Dinner Freezer Meals Make Ahead - Heat & Serve Recipes

Simple Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

Closeup of a serving spoon scooping out chicken and rice casserole with melted cheese.
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Casserole recipes become family traditions for a reason. They are handed down for generations because they are generally an easy to make, one dish meal that truly satisfies taste buds and bellies at the end of a long day. This simple Cheesy Chicken and Casserole will be one to keep.

Everything you need to know to make Simple Cheesy Chicken Casserole

Casandra’s Tips and Recommendations

Most nights the dinner table has lots of different dishes on it; a meat (we almost never go meatless over here), a starch, a vegetable and often individually served green salads. It’s always a nice change of pace though when I find a recipe that has all of it in one dish. Just set the casserole on the table and everyone can eat until they’re full. Less clean-up, less work, all the satisfaction. I’ll take a good casserole like that any day.

The other big bonus to casseroles is that they are usually make ahead friendly. On a night when we have multiple after school activities and the schedule is hectic, I can assemble this casserole during the day and then just warm it up in the oven when we get home. It simplifies dinner time and gets everyone fed without pushing back bed time.

The Ingredients for Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

  • Shredded chicken – I like to bake a 2 large breasts in the oven (at 375°F for 26 minutes) and shred them in my Cuisinart Stand Mixer.
  • Brown rice – or any type of rice you prefer, cooked according to the package directions.
  • Veggies – onion, carrot and green bell pepper
  • Sauce – butter, minced garlic, flour, chicken stock and shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Seasonings – salt, pepper and chopped parsley.

How to Make Simple Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

This chicken casserole takes a little bit of prep work but nothing too complicated. If you buy a precooked rotisserie chicken you can save yourself the time it takes to bake the chicken at home but personally I just put 2 large chicken breasts in the oven on a baking sheet, season it with salt and pepper, and bake it for about 26 minutes while I prepare the rice and veggies. That way by the time the chicken is done cooking the casserole is ready to assemble.

For cooking the rice I like to use this Cuisinart Rice Cooker. It makes cooking rice a no brainer. Add the directed amount of rice and liquid and press the button (there’s only one button on the whole machine!) When the rice is cooked to perfection the cooker will automatically switch itself to keep warm. No watching the pot, adjusting the water, boiling over, or any other non-sense. Just perfect rice every time with no effort.

While the chicken and rice cooks, sauté your veggies. They can all cook in one large pan with some butter until they softened.

Prepare the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the minced garlic and then the flour and whisk it into a thick paste. Slowly add the chicken stock while whisking. A thick sauce should form. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper.

Combine the chicken, rice, veggies and sauce and transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish. Top off the casserole with a little more shredded cheese and bake until melty and bubbly.

A casserole with melted cheddar cheesy.

Make Ahead Instructions

Don’t you love a casserole that can be made ahead of time? This Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole can be assembled up to 3 days in advance and then all you need to do is warm it up and serve it.

To make it ahead of time, follow the recipe up until topping the casserole with cheese. Let the casserole come to room temperature and then top it with cheese. This will keep the cheese from melting prematurely. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate it for later.

When you’re ready to warm the casserole, let it sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then bake it in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, covered with foil. The foil helps keep the moisture in so the casserole doesn’t dry out. After about 20 minutes, remove the foil and return the baking dish to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Freezer Meal Instructions

Assemble the casserole entirely but don’t bake it. Let it cool to room temperature then cover the dish with plastic wrap and then with foil and place it in the freezer.

When you’re ready, defrost the tray in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to reheating it to let the casserole start to come to room temperature. Then remove the plastic wrap and recover it with the foil only. Bake the casserole at 375°F for 25 minutes or until warm all the way through. Then remove the foil and bake it for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and bubbly.

Substitutions and Variations

  • Use chicken thighs or ground turkey instead of chicken breast.
  • Try various combinations of vegetables – some other great casserole veggies are celery, sweet green peas, broccoli, red bell pepper or any type of squash.
  • Swap out the cheese – instead of cheddar use pepper jack, mozzarella, gruyere, feta, or gorgonzola. Or even a combination of a few!
  • Add some crunch – top your casserole with breadcrumbs or crumbled crackers sprayed with cooking spray before baking.

FAQ’s & Recipe Tips

Can you put raw chicken in a casserole dish?

Chicken should be cooked before adding it to a casserole. The chicken will take too long to cook inside the casserole and by the time it’s cooked you’ll have a dried out dish.

Why is sauced used in a casserole?

Sauce is needed to keep everything moist. The chicken, rice and veggies need the moisture from the sauce while it bakes.

Does rice need to be cooked before adding to casserole?

Yes, rice needs to be cooked before adding it to a casserole. Rice cooks by absorbing liquid and a casserole does not have enough liquid to soften the rice.

How do you fix bland chicken casserole?

The casserole needs more seasoning. The plain rice is what mellows out the overall flavor so try giving your rice a kick up by cooking it in chicken stock instead of water.

The Recipe for Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

The recipe is attached below for easy downloading and printing.  If you test it out be sure to leave a note in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you thought. Serve your simple Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole with a green salad to complete your meal. Enjoy!

A casserole with melted cheddar cheesy.

Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

This simple Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole is a great weeknight dinner. With shredded chicken, rice and veggies all in one dish, blended together with a garlicy cheese sauce – this dinner is sure to be a family favorite.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 servings
Calories 479 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb cooked shredded chicken
  • cups brown rice
  • 4 tbsp butter divided
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 2 large carrots cut into coins
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • cups chicken stock
  • cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Cook 1¼ cups brown rice according to the package directions.
  • While the rice cooks, melt 2 of the 4 tbsp butter in a large sauté pan. Add 1/2 yellow onion, 1 green bell pepper, and 2 large carrots and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.
  • In a small sauce pan, melt the remaining 2 of 4 tbsp butter. Once melted stir in 2 tsp minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 2 tbsp all-purpose flour to form a thick paste.
  • Continue whisking while slowly pouring in 1½ cups chicken stock. A thick sauce will form in about 3 minutes. Once thickened, remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the 1 lb cooked shredded chicken, cooked 1¼ cups brown rice and the cheese sauce to the veggies and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish.
  • Top the casserole with the remaining shredded cheese and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is melted and the casserole is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley for garnish.

Notes

Make Ahead Instructions:
This Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole can be assembled up to 3 days in advance and then all you need to do is warm it up and serve it.
Follow the recipe up until topping the casserole with cheese. Let the casserole come to room temperature and then top it with cheese. This will keep the cheese from melting prematurely. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate it for later.
To warm the casserole, let it sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then bake it in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, covered with foil. After about 20 minutes, remove the foil and return the baking dish to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Freezer Meal Instructions: 
Assemble the casserole entirely but don’t bake it. Let it cool to room temperature then cover the dish with plastic wrap and then with foil and place it in the freezer.
To defrost, place the tray in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to reheating it to let the casserole start to come to room temperature. Then remove the plastic wrap and recover it with the foil only. Bake the casserole at 375°F for 25 minutes or until warm all the way through. Then remove the foil and bake it for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and bubbly.

 

Keyword brown rice, casserole, shredded chicken

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