Made 3 quart sized bags} {Took 20 minutes to assemble and store}


-2T. Olive Oil
-1T corn starch
-1 medium onion, chopped
-1 can chopped green chilis, drained
-2 cans white beans, drained
-2t cumin
-2t chili powder
-1 lb boiled, shredded chicken
-2 cups chicken stock (for later, when cooking)
-1t salt
-1t pepper

-Place all ingredients except chicken stock in large freezer bag, toss to coat and freeze. When ready, place ingredients in slow cooker, add chicken stock, cook on low for 4-5 hours. Remove chicken, shred and return to crockpot.

*For all of the meals that went into quart freezer bags instead of 8x8 pans, I figure that one quart bag is probably a good guess at two serving sizes. So one bag for Nate and I at dinner, especially if we have something else on the side like bread or crackers or grilled cheese to go with our soups/chili. We will see if I have to use one quart bag per person when super hungry. That will totally throw off my numbers! No pictures of this one yet.

Beef and Bean (and BACON) Chili: this is my personal concoction that I make as someone who HATES anything remotely spicy. 

{Made four quart sized freezer bags full of chili} (Took 20 minutes to assemble and store)

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-2lb ground beef
-1 lb bacon
-2 cans red beans
-2 can chili beans
-2 can kidney beans
-2 can diced tomatoes
-chili powder seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper

-For this freezer meal session, we cooked the beef and bacon ahead of time. I added the eight cans of beans and tomatoes right to my giant stock pot, and did not drain them. I added in the two meats and a bunch of seasoning, stirred it up and then divided it into ziplock bags. I'll use the crockpot or stove top when we're ready to eat this, and I'm thinking a quart sized bag will give us about 2-3 hefty bowls of chili total. Excellent served with shredded cheese. Love it with grilled cheese sandwiches. Took me a total of 20 minutes to add everything together, stir it up, and divide it into bags.

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*I randomly wanted to try it with bacon this time just for fun, too, but usually I just use beef, three kinds of beans, and diced tomatoes plus seasoning. I am not a super-fancy chili person and both Nate and I really like this ultra-simple version. It might not have enough kick for everyone, so obviously change it as you want. Sometimes Nate will add extra hot seasoning to his personal bowl to compensate for me being a huge wuss with heat.

Beer Beef Stew: This was one mom made for us before and it was a hit!

{Made four quart sized bags} {Took about 30 minutes to assemble and store, meat stays raw here}


-2lbs chopped stew beef chunks
-2T olive oil
-2T butter
-2 celery stalks chopped
-2 large carrots chopped
-1lb potatoes chopped
-2 garlic cloves chopped
-2 bay leaves
-1T parsley
-1 cup dark beer
-1 cup beef stock
-1 can tomatoes with green chilis
-2t salt
-1t pepper

-Season beef with salt and pepper but do not cook. Place all ingredients in large freezer bag (or quart bags) except beer and beef stock. When ready, place stew mixture in crockpot, add beer and beef stock, cooking on low for 6-8 hours.

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*Again, hoping that one quart bag will feed Nate and I for dinner. This is the only meal I made that has raw meat in it, so it will definitely have longer crock pot times than the others that just need to be re-heated.

Crockpot Pulled Pork: my version inspired by The Way the Cookie Crumbles

{Made 4 quart sized bags} {Took 5 minutes to prep/rub, then 8 hours in crock pot to cook}


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-Penzey's 'BBQ 3001' rub
-bone-in pork shoulder, 6 lbs
-BBQ sauce

-We used our favorite Penzey's rub instead of making one out of other spices, like the recipe said to do. I just rubbed it all over (gross), wrapped up the meat in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge over night. Then the next day we put it in our large crockpot on low with 1/4 cup of water. After about 8 hours, we shredded the pork, added BBQ sauce, and put it back on low for one more hour.

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*Ate this one the same night we did the crock pot all day. BIG HIT. Super yummy and moist, which is something that I usually cannot achieve with a crock pot. We plan to eat this with BBQ sauce on buns and Nate likes to add cole slaw to his pulled pork sandwiches. The meat was so good we could even eat it by itself with a side or two. I'm thinking that once it's frozen and then thawed out, I might have to add a bit more sauce but we will see.

