Making meals in advance takes some planning and effort. However, during the busy seasons you’ll be glad you have some on hand. Consider these tips:
Choose your favourite recipes, but check the list of ingredients. Recipes containing sour cream, mayonnaise and raw vegetables do not freeze well. Most of the time, you can leave these items out before freezing. The entree can be thawed and the extra ingredients can be added right before baking. Be sure to note ingredients to add when you label the entrees.
Create a grocery list. To save time, organize your list according to the layout of your favourite store. If you are short on pans, consider buying some aluminum freezer pans.
Set up your kitchen in assembly line fashion and plan for efficiency. For example, chop all the ingredients, such as onions, at the same time.
Undercook starchy ingredients, such as pasta, rice and potatoes, because the casserole will be baked later and could become overcooked.
Leave casserole toppings, such as bread crumbs, off the casseroles so they don’t become soggy.
To free baking pans, you can line them with heavy-duty aluminum foil, bake and freeze. Then you can pop out the entree, seal securely and return to the freezer.
To protect your food from freezer burn (dehydration of the contents, leading to quality losses), use heavy-duty aluminum foil, freezer containers or freezer paper.
Label the freezer container with the date and contents so your dinner menu does not feature “frozen surprise.” Include baking time on the label. For best quality, use casseroles within three months.
Be sure your freezer temperature is -18C (0F) or lower.
You can bake frozen casseroles or you can thaw them overnight in the refrigerator. The amount of baking time depends on the number of servings. For frozen, fully cooked casseroles, bake at 400F for the maximum time stated in the recipe or until the contents reach an internal temperature of at least 74C (165F). For thawed, fully cooked casseroles, bake at the temperature directed in the recipe, but add about 15 minutes to the baking time. The internal temperature of the casserole should measure 74C (165F).
Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, L. R. D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.