Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Instant Pot Freezer Meal Boot Camp: One Day of Work, Over 30 Home-Cooked Recipes!

Want to know something awesome?  I've barely turned on my oven this month.  And I've had a wholesome, home-cooked meal made from simple recipes for my family each night.

Let me introduce you to my little secret...

Instant Pot Freezer Meals || Freezer Meal Boot Camp || Electric Pressure Cooker || Easy Recipes || Simple Dinners || Food || Ground Beef || Chicken || Pork || Pressure Cooking

(Affiliate links used in this post.)

Guys.  I am absolutely obsessed with my Instant Pot.  If you haven't heard of this little miracle worker, let me introduce you to all that it does.  It is a...

  • pressure cooker
  • slow cooker
  • steamer
  • yogurt maker
  • saute pot
  • rice cooker
  • warmer

Basically, most anything you can do in the kitchen can be done with this beauty.  My favorite thing about it is having the ability to cook foods from frozen (I'm talking frozen-to-table in an hour or two) and how little you have to babysit it.  With a very busy (almost) one-year-old who likes to melt down around dinner time every night, this is clutch.  I also love that just about any slow cooker recipe can be prepped in the Instant Pot in a fraction of the time.  The one draw-back I've seen is that you can't get foods browned or crispy with the Instant Pot...but that can easily be fixed by popping your dish under the broiler to finish!

Instant Pot Freezer Meals || Freezer Meal Boot Camp || Electric Pressure Cooker || Easy Recipes || Simple Dinners || Food || Ground Beef || Chicken || Pork || Pressure Cooking

So, just after New Year's, I decided to really see what this guy could do.  I've done a Freezer Meal Boot Camp in the past and loved having meals ready to go for a few weeks.  This time around, I decided to change it up and make freezer meals that could be almost completely prepped by popping them in my Instant Pot.

Instant Pot Freezer Meals || Freezer Meal Boot Camp || Electric Pressure Cooker || Easy Recipes || Simple Dinners || Food || Ground Beef || Chicken || Pork || Pressure Cooking

And the Instant Pot Freezer Meal Boot Camp was born!  With this system, I was able to make over 30 freezer meals with about a day's worth of work.  Including all of the mini weekly trips I had to make to replenish my fridge for the meals, the groceries for these meals cost me around $300...not too shabby for (roughly) 130 servings of food!  And, while I am in no way claiming that these meals are any kind of health food, I was easily able to fit them into my current diet (with a little bit of portion control).  I think they have a good mix of healthy ingredients and things that families will actually eat. 😉

Without further ado, here's how I did it!

(And, if you're interested in making a smaller version of this boot camp, I also have a mini session...click here to see!)

Step 1: Prep your ingredients and supplies.

This is the key to making this process as easy as possible.  You don't need a ton of supplies for this (besides your Instant Pot, obviously...this is a link to my model, and FYI - it's in stock right now, so it's a great time to grab one if you haven't already!).  The main purchase I'd urge you to make is a set of storage containers that fit into your Instant Pot.  That way, you can freeze your meals in the containers, thaw them just enough to pop them out of the container, and drop the frozen meal in the Instant Pot to prep (this way, it will fit in the pot without thawing)!

This set from the Dollar Tree is perfect.  I couldn't find these in store, but they are available on the website for shipping to your home or local store.  I only bought one set of 24, but you might want to go on and buy 2 sets (since we'll be making 33 total meals).  If you choose to buy just one, you can set gallon freezer bags in the containers to kind of shape your meals to fit in the pot while freezing them...I'll show more on that later!  And, if you're an Amazon shopper that would rather put that Prime membership to good use, this is a similar set.

If you choose to buy only one set, gallon freezer bags are essential.  I would also make sure I had my bag/container labels printed (scroll down for those printables) and cut...be ready to label those as soon as you finish making the meals (before they go in the freezer).  I recommend sticking the labels on with packing tape, so make sure there's a roll of that handy.

One note about freezer space...you need a lot for this.  We currently have two fridges (long story) and a chest deep freezer (similar sized one here), and these took up just about all of that space.  It is totally possible to cut down on the amount of meals you make if you're short on space! I had a big freezer clean-out for a week or two before I make these meals to make sure I had enough room for everything.

