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Casserole dishes on a budget

I need some help, please!

I cook in a group home for teenage girls. I have to be off of work for a month due to surgery, and my plan is to prepare a lot of casserole type dishes to freeze ahead of time, so that my colleagues can simply defrost a meal and bake it with minimal fuss. My problem is that I don't have a lot of casserole dishes with lids. Originally I thought to purchase some hotel pans with lids, but this option is far more expensive than I thought it would be (the lids cost as much, if not more, than the pans). The lids just make the dishes easier to stack in the freezer. The Pyrex sets in the stores have a lot of sizes that I don't need, and to purchase one large casserole dish with a lid costs as much as the entire set. I thought of purchasing disposable foil bakeware, but I really don't want to do this. They're flimsy and I hate to waste so much. Ultimately I wonder if I'm just going to have to give up the idea of having lids and just cover them in foil - they will just be more trouble to freeze that way as several stacked on top of each other can get rather heavy.

Basically I just would love to have anybody's suggestions on what I could use to do this, it doesn't have to be a traditional casserole dish, just something I can essentially buy in bulk at a reasonable cost and will stack neatly in a freezer. I usually need to use two large rectangular casserole dishes to feed them (anywhere from 10-16 people eat at a time). Any ideas would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance!

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  1. I applaud the work you're doing, and I'm sure (or I hope) that people appreciate your efforts.

    If lids are issue mainly for freezing/stacking, I suggest you look for cheap sheet pans or even pizza pans and place them on top of the casserole dishes. You could use foil to seal the food, and the pans would just be structural support.

    Cardboard might also work--glued layers, even--and getting the size right would be easier.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bada Bing

      This is a great idea, thank you very much!

      1. re: Bada Bing

        Also, thanks for the kudos about my work. I do love my job, while I don't get much money I do get a ton of satisfaction out of helping my girls! I love to cook, but didn't enjoy working at the country club I worked at prior to this job, so it's nice to get the experience of running a kitchen without all of the drama at the country club! :)

      2. Here's what I do....freezer paper. Make your casseroles ahead of time, then portion them out onto freezer paper (food on shiny side) fold in package and label what's inside and the date on the outside of the portion package. Use large enough sheet of freezer paper so you don't need to use tape. Then load 5 or 6 portions into freezer bags. Then when ready, remove portions onto microwave safe plate and microwave. Voila. No need for lots of dishes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ambimom

          I have a ton of freezer paper, so I am going to use a combination of this idea and the idea from the post below. Thank you!

        2. What if you line your pans w/ parchment, freeze it, and then remove from the pan? You could then wrap that in aluminum wrap and not take up pan space in the freezer (and you could write on the aluminum what it is and directions). When they want to bake, they can remove from the aluminum and put the casserole and parchment back into the pan. It would be easy to stack, not take up as much space.

          2 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            Chowser wins the prize! Use a single baking dish for all the meals, just don't leave it in the freezer -- brilliant!

            1. re: chowser

              You do indeed win the prize - this is perfect. Thank you! Space is an issue, our freezers are so full all the time. Thank you, thank you, thank you - this will work perfectly.

            2. a question tho...
              your going to be gone at least a month...
              you plan on cooking what.. at least two meals.. lunch and dinner?
              for the 30 days.. for how many people? a dozen?
              and freeze and store all that?

              1 Reply
              1. re: srsone

                I'm not going to cook 30 days worth of lunch and dinner casseroles, but I want to have 10-15 meals in there ready to go. Sometimes it gets very busy, plus it will be summer (no school) and the chaos that occurs does not allow for anyone without much cooking experience to easily throw together a meal. I just want something for the days where it's ridiculously busy and a lot of extra stress for my colleagues to cook.

              2. Is the disposable foil bakeware really that wasteful? Yes you will toss them away after this month, but what would you do with an equivalent number of 'permanent' pans? Would you have place to store them till you have to make another set of casseroles?

                I bought a set of 40 of those pans from Samsclub for less than one hotel pan, and used some in a makeshift BBQ smoker. I still occasionally have use for one for things like catching drips under a sink.

                1 Reply
                1. re: paulj

                  You're right, they probably aren't as wasteful as I am thinking. Things "disappear" at times from the kitchen, so all those permanent pans would eventually get their use. I have plenty of space to store them - just the agency doesn't have a lot of money to spend on stuff, and I felt bad spending money on something I would eventually throw away. I get what you're saying though, and thank you for the suggestions!