The Procedure:

After the big grocery shopping trip, we got right to cooking all of the meat. So we fried the bacon and put it aside. Fried the breakfast sausage and put it aside. Fried all of the ground beef with just salt, pepper, and garlic instead of trying to divide up the stuff for the chili with chili seasoning and the stuff for the lasagna without it. Nate was very concerned about not using any seasoning at all on the ground beef but I figured that it's going to be 'marinating' with the dishes for long enough before we eat it, and would be fine. We also boiled 8 chicken breasts with chicken stock and set it aside, then shredded it. All of this took maybe an hour to cook and store it away.

After the meat was cooked (because the beef stew uses raw chunks, and the pulled pork is sort of a separate deal), I cooked the rice for the enchiladas and the quinoa for the casserole. This took about 30 minutes.

Then I made all four pans of enchiladas and packed them away. This took about an hour. The next day I made the lasagna in an hour. Then I took a nursing break and made the quinoa casserole in 45 minutes. Then I combined everything for the beef and bacon chili in 20 minutes. Took a break, then Mom took over for the white chicken chili, which took 20 minutes. Then her beer beef stew took about 30 minutes for her. I did the pork rub over night, then cooked it in the crock pot the next day. So all together, we did this over three days mostly during naps and after bedtime. It cost roughly $200 and we should have about 23 meals for two out of these seven recipes. Not bad!

I will add pictures of the cooked meals once we eat them and can update this as needed, if we find a dish we love/hate/etc.  Let me know if you have other great freezer meal recipes or tips!


  1. These are AWESOME! Go mama!!

  2. I DREAD dinner time as well. I'm so glad that I'm not the only one that feeds her toddler her own dish most nights. It's just not worth the fight like you said!

  3. Wow, this is great! I've been intrigued by freezer meals, but have never done any, so I'm definitely saving this post for future use. And now I'm hungry...

  4. This is fantastic! Totally saving this post. We are in the same boat. At this point, weekday dinner has to take 10 mins or less and hopefully only require reheating for us! We get home around 6:30pm and bedtime routine for our 6 month old begins at 7pm. When we had our older daughter, I remember just waiting until after bedtime when she was a baby, but now with a routine for both girls, we aren't finished until around 8:30 and I want to SLEEP by then! I do like to cook, but not in that environment/time crunch. Right now we try to cook a few meals on Sundays that we can eat for the week, but that's alot of effort as well!

  5. I also "do not love" cooking. In fact, I hate it. I blame the fact that my brother is a chef, but that doesn't necessarily make sense. I especially hate cooking the evening meal. If left to my own devices, I'd eat apples and popcorn for dinner. I'm hoping that the inspiration I feel now reading this post while on lunch break at work will carry over into my weekend when I can prepare several meals ahead of time. Thanks for sharing your specifics, so those of us who are *lazy* can just straight up copy you.

  6. This is awesome! I noticed you froze the bagged foods in kind of a flat shape--that would help with stacking! About how much freezer space did this require/do you have a chest freezer?

    1. We have two regular refrigerators with freezers---one upstairs in the kitchen and one in our basement. Right now it all fits between two freezers just fine---if we needed a chest freezer, we could borrow my in-laws and HAVE done that before for frozen breast milk!

  7. Reading this reminded me once again how happy I am to have a husband that cooks. On the rare and random nights that Chad isn't home, I'm at a total loss because I know how to make basically nothing. So we eat buttered noodles and cake batter. :)

    (Also, no spicy food?!)

  8. I have never heard of using cottage cheese in lasagna. How come you don't use ricotta? Just curious ;)

    1. That's just the recipe, I guess! My mom uses cottage cheese for her lasagna recipe and it's what I had growing up, but I do like Nate's mom's ricotta a lot, too. I think you can do it either way!

  9. I'm officially hungry. I freezer cooked before my daughter was born. Cheesy chicken casserole was my favorite: rice, chicken, black beans, corn, and cheese I think. Reminds me, I should make that!

  10. Holy cats, thank you for doing this! I predict this will be one of your most-liked/most-linked posts since that home-from-work/dinner hour seems to be universally terrible. I actually love to cook, but I do *not* love to cook with a kid at my feet. This is super, super helpful - thanks so much for organizing it and posting!

