12 Make-Ahead Dinner Ideas to Make the Holidays Easier

Weeknight dinners are always a challenge, but never more so than during the busy holiday season. But here's a handy tip: create your weeknight meals around make-aheads. From sides to entrees, create the meal in the less hectic days before, and stack your casserole pans in the freezer or fridge. All that's needed the day of is cooking, baking, or dropping them into a slow cooker. With the prep work and all the prep clean-up done in advance, your weeknight dinners and clean-up will be a breeze — and your busiest days won't seem so hectic.

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Fruity Chicken Salad with Tarragon

Fruity Chicken Salad with Tarragon served on a bed of lettuce

This chicken and fruit salad is even better made in advance. It's great for workday lunch planning, a light holiday meal side, and a potluck option. Make it with a rotisserie chicken and it's even easier.

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Easy Lasagna

easy lasagna ii
Jose Almanza

An overnight lasagna with simple, accessible ingredients can be a lifesaver with out-of-town guests. Keep a tray of this easy lasagna on hand to feed a crowd of people or for easy weeknight meals.

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Overnight Macaroni and Cheese Gratin

Overnight Macaroni and Cheese Gratin in a white bowl

Perennial favorite macaroni and cheese gets an update with the addition of Gruyere cheese and 24 hours to meld the flavors. Whether you use this as a holiday side or main course, this overnight macaroni and cheese gratin is a great staple to add to your overnight options.

Tip: Make this in a disposable foil pan with a lid and the clean-up will be easy too: just make, bake, eat, store leftovers, and then toss.

04 of 13

Make-Ahead Freezer Chicken Parmesan

Make-Ahead Freezer Chicken Parmesan
Photo by fabeveryday.

When you've had enough turkey and dressing during the holidays, some Italian food may be the answer for a quick weeknight dinner. There's something warming and yummy about Chicken Parmesan. Prepping and making it from scratch can just take too much time. Serve this entree with some slow cooker Parmesan-garlic quick bread and a quick Caesar salad.

Recipe creator Cari Sultanik loves it as an easy family option: "My family loves chicken Parm, but making it from scratch on a busy school night is next to impossible. The good news is the chicken can be made ahead and frozen along with the right portion of sauce and cheese for a quick weeknight meal."

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Slow Cooker Turkey Breast with Dressing

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast With Dressing

If you don't want to undertake the task of defrosting and cooking, watching a turkey and the accompanying dressing, this recipe can be your best friend in the holiday kitchen. Recipe creator Fishwrap has a "cranky old 1934 oven (that) is very small and slow, so I devised this method of cooking holiday meals. The slow cooker keeps the turkey breast moist, and cooking the dressing in the same cooker gives it a wonderful flavor." While this isn't an overnight option, you can start it in the morning and let it cook until dinnertime.

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Mediterranean Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

Mediterranean Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner

While it's cold and wintry outside, you can take a culinary journey with this Mediterranean Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner. From potatoes to chicken thighs, and a variety of spices and herbs, this one-pan meal features easy clean-up and tons of flavor. Add a quick Tomato and Feta Salad, and you can skip the restaurant to stay at home.

Tip: Add veggies you love or have on hand!

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Hot Tamale Pie

slice of Hot Tamale Pie topped with sour cream and cheese

Ground beef, peppers, salsa, cheese, and cornbread create a quick, comforting dinner. "This recipe freezes well, whether baked or unbaked," says Chef John. "If you freeze it unbaked, bake it covered in foil for an extra 30 to 40 minutes until cornbread is golden and casserole is heated through.

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Sheet Pan Chicken with Mozzarella, Pesto, and Broccoli

Sheet pan chicken with mozzarella, pesto, and broccoli

Cookie sheets aren't just for cookies anymore. A simple cookie sheet can also be the answer to getting dinner on the table during the holiday season and beyond. Chicken. Mozerella. Pesto. Broccoli. Check! Dinner on the table. This meal not only tastes great, it's also brightly colored to appeal to the eyes. Described as a healthier option to a Chicken Parm, this is a great holiday season meal.

Tip: Package leftovers for easy weekday lunches.

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Brunch Enchiladas

Brunch Enchiladas on a colorful plate

Keep these savory ham, pepper, and cheese enchiladas in the fridge or freezer for quick brunches or simple dinners. "It's a great recipe to experiment with," says Barbara Semken Butler. "I use green chilis instead of the peppers and it's yummy!"

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The Casserole

The Casserole
Josh Smoke

This flexible casserole is easy to put together. "The soups and veggies may be easily varied," says Lovesmurfs. "I tend to use boxed mashed potatoes, and they're great, too. To double the recipe (and freeze one), only use 3 total cans of soup — it gets really juicy. Yum!"

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Chef John's Tuna Noodle Casserole

a serving of crispy-topped tuna casserole on a white plate
Chef John

We couldn't compile this list without a make-ahead tuna casserole. "I consider this the king of comfort food casseroles," says Chef John. "What I love about this recipe, other than that it is simple and easy, is that it doesn't require the traditional can of cream of mushroom soup — but it still has the same amount of creamy, decadent goodness that every casserole should. Serve this with a green salad on the side."

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Overnight Slow Cooker Bread

Overnight Slow Cooker Bread

If you don't want to start a bread starter or buy a bread machine, this overnight slow cooker bread is a quick and easy way to put bread on the table. With just a few ingredients, this bread actually gets better the longer it's allowed to ferment. Let it sit out overnight and then cook for two hours in your slow cooker – easy!

Tip: Make sure you have parchment paper on hand to line your slow cooker.

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