Summary: Make sure you have:
  1. Instant Pot-shaped containers (1 or 2 sets)
  2. Labels (scroll down for printables)
  3. Packing Tape
  4. Gallon Freezer Bags (at least 1 box if you don't purchase 2 sets of containers)
  5. Freezer space
You might also need...
  1. An extra Instant Pot inner pot insert (so you can still prep dinners even when your other pot is dirty/in the fridge storing something else).
  2. An inner pot lid (helps you use your inner pot as storage after dinner!)
  3. An extra Instant Pot sealing ring (food flavors can really soak into the silicone sealing ring that's tucked in your lid of your pot. I have two rings...one for savory foods and one for sweet.  That way, my sweet foods don't end up tasting funky!)
  4. A small pot for Pot In Pot cooking (see more on that in the notes section below)...I use a cake pan that is the same size as this one and it works great!

Step 2: Make your grocery run.

Now, you could go through all of the recipes and make your own grocery list for this, but guess what...I've done all of that work for you!

I went through the recipes and made a full grocery list for everything you'll need for meal prep day.  The grocery list is also sorted by food type for all of those organizers out there. 😉 This list is available in the Lamberts Lately printable collection, which is  only available to Lamberts Lately email subscribers.  Sign up to receive the password with the form below!

After you make the big grocery run outlined in that list, you'll need to make a very small trip to the store for the filler/perishable/side items you'll need each week.  You can find a meal plan (and shopping list that goes with it) by clicking here.  I bought my first week worth of small trip items when I did the big grocery trip for the freezer meals.

Once I got those items home, I definitely didn't have the fridge space for everything...so I went on and just organized on my counter!  You're about to prep all of it, so as long as you act somewhat quickly, it shouldn't go bad.  I made a section for non-perishable items, a section for produce, and a section for meats (I did stick those in my fridge).

Step 3: Print and cut your labels.

I've got you covered in this department!  These label printables cover each and every meal you'll make for this boot camp.  All directions for final cooking of each meal, side item ideas, and extra ingredients needed for the meal are printed right on this label.

After the labels are printed, just cut them out (I love this paper cutter for making the process easier) and have them ready to attach to your containers with packing tape or painter's tape before you freeze.  I made the mistake of waiting until after they were frozen to try to attach the labels...doesn't work.  The frost made the tape fall right off. So make sure they're labeled before they ever go in the freezer. (I might or might not have a couple of mystery meals now because I didn't label them first...)

Step 4: Go on and start dinner for tonight!

No sense in freezing the first meal you'll make...after all, you need dinner for tonight!  So, tonight's dinner will be pulled pork sandwiches.

In your Instant Pot, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and turn on the saute function.  Rub a 3-4 pound pork butt with pork dry rub.  Once the pot is hot, add the pork butt and brown on all sides.

Once browned, add 2 cups of BBQ sauce and 2 cups of chicken stock. Lock your lid on and use the manual setting on the Instant Pot and set on high for 100 minutes.

 Once the cycle is finished, allow the pot to NPR (see notes at the bottom) for 10 minutes. Open and shred the meat into a bowl. Add about a cup of the juice from cooking to the meat.

Put half of this in one of your freezer containers, label, and put in the freezer.  The other half can be dinner tonight!  Just serve with buns and frozen french fries (cooked, of course 😉).

Step 4: Prep your veggies.

Once you've got dinner for tonight going, it's time to start prep work for the freezer meals.  I'll go on and tell you...this is the time-consuming part.  It took me a good couple of hours to prep all of the veggies.   Something like this Vidalia Chop Wizard (c/o) would have made life SO much easier.  I'll definitely be buying something like this for my next freezer meal prep session!

All of this needs to be done before you start assembling meals (trust me, doing this first makes the assembly part tons easier):

1. Chop 2 bags of onions.
2. Slice 1 bag of onions.
3. Mince 13 cloves garlic. (I bought pre-minced garlic for this.  Shhh.....)
4. Chop 8 carrots into 1" pieces.
5. Slice 11 carrots into 3-4” pieces.
6. Slice 3 bell peppers.
7. Chop 2 bell peppers.
8. Chop 2 sweet potatoes into 1” chunks
9. Slice the red onion into 1/4" slices.
10. Chop 4 stalks celery into 4” pieces.
11. Chop 4 stalks celery into 1/2-1” pieces.
12.  Half all of your red potatoes.  Blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes or so (just to prep them for freezing...they don't have to be cooked all the way!).  Slice 8 of the halves into 1/2" pieces.

