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Favorite Casseroles and Meals to Make Ahead and Freeze Before Baby

When preparing for the birth of my littlest one, I remembered very well how busy and tired you are after having a baby.  It can be difficult to find time and energy to cook for yourself, your significant other, as well as any visiting family or helpful friends that may stop by.  I cooked over 2 weeks worth of dinners ahead of time to freeze, which worked out perfectly.  It's right around that point where you start getting your groove down enough  with the newborn in order to start cooking more on your own.

Here are several recipes that I found to work really well as make-ahead and freeze meals to reheat and eat post-baby.  Tips for making freezer casseroles based on my experience with my last two babies:

1) Line your casserole or baking dish with heavy duty foil before adding the food, and make sure they are big enough pieces that you have foil hanging off the edges.  This not only helps you lift the dish out of the pan, but you can also do the first layer of wrapping with the excess foil from the edges.
2) If the item includes a cheese topping, stop baking a few minutes early so that the cheese becomes melted but not browned.  You can then let it get browned and bubbly during the reheat process later.
3) After baking, let the entire dish (with baking dish, foil, and food) cool in the following order before removing the foil-wrapped dish from the pan:
      a. Cool on the counter at room temp for a few minutes
      b. Cool in the refrigerator until most of the heat is gone
      c. Cool in the freezer until set and firm (but not frozen).  This allows the food to retain the shape of the baking dish when pulled out.
4) Remove foil/food from baking dish, and wrap excess foil edges around the food. 
5) Take another long piece of heavy duty foil and wrap the food a few times around so that no food it exposed.
6) I found that if I was making a casserole that required a full 13x9 baking dish, that it was an ideal portion size if I froze it in halves.  I would actually have two pieces of foil in the pan separated down the center of the baking dish, like this:

7) After wrapping tightly in foil, I would then place the wrapped food in a large Ziploc freezer bag and try and suck out as much of the air as possible before sealing.  This gave an extra bit of protection against freezer burn.
8) Write the name of the dish as well as the degree temperature of the oven it baked in on the outside of the Ziploc bag.
9) When it is time to eat them, defrost by moving them to the fridge.  When defrosted completely, reheat in an oven at the same temperature it was originally baked just until heated through and edges/top crisped nicely.

Here are some recipes that worked well for me (and also tasted pretty yummy!).  Enjoy!

Chicken Enchiladas with Creamy Green Sauce

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3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves
Coarse salt and ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 jars (16 ounces each) medium green salsa
¾ cup heavy cream12 corn tortillas (6-inch)
12 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, coarsely shredded (3 cups)
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season chicken with salt and pepper; place with garlic on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast (avoiding bone) registers 165 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine salsa and cream.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, shred meat, discarding skin and bones. Peel and chop garlic. In a large bowl, combine chicken, garlic, and 1/2 cup salsa mixture.

Stack tortillas flat, and wrap in damp paper towels; microwave on high for 1 minute to soften. Working with one tortilla at a time, dip in salsa mixture, lay flat, and fill with 1/3 cup chicken mixture. Roll up and arrange, seam side down, 8 enchiladas lengthwise and 4 crosswise in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with remaining salsa mixture, then cheese.

Bake until cheese is browned and salsa is bubbling, 40 to 45 minutes; let rest 10 minutes. Serve, sprinkled with cilantro, if desired.

Vermont brand curry mix (can be found in the international section of grocery stores) has a recipe on its box that is really easy to follow.  It also makes a huge batch; about two meals worth.  Make as directed with the recipe on the box, split in half, and freeze directly into large freezer bags with as much of the air removed as possible before sealing.

Shepherd's Pie
Find whatever recipe of Shepherd's pie that you like.  It bakes and freezes well for a hearty meal.  Like recommended above for cheese-topped dishes, bake a few minutes less than directed so that the mashed potatoes are not browned on top.  This way you can let brown during the reheating process.

Chicken Rice Divan Bake

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1 (10 ounce) package frozen broccoli stems
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked rice
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sour cream

Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well. Arrange broccoli in 13×9×2-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese; top with cubed chicken. Season with salt and pepper; spoon on the cooked rice.

In a saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Blend in flour; add milk. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice and fold in the sour cream. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meatballs and Mafalda
From Better Homes and Gardens

*I couldn't easily find mafalda pasta, so I used bow-tie instead.

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cups dried mafalda pasta* (about 4 ounces)
114½ ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
18 ounce can tomato sauce
¼cup dry red wine
2tablespoons onion soup mix
1tablespoon snipped fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
Dash ground black pepper
½16 ounce package (16) frozen cooked Italian-style meatballs
½cup shredded mozzarella cheese (2 ounces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine, soup mix, oregano, and pepper. Stir in meatballs. Bring to boiling over medium heat. Stir in cooked pasta.

Transfer mixture to an ungreased 1-1/2-quart casserole. Bake, covered, about 20 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted. Makes 4 servings.

Mediterranean Tuna Noodle Casserole

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cup olive oil, plus more for baking dishes
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1pound wide egg noodles
2red bell peppers (ribs and seeds removed), thinly sliced
½cup all-purpose flour
5cups whole milk
4cans (6 ounces each) tuna in olive oil, drained
1can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and thickly sliced
5scallions, thinly sliced
½cup finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil two 8-inch square (or other shallow 2-quart) baking dishes. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook noodles until 2 minutes short of al dente; drain, and return to pot.

Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium. Add bell peppers; season with salt and pepper. Cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Gradually add milk, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer.

Remove from heat; add mixture to noodles in pot, along with tuna, artichoke hearts, and scallions. Season with salt and pepper, and toss. Divide between prepared baking dishes, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Mexican Mac and Cheese
From Better Homes and Gardens

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12ounces dried mostaccioli or rigatoni pasta (3 cups)
1pound bulk pork sausage
1cup chopped onion
116 ounce jar green medium-hot salsa
28 ounce package shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (4 cups)
Tomato wedges, sliced jalapeno peppers, and chopped fresh cilantro
Salsa (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; set aside.

Meanwhile, in large skillet cook sausage and onion until meat is browned and onion is tender. Drain fat, Return sausage and onion to skillet. Stir in green salsa.

In prepared baking dish layer half of the cooked pasta, half the sausage mixture, and half the cheese. Repeat layers. Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes. Top with tomato, jalapeno, and cilantro. If desired, serve with additional salsa. Makes 12 servings.

Pesto Chicken Penne Casserole

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½cup seasoned bread crumbs
½cup grated Parmesan cheese
1tablespoon olive oil
1(16 ounce) box penne pasta
6cups cubed cooked chicken
4cups shredded Italian cheese blend
3cups fresh baby spinach
1(15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1(15 ounce) jar Alfredo sauce
1(15 ounce) jar pesto sauce
cups milk

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil in a small bowl until evenly moistened; set aside.

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the penne, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.

Meanwhile, combine the chicken in a bowl with the Italian cheese blend, spinach, tomatoes, alfredo sauce, pesto sauce, and milk. Stir in the pasta once done, and scoop into the prepared baking dish. Top with the bread crumb mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven until bubbly and golden brown on top, 40 to 45 minutes.

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