The Best Make Ahead Lasagna Recipe

My favorite recipe, possibly ever. The best Make Ahead Lasagna uses three kinds of cheese, two different meats, one fantastic homemade tomato sauce, and oodles of real noodles that require absolutely zero boiling. It all adds up to an award-winning, freezer-friendly recipe I’ve been making (and loving) for over a decade. 

Meatless Monday calls for Vegetable Lasagna, but lazy weekends are all about Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup. Check out all my favorite Italian recipes, including this perfect party menu: Italian Sausage and Peppers, Antipasto Salad, and a to-die-for Tiramisu that couldn't be easier.

The best make ahead lasagna slice on a white plate.
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Take it from me, there’s nothing this overnight lasagna can’t conquer. Make a pan for the neighbor who watered your garden while you were away. Or the family in the building with a new baby. Of course, you can hold on to it, too. At my house, there’s always a freezer lasagna waiting to be baked up for a last-minute dinner party or one easy family dinner with enough leftovers to spare.

It’s so delicious, I’ve even made it for Christmas.

Over the years, I tweaked the recipe to get everything exactly right. Here’s what I love about it:

You can make it ahead. The lasagna needs at least 5 hours to chill and let the sauce soften the noodles, but you can definitely make it the night before—even four days before—and bake it when you need it. Want your own freezer lasagna? Wrap it up in foil once you assemble it, no need to bake it beforehand. Then stash it away for dinner emergencies.

It uses real lasagna noodles. I’ve always hated the “oven-ready,” pre-boiled, no-boil lasagna noodles, which fall apart in the pan. Real noodles taste better, period. And with this recipe, you don’t even have to cook or soak them! It may take a leap of faith, but trust me…it will be amazing.

Homemade meat sauce. A quick and easy, 20-minute tomato sauce loaded with ground beef and Italian sausage. Need I say more?

It’s endlessly adaptable. Make it vegetarian. Leave out the sugar. Add spinach, mushrooms, or eggplant. Change up the cheese. Use store-bought sauce. Readers have flooded my in-box with tips, questions, and great ideas. I’m sharing them below with you, all in one place.

What are you waiting for? Make it this weekend and thank me later.

Need lasagna for 20? 30? Make Ahead Lasagna can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.

What you need to make the best lasagna you’ve ever had:

  • Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles,” you want the real deal. Good brands are De Cecco, Barilla, or any good-quality pasta brand that your store carries. (If that's the only kind you can find, you can use them--it's just my personal preference.)
  • Mozzarella cheese. The drier variety of mozzarella is better, which you can shred or slice. (However, nothing is stopping you from layering some fat slices of fresh mozzarella in there with the other stuff, if that’s what you want.)
  • Parmesan cheese. Full disclosure: I use the stuff in the green shaker. I LIKE IT.
  • Parsley. Both fresh (for the garnish) and dried (for the sauce).
  • Ricotta cheese. Ever tried to make your own ricotta? It's fun!
  • Eggs.
  • Ground beef and Italian sausage. Or, you can make this with all sausage or all ground beef.
  • Onion & garlic.
  • Canned crushed tomatoes. Only have whole? Chop them up yourself.
  • Canned tomato sauce.
  • Sugar. You should adjust the amount based on your preference.
  • Basil. Dried is fine.
  • Italian seasoning. I love making my own homemade Italian seasoning.
  • Fennel seeds. The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop.

The best make ahead lasagna ingredients in various bowls.

How much lasagna does this recipe make?

As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, and should be enough for 12 servings. If you’re cooking ahead for a big dinner party or making several for families in the neighborhood, then double or triple the recipe and make sure you have some extra pans.

I've made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They're just fine!

How to make Overnight Lasagna:

This recipe is broken down into completely manageable steps, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Make the sauce, then make the cheese filling, then build that baby!

Making the homemade meat sauce:

Recipe revision: I recently updated this Lasagna recipe to make just the amount you need (2 quarts). In the past, my recipe made a quart of extra sauce... email me if you want the old recipe!

