If you’re willing to do a tiny bit of work over the weekend, you can give your future self a fantastic present: a freezable meal or two. We found lots of food pros out there who have this down pat — many chop the ingredients in advance and label in zip-top bags with cooking instructions written right on them, then freeze (just be sure to defrost the ingredients in the fridge before putting them in the slow cooker, according to USDA food safety guidelines). You’ll have a neatly packaged dinner all prepped, which you’ll thank yourself for one busy night a few weeks from now.
1. Cranberry Pork Roast: Pork shoulder in a slow cooker seems so predictable — until you’ve tried this Cranberry Pork Roast from Kelly McNelis at New Leaf Wellness. It calls for only four ingredients, and is great for those fall nights when you’re getting antsy for some Thanksgiving flavors.
2. Mexican Chili with Cornbread Topping: Freeze the main ingredients for this Mexican Chili with Cornbread Topping, also from New Leaf Wellness’ McNelis. Then, keep cheese and corn-muffin mix on hand to throw into the slow cooker an hour before the chili is finished — you’ll have chili and cornbread, done in one pot.
3. Cilantro Lime Chicken: Keep this versatile Cilantro Lime Chicken recipe in your freezer, and you can morph it into all kinds of meals: Use it for rice bowls, tacos or lettuce wraps, as Melissa Jennings and Shelley King of Stockpiling Moms do. Another tip: Guacamole freezes well, so keep some on hand to put on top (just put it in an airtight container and defrost in the fridge the night before you want to serve it).
4. Mongolian Beef: Flank steak is a great lean choice for beef, and this Crock-Pot Mongolian Beef, from the site Once a Month Meals, which specializes in freezable recipes, is like a healthier take on those sweet and sticky samples you get at the mall. The recipe even sneaks in some grated carrot.
5. Meatballs: Perhaps the ultimate freezable food, meatballs stand up well to a stint in the cold. Cooking and Beer blogger Justine Sulia shapes and freezes these Italian-Style Slow Cooker Meatballs, saving them for game day or an easy dinner. They’re great on a buttered roll, spaghetti or by themselves, she says.
6. Butternut Squash Chili with Porter: Autumn squash is coming soon, and this healthful Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Chili with Porter makes great use of it. Instead of making one huge batch and freezing half, blogger Kiersten Frase has a great suggestion. She puts a large bowl lined with a freezer bag alongside her Crock-Pot; as she chops, she tosses half the into the bag to freezer to make later, and the other half into the slow cooker to eat right now. It’s the best of both worlds: instant gratification and brilliant planning for future meals!