How to Meal-Prep Freezer Packs for Easy Weeknight Casseroles
Casseroles are the ultimate in easy weeknight cooking. We're already huge fans of making and freezing ready-made casseroles, but when you combine the ease of casserole cooking with make-ahead freezer packs, you can make a casserole that's even more convenient while reclaiming your baking dishes and your freezer space! We're sharing tips for meal-prep casserole freezer packs, plus 8 top-rated recipes to try.
The concept of freezer-pack cooking—assembling and freezing meals in gallon-size resealable plastic bags—has caught on with home cooks because it makes weeknight cooking so much easier (and it's generally a healthier approach than buying store-bought freezer meals).
A little meal prep strategy is all that's needed to put together easy-to-store freezer packs easily go from the freezer to the oven. Here's how to do it.
How to Meal-Prep Freezer Packs for Make-Ahead Casseroles
These smart tips will coach you on what to prep ahead and what to save for the night of, plus how to freeze, thaw, and bake your meal-prepped casseroles.
- Flash-freeze. Freeze individual ingredients (noodles, cubed chicken, chopped vegetables, etc.) spread out in a single layer on a jelly roll pan or rimmed baking sheet for a couple hours so they don't clump together. Then scrape them off the pan and pop them in a labeled and dated freezer bag, and lay them flat in your freezer until you're ready to cook.
- Flat-freeze. For components of the recipe that have combined ingredients (cooked beef with onions, rice and veggies, or, say, a recipe where it makes more sense to combine the noodles with a sauce before freezing, etc.), freeze in two to three freezer bags, laid out flat on a pan so they're no more than a quarter of an inch thick each. This will allow you to break apart the frozen contents into pieces that can be layered into a casserole dish. They won't fit snugly of course, but as the dish bakes, they will quickly defrost and melt together. (This is a great way to freeze soups and sauces as well!) Once the bags are frozen, you can easily stack them in your freezer.
- Bundle freezer items together. When you're loading separate freezer bags with different ingredients, it can be easy to forget what goes with what. Be sure to label each bag with the recipe name and date, and once they are frozen, bundle them with rubber bands or baking twine so it's easy to see at a glance what makes up one recipe.
- Full freeze. If you do want to meal prep casseroles completely, but don't want to store them in the baking dish, here's a trick: Line your casserole dish with aluminum foil, pour in your ingredients, wrap tightly with plastic, and freeze. When it's frozen, lift the casserole out of the dish, wrap it in plastic and then foil, and stick it back into the freezer.
- Save the sauces for the night-of. If the recipe you're making calls for canned or jarred anything, such as butter, cream cheese, etc.—any ingredients that can quickly be stirred together—wait to prepare these sauces until the night you are cooking the casserole. Alternatively, you can prepare a sauce ahead-of-time and use the flat-freeze method to store it. Just make sure the sauce has cooled completely before pouring it into freezer bags.
- Batch cook. To save time, find two or three recipes that call for some of the same ingredients. For example, it takes the same amount of time to bake two chicken breasts or six, so you may as well cook more and use them in several different recipes.
- Baking frozen casseroles. Any make-ahead casserole ingredients that are flash- or flat-frozen should be fine to assemble and start baking right away—just be aware that you may want to add 10-15 minutes to the bake time. For fully-frozen casseroles, use one of these two techniques to thaw: If you're ahead of the game, option one is to thaw it overnight. Option two is to put the casserole in the oven as it's preheating—this will thaw the casserole a bit before the oven reaches the baking temperature. It's okay if it's not completely thawed before it "officially" starts baking, just be sure the casserole is at 165°F before you pull it out of the oven. (An instant-read thermometer is handy to have.)
- Know your freezer life. If you have prepped your freezer pack casseroles correctly, they can be frozen for up to 6 months without losing texture or flavor.
8 Great Make-Ahead Casseroles
These recipes take the idea of freezer-pack cooking to a new level by offering up ideas to turn freezer packs into delicious casserole dishes. Not only will a casserole feed a crowd, it also represents the ultimate hands-off cooking: Simply heat up your oven, pop a casserole in, and go about your business while it cooks.
Recipe's reviewer COOKINFORFUN said that this recipe "was so good and much easier than shepherd's pie—and with a lot less mess." Sold, right?! To prep, flat-freeze the chopped onions mixed with the cooked (and cooled) beef, blanch and shock the sliced potatoes, and store them flat in separate bags. Since the sauce is an easy mix, save that step of the recipe for the night you're actually cooking.
Note: Waxy potatoes such as Yukon Golds and red potatoes hold up to blanching and shocking better than russet potatoes do.
This cheesy, creamy tuna casserole is one of those make-ahead casseroles that's always a crowd-pleasing comfort dish, and serves up a whole lot of warmth on cold nights. This one should be very straightforward to prep—just mix the cooked macaroni, tuna, and cheese together, then flat-freeze in at least two separate resealable plastic freezer bags. Remember to stock your pantry with French fried onions for that crunchy topping, and you're done!
Note: Always undercook casserole noodles because they'll continue to cook when they're in the oven.
Seasoned ground beef, noodles, and Cheddar cheese get layered with a creamy white sauce in this recipe that Christa Wisneski says is "comfort food at its best! I made this last evening for dinner and it was GREAT!!"
For the freezer prep, flash-freeze the cooked noodles, flat-freeze the ground beef, and freeze shredded Cheddar in a separate small bag. Then wait until the night of to make the cream sauce in step four of the recipe instructions.
Note: If you use small noodles, you could also flat-freeze them with the ground beef and call it good—smaller noodles will make it easier to break up the frozen layer into manageable pieces.
Spaghetti noodles, turkey, and Parmesan cheese are the star ingredients in this classic recipe. For best results, do one of two things: Option #1 is to prepare this recipe completely and store in a baking dish in the freezer (tightly covered, of course). And option #2 is to flat-freeze the cooked turkey, flash-freeze the noodles, and prepare the sauce in step three of the recipe instructions the night you plan to eat it.
Stir everything together in a mixing bowl first—the hot liquid should defrost the noodles and chicken a bit, making it easy to pour into a baking dish.
While you could assemble this in a dish and freeze, this is a casserole that comes together very quickly if you just freeze the cooked chicken and mozzarella, then have the rest of the ingredients on hand. Once you heat the sauce, it's just a matter of putting everything in the baking dish and letting the oven do its thing for about 20 minutes.
Recipe reviewer Night whimsical has one more idea for you: "Divide this recipe in half using two baking pie pans and freeze one for a rainy day."
It's pepperoni pizza plus noodles! Is there really anything else to say?! Okay, just a couple things—for the freezer prep, you might consider waiting on the bell pepper and adding it the night you bake this. But definitely add the pepperoni to the cooked, cooled meat mixture, then flat-freeze that and flash-freeze the noodles.
When you're preparing to cook, mix the milk and pizza sauce in a bowl, then pour over the noodles and meat in a baking dish and stir as best you can. Everything will melt together as it bakes.
Is this casserole version as good as the real thing? Recipe reviewer CAYENNE says, "I usually prepare my own roasted poblano peppers and stuff them. But this casserole is just as good. It is definitely a keeper."
This might be the easiest freezer prep of the bunch. Simply freeze the cheeses, mix the sauce the night of, and assemble—all done!
Since this recipe includes full pork chops, it's best to defrost it overnight to be sure the meat cooks evenly—so, you'll need to be a little organized, but the rest is pretty easy. Sear the pork chops and freeze (don't stack them), freeze the cheese in a small bag, blanch, shock, and flash-freeze the potato slices, and do everything else the night of.