Then, I set them all out buffet-style on my counter to make it easy to put everything together.

Step 5: Prep your meat.

Not all of the meat needs to be cooked before you put it in the containers, but some does.  Here's the order I followed...

1. Cook 6 slices bacon.
2. Slice the smoked sausage into 1" pieces and brown.
3. Brown 2 lbs of Italian sausage.
4. Brown 6 lbs ground beef. (Note: I did all of the first four steps in the same pot, one at a time of course.  I left the grease in the pan after the bacon and sausages and then just drained it after the ground beef.  Not a big deal if the grease mixes together, it just adds flavor! You will need the biggest pot you have for the ground beef.)

**Some users have reported having extra ground beef left over.  It's a little hard to estimate how much ground beef everyone will need because of different fat percentages.  If your beef is leaner, I'd suggest going with closer to 5 pounds.

5. Brown 1.25 pounds of ground turkey.
6. Cut the large chuck roast in half and brown. (Leave a little bit of grease in the pan from the previous cooking for this one.)
7. Slice 4 chicken breasts.
8. Half 5 chicken breasts.
9. Slice 2.5 lbs chicken thighs.
10.  Prepare your broth (you'll need 9 cups of beef broth and 12 cups of chicken broth. I just make mine in the microwave!)

Again, put these out buffet-style to make for easy assembly (preferably away from the veggies to avoid any cross-contamination).

Step 6: Put everything together!

Instant Pot Freezer Meals || Freezer Meal Boot Camp || Electric Pressure Cooker || Easy Recipes || Simple Dinners || Food || Ground Beef || Chicken || Pork || Pressure Cooking

Now the fun part!  It's time to start assembling your meals.

You'll see below that I converted most of the assembly process into terms of tablespoons, cups, half cups, etc.  It just makes it easier to deal with the cooked meat and chopped veggies.  So, have a few measuring cups ready for scooping out and measuring your ingredients before you get started.

Here's what I put in each container:

**Important Note: After several requests, I've also added the info from the printable labels below each recipe, just in case you wanted to make your own labels or get your directions directly from this site!  But, as far as freezer prep goes, just put everything from the "in the container" section in your freezer dish, label it, and pop it in the freezer.**

#1 and #2 Pulled Pork (Use half of the cooked pork for tonight's dinner and just put half of what it in a container and freezer once cooked and cooled.)

Cooking directions for the day you eat the second meal:
Thaw and serve!

Extra items needed for each meal:
1 pack hamburger buns
1 bag frozen French fries
1 bottle BBQ sauce

Side item: French fries

#3 Asian Meatballs (1 meal)

In the container:
1.25 lbs ground turkey (not cooked)
1 tbsp garlic
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 pack frozen veggie stir fry

Directions for freezer prep: 
Mix all ingredients (except for stir fry) in a bowl and roll into 1” balls. Freeze on a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and transfer to a freezer bowl/bag once frozen (about 2 hours). Add stir fry bag into container with frozen meatballs and put the whole thing in the freezer.

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Add 1/2 cup soy sauce
3. Add trivet and PIP container filled with 1.5 cups brown rice, 1.75 cups water
4. Set on manual, high pressure, 15 minutes, NPR

Extra items needed for meal:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 bag brown rice

Side item: brown rice

#4 Balsamic and Brown Sugar Pork Chops (1 meal)

In the container:
1c Brown Sugar
1c Balsamic Vinegar
1c Water
1 tbsp. Garlic Powder
1 tbsp. Salt
1 tbsp fresh Thyme
1/2 tbsp. Dried Parsley
1 1/2 lbs. bone-in Pork Chops

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 25 minutes, NPR
3. Remove a cup of sauce and stir in corn starch
4. Place slurry in the pot, set to saute, bring to a boil to thicken (stir well) and remove from heat

Extra items needed for meal:
1 bag of steam-in-bag green beans
1 container mashed potatoes
2 tbsp corn starch

Side item: Green beans, mashed potatoes

#5 and #6 Pot Roast (2 meals)

In each container:
Half of a 4-5 lb chuck roast, browned
1 heaping cup sliced onions
1 cup 3-4" sliced carrots
Half of the 4" pieces of celery
12 potato halves
2 cups beef broth
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes.
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 100 minutes, NPR.

