How to Freeze Mac and Cheese

published Nov 16, 2023
How to Freeze Mac and Cheese Step-by-Step

Learn how to freeze and thaw mac and cheese for meal prep and holiday planning, and to extend the life of leftovers.

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A big scoop of baked mac and cheese being taken out of the baking dish.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Few foods are as cozy as homemade mac and cheese, which is why I always have a batch chilling in the freezer. If you look in the supermarket freezer aisle, you’ll notice lots of boxes of frozen mac and cheese. My rule of thumb is that if several brands are selling the same dish in frozen form, there’s a good chance that, with a few simple tips and techniques, you can take your favorite homemade recipe and freeze it yourself. 

Here’s how to freeze mac and cheese for meal prep or holiday hosting, or to avoid wasting leftovers.

Quick Overview

Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese?

Yes. Mac and cheese can be frozen for up to three months. The creamier the mac and cheese sauce is, the better it will be for freezing. Thaw in the refrigerator or microwave before baking.

How to Freeze Mac and Cheese

  1. Choose creamy mac and cheese. Macaroni absorbs moisture from the sauce as it freezes and thaws, so the best recipes for freezing are those that start with a big pot of creamy, cheesy sauce. If using a baked mac and cheese recipe, freeze the prepared (unbaked) mac and cheese, then bake once thawed and ready to serve. 
  2. Undercook your pasta. Cook pasta until just shy of al dente, 1 to 2 minutes less than the shortest time on the package instructions. This keeps your noodles from turning mushy. 
  3. Cool pasta and sauce separately. The one rule to always follow for make-ahead mac and cheese is to cool your pasta and sauce separately. Rinse pasta under cold water, then spread macaroni out onto a baking sheet to cool. Once the sauce is made, remove from the heat and cool until barely warm before combining with the pasta.
  4. Freeze it in the right-sized vessel. For individual mac and cheese servings, scoop portions of the cheesy pasta into large silicone muffin tins, individual serving cups, or freezer-safe zip-top bags. To serve family-style, freeze the mac and cheese in larger dishes. Save your favorite bakeware from freezer purgatory by opting for disposable aluminum baking pans. Alternatively, line a baking pan with aluminum foil, freeze, then lift out the frozen casserole. To reheat, remove the foil, return to the original baking dish, thaw, and bake.
  5. Cover tightly. Cover the mac and cheese tightly with at least 1 layer of aluminum foil before freezing.

How Long Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese?

Mac and cheese can be frozen for up to three months. It will remain safe to eat for longer, but the cheesy casserole can absorb off-flavors if stored for longer.

How to Thaw Frozen Mac and Cheese

The best way to thaw frozen mac and cheese is in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of your casserole dish, it can take several hours or up to overnight to thaw frozen mac and cheese completely. If mac and cheese is frozen in a microwave-safe container, you can use the microwave for thawing. Remember to stir periodically, as the edges of the casserole will thaw more quickly than the center. Do not thaw on the counter at room temperature, as this can cause a food safety issue. 

Once thawed, reheat the mac and cheese using the microwave, stovetop, oven, and toaster oven. The method you choose depends on the serving size and how much time you have.

Freezer-Friendly Mac and Cheese Recipes

Here are some easy, cheesy, and — most importantly — freezer-friendly mac and cheese recipes to try.

How to Freeze Mac and Cheese Step-by-Step

Learn how to freeze and thaw mac and cheese for meal prep and holiday planning, and to extend the life of leftovers.

Ingredients

Instructions

Make the mac and cheese:

  1. Follow the directions for your favorite mac and cheese recipe, but make the following changes:

  2. Drain the macaroni and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel or paper towels, spread into an even layer, and let cool completely.

  3. Remove the cheese sauce from the heat and set aside until cooled to just warm to the touch, about 30 minutes.

Freeze the mac and cheese:

  1. When the sauce and pasta are cool, add the pasta to the pot of sauce and stir to combine. Transfer to a buttered 9x13-inch baking dish, 2 (8x8-inch) baking dishes, silicone serving cups, or freezer-safe zip-top bags.

  2. Cover the baking dishes tightly with aluminum foil, or press out the excess air and seal the bags.

  3. Transfer to the freezer, making sure to lay zip-top bags flat, if using. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Thaw the mac and cheese:

  1. Thaw the frozen mac and cheese in the refrigerator overnight. (Alternatively, if the mac and cheese is in a microwave-safe container, microwave until thawed, stirring occasionally.)

Reheat the mac and cheese:

  1. Reheat on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in the oven.