If you’re a fan of the Instant Pot, you know just how versatile this kitchen tool can be. After all, you can:
- Cook frozen ground beef in 25 minutes
- Roast a whole chicken in 30.
- Make hard boiled eggs with shells that fall off in 2 minutes — and no ice bath!!
- Create gelatinous bone broth in 1 hour, which used to take 24 hours
- Bake sweet potatoes in 15 minutes
- Make mashed potatoes in 10 minutes (and you don’t have to drain them!).
- Create creamy no-stir oatmeal in a fraction of time.
But did you know you can make fully-assembled freezer meals… and cook them directly from frozen??
The ability to make and cook freezer meals – perhaps more than any other feature – immediately sold me on the Instant Pot. Not too long ago, three out of four members of our family were diagnosed with Celiac disease. Suddenly, gluten cross-contamination became a BIG deal.
Eating out became almost impossible, but time was still very precious. We needed the convenience and speed of eating out, but the safety of meals made at home.
My friend Tricia, from Once A Month Meals, is the master of freezer-meal cooking. She blew my world apart when she told me that I could take fresh foods, freeze them, and cook them DIRECTLY FROM FROZEN in my Instant Pot.
No. Thawing. Needed.
So my mom and I had an IP Freezer Meal Prepping Bonanza day. I posted about it in the Instant Pot Facebook group and the post went wild, getting over 1,000 likes in a few hours. I’ve gone on to do countless Instant Pot freezer meal prepping days.
I quickly realized that when it comes to traveling, nothing is better than making freezer meals — and taking them with me frozen. Frozen meals help serve as a natural ice block AND saves money on my eating out budget.
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So, by popular request, here are my tips to help you have your own successful IP freezer meal cooking day.
1. Consider the Container
Have you ever tried to fit a frozen rectangular block into a round cooking pot? I have. It’s not easy. That whole “square peg into a round whole” conundrum.
I highly recommend purchasing a set of heavy duty plastic containers. They have the same thickness of those lovely containers you purchase at a high-end deli, except these can hold half a gallon of ingredients.
I also like that the lid secures tightly, allowing you to stack them. And yes, these containers can fit into a freezer door sideways if you’re tight on storage!
2. Use the Disappearing Container Trick
If I’m making a dish to give away – or if I’m running low on containers, I’ll use the Disappearing Container Trick that I learned from my favorite freezer meal cookbook, Don’t Panic: Dinner’s In The Freezer.
I use these green thingies (okay, technically called “Baggy Rack Clip Storage Bag Holders”) to hold my ziplock bags open. These hold the bag SO securely. There’s a suction cup on the bottom, so your holder won’t scoot out from under you. And the arms hold the bag open wide so nothing gets on the zipper.
Simply place your sealed ziplock bag into your plastic container. Once frozen, remove your bag of food from the plastic container. Your bag will retain its round shape and you’re ready for the next round!
3. Clearly Label Your Containers
Nobody likes Mystery Meals. You know, the kind that lurk in your freezer with no name, no date, and no identification? **shudder**
If you’re using a ziplock bag, grab a pen or sharpie to label your bag.
However, if you’re using plastic containers, I recommend using a grease pencil to label your food. It marks easily and washes off with a firm rub – but it won’t smudge or accidentally wipe off. (I’ve tried using dry erase, and they rub off too easy; wet erase evaporates the moment your container gets moisture in the freezer. Trust me – stick with the grease pencil!)
I label the name of the dish, the month and year (ex: 4/17), serving size (ex: 2# chicken), and – if possible — cooking instructions.
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4. Add Ingredients
Perhaps the best part of this method is that you don’t have to worry about thawing your meat when assembling freezer meals. For example, I have a delicious curry recipe that I make.
I will buy frozen chicken breast in bulk (to save money) and put the already-frozen breast in my container. Then, I’ll add the other ingredients and pop everything back in the freezer. This method is fine because I’m not thawing my meat.
You can save even MORE money by using boneless skinless thighs. The IP renders them so tender (and not greasy).
Random Note: fresh herbs taste DELICIOUS in the Instant Pot. They impart great flavor without becoming overcooked or bland. Of course, dried herbs also work nicely.
5. Watch Your Volume
The Instant Pot should never be filled more than 2/3 full. If you are making something frothy – like applesauce, beans, or rice – you should limit to 1/2 full.
Of course, depending on the model you have, the amount your IP can handle will vary. Just be mindful of your volume.
If you have a recipe that overflows your container (which is easy to do with soups and chilis), I’ve seen some people recommend using two containers. However, two FULL frozen containers won’t fit in your IP because they will be too tall. So I use the Disappearing Container Trick and use a ziplock bag to help my container meet its extra size needs (see point #2).
6. Conserve Your Freezer Space
Speaking of conserving space, if you’re tight on freezer space, don’t freeze items that are naturally easy to add – like if a recipe calls for a can of tomato sauce. I’ll mark on my container in big letters: ADD 1 CAN TOMATO SAUCE.
If I’m tight on space, there’s no need to freeze an ingredient that is already shelf stable.
I also don’t freeze spaghetti sauce because my method to cook spaghetti sauce using a pound of frozen ground beef is already fast and easy. And a pound of frozen ground beef takes up significantly less space than freezing a huge pot of meaty spaghetti sauce.
7. Help Removing Stuck Food
When you’re ready to cook your meal, it can be a little tricky to remove it from its container (whether plastic bag or hard sided containr).
Run warm water over the bottom of your hard plastic containers and then give the bottom a solid thwap! to release the frozen contents.
You can also do the same to release it from a plastic bag (though I often find it easier to just rip the bag apart).
8. Sauté For 5 Min
Before cooking your frozen meal, place the contents in the IP and select SAUTE. Allow it to saute for a good five minutes. This allows the liquid to start to melt and will help the meal to come to pressure faster.
Don’t use the lid when you saute – sometimes that can cause the program to cancel.
Once you are finished sautéing, cancel SAUTE and select MANUAL. Set your time as necessary, close the lid, secure the pressure valve, and allow the IP to do its magic.
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9. Allow For Longer Cook Time
You will need to adjust your cook times if you are cooking meat from frozen. For example, a fresh chicken breast only requires a MANUAL setting of 15 minutes; frozen chicken breast requires a MANUAL setting of 25 minutes.
Additionally, it will take longer to come to pressure. The Instant Pot is a safe way to thaw dishes because it thaws and then heats so quickly. But part of the science behind coming to pressure means that the IP needs to reach a certain temperature. It’s a no brainer: colder food takes longer to come to pressure.
So be sure to allow yourself more time on the coming-to-pressure stage.
10. Convert Your Favorite Recipe
It’s actually really easy to convert your favorite slow cooker recipe into an Instant Pot freezer meal. Just remember you must have at least 1 cup of fluid to allow for the IP to come to pressure.
And with any meat dish, you will most certainly want to use an instant read meat thermometer to take the temperature of your meat once it is done cooking! Life’s too short to get sick from undercooked food!
Instant Pot Freezer Meals Basics Recap
And those are my secrets! At the basic level, making an Instant Pot Freezer Meal is super easy:
- Take raw/prepped ingredients.
- Place in container of choice.
- When ready to eat, remove from freezer.
- Cook in the Instant Pot, using the sauté feature to kickstart cooking.
If you’re itching to get started, you can find all our ever-growing list Instant Pot main dish recipes here (with freezer instructions!). Once A Month Meals also has a ton of freezer meal ideas.
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Have you ever tried freezer cooking with the Instant Pot? What’s your favorite dish? Tell us in the comments below!