(Note: this meal makes about 3 servings...if more are needed, cook both pot roast meals at once.)

Extra items needed for meal: n/a

Side item: n/a (veggies included in the meal)

#7 and #8 Egg Roll Bowls (2 meals)

In each container:
1 cup ground beef
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
Half of the coleslaw mix
1/4 bag matchstick carrots
Half of the mushrooms
2 tbsp green onions
1 tbsp Sriracha
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 10 min, QR
3. Add about 7oz of rice noodles (half of the box) and 1 cup water
4. Set on manual, high pressure, 4 min, QR
5. Stir in basil

Extra items needed for meal:
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 14oz pack rice noodles

Side Item: Basil Rice Noodles

#9 Italian Beef Sandwiches (1 meal)

In the container:
1 3lb boneless chuck roast
10-12 pepperoncini peppers, 1/4 cup juice from the jar
2 packs Italian dressing mix
2 cups beef broth

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes.
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 100 minutes, NPR
3. While meat is cooking, cut and combine fruits.
4. Shred finished meat and serve on buns with cheese.

Extra items needed for meal:
1 pack hoagie buns
1 pack sliced provolone cheese
2 apples
2 cups grapes
1 pineapple

Side item: Fruit Salad

#10 Beef Ragu (1 meal)

1 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp minced garlic
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 lb boneless chuck roast
1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
2 cups beef broth
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 6oz can tomato paste

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 100 min, NPR
3. Shred beef in sauce once cooked
4. Cook grits according to package directions. Stir in parmesan and cheddar.
5. Serve ragu over grits, top with parmesan.

Extra items needed for meal:
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3 slices American cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese
2 cups Quick Cooking grits

Side Item: Cheese Grits

#11 and #12 Veggie Beef Stew (2 meals)

In each container:
1/2 bag (12oz) frozen whole kernel corn
1/2 bag (10oz) frozen cut green beans
1/2 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup carrots, diced
1/2 chicken bullion cube
1/2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper
1 1/2 cups ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 46 oz bottle Spicy V8 Juice

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 30 minutes, NPR
3. Prepare cornbread according to package directions

Extra items needed for meal:
1 pack cornbread

Side item: Cornbread

#13 Ground Beef/Sausage Spaghetti (1 meal)

In the container:
1 1/2 cups ground beef
1 1/2 cups Italian sausage
1 6oz can tomato paste
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 cup beef broth

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Add 1 cup beef broth
3. Set on manual, high pressure, 10 minutes, QR
4. Add rest of broth and noodles, stir lightly
5. Set for manual, high, 5 minutes, QR
6. Toast bread

Extra items needed for meal:
16oz spaghetti
4 cups beef broth
1 salad kit
1 box frozen garlic bread

Side Item: Garlic Bread, Salad

#14 and #15 Zuppa Toscana (2 meals)

In each container:
Half of the sliced potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
3 slices bacon, crumbled
3/4 cup Italian sausage (cooked)
1.5 cups chicken stock
3 cups kale

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 30 minutes, NPR
3. Stir in 1 cup of heavy cream once cooking is finished
4. Prepare biscuits according to package directions

Extra items needed for meal:
1 pack cheddar garlic biscuit mix
1 8oz container heavy cream

Side item: Cheddar garlic biscuits

#16 Beef & Bean Burritos (1 meal)

In the container:
1.5 cups browned ground beef
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups dry pinto beans
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 55 minutes, NPR (Note: this time cooks the beans, but doesn't make them very soft. If you want softer beans, add 5 minutes to this cook time.)
3. Add 1/3 cup filling to each burrito. Top with cheese and roll.
4. Serve with chips and guacamole.

