Make-Ahead Meals: How to Freeze and Reheat Full Dishes

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Finding time to make a healthy dinner is a challenge for many of us. One of the best tips you'll hear is to freeze meals for busy nights to avoid the greasy drive-thru or pricey takeout traps. But how do you know if a meal will freeze well? How much time will it take to create a few make-ahead meals? And how in the world do you reheat and serve those frozen meals?
We've got you covered.

Before You Begin:
  1. Pick a day to plan meals.  Ask your kids, spouse, or friends for ideas.  Better yet, log onto for easy, quick recipes.  Peruse grocery store ads, then make your final meal plan. 
  2. Write your grocery list--and take it with you when you shop.
  3. Once home, store recipe ingredients together in your pantry and refrigerator.
  4. Set aside a couple of hours to cook your freeze-for-later meals.  (Make sure you follow food safety guidelines for storage and reheating.)
Learn the Basics of Meal Planning
Before you head to the store, let's talk about which foods freeze well, and which don't:

Foods That Freeze Well

  • Brown rice: cook a double batch, let cool and package in one-cup servings (store in resealable bags or 1-cup plastic containers). 
  • Cooked proteins, including chicken, pork and beef: Grill or bake large batches, then package in single-servings or place parchment paper between pieces.
  • Cooked beans: Use your slow cooker to cook dried beans or simmer on the stove top. Let cool, then package with a bit of the cooking liquid in single-serve portions. Freeze in resealable bags laid flat.
  • Cooked potatoes and other root vegetables: bake or roast, let cool, then store in single-servings or family-size portions.
  • Pasta: Undercook it (less than al dente) or you will end up with mush.

Foods That Don't Freeze Well

  • Cream cheese: the water in the cheese separates and makes it grainy.
  • Raw vegetables: Only freeze them if you'll cook them later. (Read: Fresh vs. Frozen: Dos and Don'ts of Saving for the Off-Season)
  • Lettuce, such as romaine, green leaf, and spinach. 
  • Crumb toppings on casseroles: Add them just before reheating. They'll get soggy in the freezer.
  • Raw potatoes: They will turn black due to oxidation

Guidelines for Freezing

  • Freeze in shallow dishes, which will allow for quick reheats.  Remember the purpose of the pre-cooking step is to save you time on the day you want to serve the casserole.
  • Cool foods to appropriate temperatures before freezing. Cooling hot foods in a refrigerator is not optimal. It raises the temperature inside your refrigerator so foods surrounding the hot items become susceptible to spoilage.  Make an ice bath in your kitchen sink to cool foods down before freezing.  Close the drain to the sink, fill with a large bucket of ice then cold water to the point that it reaches halfway up the outside of your dish.  Stir to help release excess heat and steam.
  • Date and label your casseroles.  Go one step further and note the cooking time and temperature, according to the recipe.
  • Most casseroles will freeze well for up to 2 months.

Guidelines for Thawing and Reheating

Freezing foods does not kill germs.  This is why food should not be thawed at room temperature.  Always cook frozen foods while still frozen or thaw them in refrigerator first.  To maintain the best quality of your frozen casserole dishes cook frozen covered with aluminum foil for most of the cooking time.  You may find that your casseroles will take 15-30 minutes longer to reheat depending on the cooking time noted. Bake until casseroles reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Great Recipes for Make-Ahead Meals


Chicken and Vegetable Casserole

Freezing tip:  Add the cheese on the day you reheat it.  Bake covered with aluminum foil.  Remove the foil and top with cheese during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Slow Cooker Meatloaf

Freezing tip:  Once the meatloaf has cooled completely, double wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Beef Roast

Freezing tip: Cook the roast just to "rare" so that reheating does not overcook the beef. It works great on steaks too!

Buckwheat Crepes

Freezing tip: Place a sheet of parchment paper between each crepe, then double wrap in stacks of 8-10 crepes.  These are the perfect wrap for left-over meats or stews.
Chicken Enchilada Stacker
Freezing tip: Freeze directly into a round, shallow casserole dish.  Top the dish with wax paper then double wrap in plastic wrap.  Remember to remove the wax paper before reheating.

Roasted Squash Soup

Freezing tip: Prepare the cilantro/coconut garnish the day you are serving the soup.
What is your favorite freeze-and-reheat recipe?

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ERIN_POSCH 4/30/2021
thanks for sharing Report
DEE107 8/20/2020
thanks for the ideas Report
thank you Report
Thanks for the recipes. Going to try some. Enjoyed the helpful comments, too. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
I freeze single bag meals of my low carb chili w/no beans, and also have a recipe
for Veg soup with cabbage in it that freezes... Report
I make a double batch on a lot of my recipes, so I can make one for dinner that night and freeze the other for another night when we have a busy day of yard work or other activities when you just don't feel like cooking. You just heat and eat, it's great! Report
I don't use my freezer much, it's one of the joys of retirement. Report
thanks Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Some great suggestions Report
Great meal information Report
good meal ideas, thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks....freezer storage could cause a concern Report
Thanks for the helpful information! :) Report
A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him. ~ DAVID BRINKLEY~ 5/6/18 Report
Awesome photos are waking up my appetite! Guess it’s time for Intermittent Fast to end! Report
Great ideas! Report
Thanks for the info Report
Great tips Report
I definitely could plan better for meals during the week. These freezer tips should help. Report
Lots of good recipe Report
Good tips Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Report
good points Report
Great information. Report
Thank you Report
I make lots of slow cooker dishes which I then divide into 4 portions. Doing it over a few days provides a selection of meals to choose from. Report
Thank you Report
I knew some things that were in the article but I also learned some things. I will be sure to use my freezer more often! Report
Very informative article. There were thing I did not know I could freeze! Also things that I freeze that would taste better frozen your way, like pasta. Report
I love to make beef enchiladas and/or lasagna to freeze and reheat later. I tend to freeze them in single serving freezer containers. It makes stacking them in the freezer easy reheating them very easy. Report
Most times I will make double casseroles and freeze one. Or if I do the slow cooker I will make a big batch and freeze half. My favourite is to make a big pot of soup and then freeze 1 serving containers, that way I have a variety of soups to choose from. Report
Awesome. Thanks Report
When I make a casserole I spray the pan I will use with cooking spray. After it is frozen I pop it out of the pan and vacuum seal it in a food saver bag. It will keep in the freezer for several months without getting freezer burn. Report
Great info! Report
Chilli is my family's favorite freezer meal Report
Good info! Report
yeah, I love wild rice, but that is one thing that does not freeze well at all in soups!! Report
some great suggestions here. I do make large pots of soup and chili and freeze those in smaller containers but this is great. Thanks so Very Much Report
Lasagne is fantastic to freeze anyway, but you can go one better and freeze before baking. Make either your vegetable or meat sugo and your white sauce as normal; assemble into whatever size baking dishes you like - be it single portion or dinner party size. The secret now is to allow the dish to stand for 24 hours, covered and refrigerated. This lets all the layers meld together and makes a massive difference to the end product. Then wrap thoroughly and freeze. Take out of the freezer in the morning ready to bake that evening. The satisfaction in having such a time-consuming dish come out of the oven without having slogged over it - delicious and home-made. Unbeatable. Report
My comment is in regard too the suggestion of using aluminum foil to cover your dish during reheat. Do not cook with aluminum foil, ever. Do a quick search on cooking with aluminum pans and aluminum foil to see how aluminum contaminates your food during heating. Then search on the effects of aluminum in regard to Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis. Report