  11. I'm curious to hear how your beef stew turns out. I've learned the hard way that you can't freeze cooked potatoes (unless you like them really mushy) but I see you froze yours raw, so maybe that's the trick!
    Another tip that I've found to help with meal prep is simply having a stash of marinated meats ready to go in the freezer. Like Breaded chicken cutlets, marinated steak tips, etc… so that all I have to do is make some rice and steam some broccoli or something to go with it. I know it isn't a major step in dinner making, but I find that sometimes I have a total mind block when dinner time rolls around and can't seem to wrap my brain around just WHAT to make for dinner. But if I go down to the freezer in the morning and pull out a ziplock of garlic rosemary chicken, my mind knows that I'm making roasted potatoes and green beans with it and that's easy enough to pull together.
    Anyway, wishing you luck next week on your return to work. I can't believe how quickly 12 weeks has flown by.

    1. We actually have had the beer beef stew from frozen before---mom brought it with her last time and it defrosted really well! I wonder if it's because the potatoes were raw? But not too mushy, no.

      And YES to having a bunch of cooked meats, too. We have grilled chicken breast and also fried ground beef in bags downstairs, too. Should have mentioned this. TOTALLY agree that my brain cannot even pull it together on nights we don't have a solid meal plan in place. Glad I'm not alone in that!

  12. It's almost as if you read my mind! I was just researching freezer meals the other night. We have a chest freezer that would work perfectly for storing all of this.
    I am awful at having a plan in place for dinner. It is definitely something I stress over EVERY day.

    Thank you so much for all the details. You did the hard work and now we all get to reap the rewards :) And by the way....I'm officially starving looking at all these food photos!

  13. I wish my husband would eat foods that are thawed out. I have come to make 1 or 2 crock pot recipes during the week, have one or two easy meals (make calzones, homemade pizza, paninis, wraps, breakfast for dinner- make lots of extra pancakes and freeze for morning breakfasts) and try to grill out once a week. We don't do a lot of take out food or go out to eat. Maybe I will do a freezer meal day and see if he can tolerate it. Ha! Good luck going back to work.

    1. Do a freezer meal but put it in the crock pot for cooking it---he will never know the difference!!

  14. Ok. So. How do you print this??? Or Pin the entire post??? Sorry. Please educate me.

    1. LOL. Well, you should be able to pin one of the pictures of the post which will save the post for you on pinterest. I thought about making something you could print out---but you could just copy the recipes and paste them into Word, then print? Or just read along on your phone as you make them?? ;)

  15. This is awesome and inspiring! I just had a conversation with my husband about trying to pull together a bunch of freezer meals to ease the time crunch during the week, and we only have one 2-year old to wrangle! I don't know how you do it!?! Thanks for sharing. We are definitely going to do this!

    1. Those two year olds are NO JOKE!!!! Best of luck.

  16. What is your method for pouring soups/chili into a bag? I'm picturing myself attempting it, and it would be a disastrous mess!

    1. I used one of our measuring cups to scoop it into a bag that I held over the large pot of soups. Not TOO messy that way, but still not the easiest!

    2. When I do freezer meals I freeze everything in gallon freezer bags. All I do is get a huge tupperware bowl and put the bag in there. Then I just carefully use a measuring cup to scoop the soup (or whatever) into the bag. I don't think I've ever spilled it and if I have some drip down the side of the bag I just wipe it off. Plus it's nice that the bowl helps "hold" the bag from falling over.

  17. I'm exhausted just reading this post. But will totally pay off, good for you!! I hate cooking, plain and simple, especially when there are kids around. The easier the better. I think the fact that my husband does most of the cooking, and that he's so good at it, is one of the things I am most thankful for in life!! Not rubbing it in, just saying. ;) We wouldn't eat very good meals if it were up to me, I'm sure!

  18. This is amazing! I picked up all of the groceries yesterday and I'm ready to start cooking today! One question about your mom's White Chicken Chili -- the ingredients include 1 lb. boiled, shredded chicken, but the recipe says to cook for 4-5 hours, remove and shred the chicken, then return to crockpot. So do you really use pre-cooked shredded chicken with this recipe, or do you add raw chicken breasts to the crockpot along with the ingredients from the freezer bag at the time you plan to make it??

    1. Good call! We just cooked and shredded the chicken ahead of time, so once it was in the crockpot it was really just to warm it up again. If you do raw breasts, it would probably just take longer in the crockpot?

      Actually, by having it cooked ahead of time, I didn't even use the crock pot---just heated it up on the stove in a pot. Very good.


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