Extra items needed for meal:
1 pack burrito-sized tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 bag chips
1 container guacamole

Side item: Chips & guacamole

#17 and #18 Turkey & Sweet Potato Chili (2 meals)

In each container:
Half of the cooked ground turkey
Half of the diced sweet potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 can chick peas
1/2 can chili beans
1 cans Rotel
14 oz of diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 pack chili seasoning

Cooking directions for day you eat:
1. Saute for 5 minutes
2. Set on manual, high pressure, 30 minutes, NPR
3. Prepare cornbread according to package directions

Extra items needed for meal:
Shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream
4-5 green onions
1 package cornbread mix

Side item: Soup toppings, cornbread

From here, I suggest taking a break!  I was exhausted by this point in the process...it probably took 3-4 hours to do everything so far, so if you're like me and powered through all of this, you deserve a few minutes off of your feet. 😉

If you're ready to get started on part 2 of the boot camp, you can click here to see the rest of the recipes!  There are still 11 more meals to make, but don't worry...you're in the home stretch if you've made it this far.


VERY IMPORTANT: The reason I have the instructions of sauté for 5 minutes at the beginning of most of these recipes is because you have to have liquid in the pot for it to come to pressure.  If you sauté the recipe for 5 minutes and still don't see about a cup of liquid at the bottom of the pot, add enough water to make at least a cup of liquid.  If you'd rather just skip the sauté step and add the cup of water/broth instead, go ahead...just know your meal might be a little more watery!

A couple of people have asked about the serving sizes of each of these meals.  There isn't a cut-and-dry number for each one (it really just depends on your family and how big your servings are), but I have found a good rule of thumb: if you only make one container of a certain recipe, go on and expect that it's going to have more servings.  So, the recipes that you're making 2 containers of will typically have 3-5 servings in each meal, while the ones that you're only making one container of usually have 4-6.  Again though, that's going to vary depending on how much you eat in a serving!  I will say that, for most of these, we had enough for the three of us to eat one night and leftovers for at least 2 of us the next day.

You will need broth both while preparing your freezer meals and while cooking them.  I have a pack of beef bullion and chicken bullion cubes included in the grocery list for this reason.  I've also heard wonderful things about Better Than Bullion bases...one person in the Instant Pot Community Facebook group (which is an amazing resource!) even had the idea of adding a spoonful of that into the recipes that called for broth during prep and just adding the water when it was time to cook.  I can't vouch for whether it works or not, but it sounds like a great idea to me!  I'm planning on trying it with my next round of recipes.

NPR stands for natural pressure release.  That means, instead of immediately releasing the pressure from your Instant Pot after the cooking time is up, give it about 10 minutes to release on its own.  Then, flip the nozzle and release the pressure (careful though...that's pressurized steam coming out!)

QR stands for quick release.  That means you release the pressure and open the pot as soon as the cooking time is over.

So, if you're reading my cooking labels, you'll often see that the directions look like this: "manual, high pressure, 100 minutes, NPR." That means you'll use the manual setting on your pot to put in 100 minutes yourself, then let the pot have a natural pressure release (for about 10 minutes) after the pot beeps when that 100 minute cycle is over.

PIP stands for Pot in Pot cooking.  That means you're cooking two dishes at the same time by stacking a separate pot on top of a trivet in the inner pot.

It's a great way to cook rice, veggies, or several other different types of side dishes!

Here's how I do it: insert the trivet that comes with your instant pot, putting the legs on either side of whatever you're cooking in the bottom of the pot. Then, put your pot in pot dish (I use a cake pan similar to this one and it works great for the recipes I've listed) on top of the trivet and add whatever you're cooking.  Seal the lid and cook away!  The cook times for the PIP cooking are all included in my meal labels above.

You will set the same time on your Instant Pot for frozen and non-frozen meals.  So, let's say there's a meal or two you decide not to freeze and just store in the fridge for a day or two.  Don't adjust your cooking time!  I know that seems kind of weird, but the pressurizing process thaws your frozen meal.  The time that it takes your pot to come to pressure will be much longer for frozen meals (I found it to be around 20-25 minutes for a frozen meal, depending on the size of what's frozen, as opposed to 5-10 minutes usually for a non-frozen dish).

These recipes will make the veggies in your meal fairly soft.  If you like your veggies a little more on the firm side, there's one easy revision to the process above.  Instead of putting everything in 1 big container, place your veggies in a separate smaller zip bag inside of your freezer meal container.  Add them to the pot when there is 10-15 minutes left on the cooking time.  I skipped that step because my family doesn't mind the veggies very soft and it's one less thing to do. 😉

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Click here to head over to part 2 of the Boot Camp!

If you liked this post, check out my other Instant Pot ideas!