A month of freezer-friendly meals, coming right up.
Last month, I was asked to participate in a casserole swap, and initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I don’t often make casseroles, but the opportunity to spend time with friends and return home to a stocked freezer was just too good to pass up. It turns out: Casserole swaps are pure genius and the freezer is your friend. Do it right, and you’ll end up with a month’s worth of freezer meals, only one of which you’ve made yourself.
How does a casserole swap work? There are many ways to customize the swap, but each one usually has three main steps: choosing the recipes, preparing the casseroles, and exchanging them. My friends and I learned a few things during our swap that can help you plan and prep your own freezer-friendly get-together:
1. Choosing the Recipes
It’s important to keep the size of the group manageable; three to five participants is ideal, because you’ll be making one casserole per person. Each person should choose a recipe, ensuring that their choice is freezer-friendly. The SL Test Kitchen recommends steering clear of "fresh herbs, pasta, dairy products, and grains, like rice." Do this in advance (anywhere from a few days to a few weeks ahead of the swap) so that participants have enough time to gather the ingredients and prepare the dishes.
Casseroles are generally easy to prepare and the options are endless, but if you want to try something different, other freezer-friendly meals will work too, including chicken pot pies, slow-cooker meals, and soups. The recipe you choose can be as easy or as involved as you’d like.
2. Preparing the Casseroles
Give yourself enough time to buy ingredients and put the casseroles together, or you may end up frantically peeling sweet potatoes an hour before the swap. (Avoid this mistake at all costs.) You’ll be making multiple batches of your chosen recipe, one casserole for each person in attendance. If there are three people participating (including yourself), you’ll make three batches of your recipe, one of which you’ll keep.
Once the ingredients are purchased, follow the recipe until the casserole is assembled (cooked, mixed, and layered—all steps save baking). Then write the recipe title, date prepared, and “use by” date on the lid of your casserole dish; also be sure to include any ingredients that should be included later, plus the recipe’s cooking instructions and serving suggestions so that the other swappers know how to prepare the dish correctly. To keep things organized, you can also write each person’s name on the dishes they will be taking home.
3. Swapping the Dishes
After you’ve prepared the casseroles, it’s time to swap them. Get together with the other participants and celebrate the fruits of your casserole-making labor. If you have a place to stow the frozen casseroles, kick up your heels and have a meal together. If not, swap the dishes, have a quick chat, and get the casseroles back to your freezer asap. Check out our tips on defrosting casseroles to ensure you get the most out of your freezer meals.
1. It’s a good idea to share the recipe choices ahead of time so that everyone can approve them. (No one wants to take home a month’s worth of recipes they won’t eat.) You can create guidelines amongst yourselves to ensure that the recipes work with each participant’s dietary preferences, and you’ll also want to identify any food allergies in the group.
2. Instead of swapping your casseroles in ceramic dishes, you should use 9x13-sized disposable aluminum casserole pans with lids to prepare and freeze your meals. You could also divide the batches between smaller casserole pans for more manageable portions. (8 1/2 x 6-inch pans work well.) Slow-cooker meals and soups can be swapped in zip-top freezer bags. If using this method, press out the excess air and flatten the bags so they can be easily stacked and stored.
3. Check in with each other after the swap and share your thoughts so that you know what recipes to make again (and what recipes to nix) for the next round of swaps.
1. Instead of making the casseroles before the party, participants could plan to get together in the kitchen and prepare their casseroles simultaneously. This is a fun option, but it requires adequate kitchen space, ample time, and plenty of flexibility on the part of the cooks.
2. Another variation of the swap involves a bigger party, with each person bringing one casserole to swap at the get-together. Each person would draw a name (or a recipe) from a hat, which would tell them which casserole they will take home. In this case, each person would go home with one casserole, the idea being that they would get to try something new and unexpected. This variation of the swap won’t fill your freezer, as it only requires making one batch of your chosen recipe.
Throwing a casserole swap is the budget-friendly, time-saving celebration your month is missing. It's a win-win when you get to spend time with friends and also stock your freezer with delicious meals. Also check out How to Prep Freezer Meals Like a Pro, Easy Freezer Meals, 25 Emergency Freezer Meals for the Holidays, and A Month of Dinners from Your Freezer for more tips on choosing recipes and preparing freezer-friendly meals your family and friends will love.
WATCH: Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
Would you plan a casserole swap with your friends? What are your go-to freezer-friendly recipes for busy weeknights?
Thank you to Samantha Chandler, Heather Scott, and Mary Wheeler for the inspiration for this article.