Sugar disclosure: 2 tablespoons feels just right to me, but you don’t have to add any at all. Some cooks in my family add 1/4 to 1/2 cup, to make a sweet tomato sauce. This is up to you.

You can make the sauce a day or two before you need it (and it doesn't need to be hot when you build the lasagna):

  1. To start, cook the beef, sausage, and onion over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large pot. Once browned, you can drain off some of the extra fat, if you like, but you don’t have to. Then add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.
    Ground beef and onions cooking in a silver pot with a wooden spoon.
  2. After that, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds. Then simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, giving it a stir every once in awhile.
    Homemade meat sauce ingredients in a silver pot with a wooden spoon.
  3. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Then set it aside until you’re ready to build the lasagna.
    Homemade meat sauce in a silver pot with a wooden spoon.

Making the cheese filling:

This recipe uses ricotta cheese, which can be found in the dairy section, usually near the sour cream and cottage cheese. Sometimes people use cottage cheese in place of ricotta, which is okay, too.

Just be sure to add the egg, which gives moisture to the cheese. And if you're feeling creative, you can make your own ricotta cheese.

Ricotta cheese mixture.

In a bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, parsley, and salt together. Want an even easier shortcut? If you're using shredded mozzarella, mix in the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, too. (Then you'd need more of the cheese filling in each of the layers.)

How to layer the lasagna:

Once you’ve made the meat sauce and the cheese filling, you're all set.

You always want to start with sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, so the noodles don't fuse to the casserole. The official order is sauce on the bottom, then noodles, then ricotta cheese, other cheeses, and repeat.

Here’s how to layer lasagna. You want each layer to be spread evenly from edge to edge of the baking dish so everyone gets enough of the good stuff.

  • Meat sauce (about 2 cups).
  • Uncooked lasagna noodles (I usually do 3 full noodles across, and then I break a 4th to fit the end.)
    Lasagna noodles being added to a white baking dish.
  • Ricotta cheese mixture (a heaping 2/3 cup).
  • Mozzarella cheese (1 1/2 cups or about 5 ounces).
  • Parmesan cheese (1/3 cup).
    The best make ahead lasagna being assembled in a white baking dish.

Repeat the above layers, in that order,  two more times (2 cups meat sauce, noodles, heaping 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese) ending with the Parmesan cheese on the very top of the lasagna.

Lasagna before refrigerating:

Pre-baked best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Finally, spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick spray and cover the baking dish. Then refrigerate at least 5 hours, overnight, or up to four days before you bake it. This important step allows the noodles to soften and absorb the liquid.

Lasagna after refrigerating:

Pre-baked best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Baking the lasagna:

When the lasagna is ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the lasagna for 25 minutes with the foil kept on, then remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes until hot and bubbly.

You know dinner is a "go" when the internal temperature of the lasagna reaches 165 degrees.

The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Homemade lasagna with store-bought sauce:

If you want to make lasagna with your favorite commercial sauce, (looking at you Rao’s!) go right ahead. You’ll need 2 quarts of sauce for one pan of lasagna. You might want to add a little extra water, if the sauce is on the thick side. This lasagna recipe uses a wet sauce, so the noodles can soften in the liquid.

How far in advance can I make ahead lasagna?

You can make this recipe up to four days before you need it, and keep it in the refrigerator. OR, you can freeze the unbaked lasagna and save it for a rainy day.

If your plans change, you can even freeze the lasagna after it has been in your fridge for a few days. In other words, this lasagna totally has your back.

Freezing overnight lasagna:

  • Wrap the whole pan up in a few layers of foil and freeze. You don’t have to bake it beforehand—otherwise you’ll end up baking it twice.
  • The day before you want to bake it, let it thaw overnight in the fridge, then bake as directed at 375 degrees, 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without.
  • If you want to bake frozen lasagna right out of the freezer, add at least 30 minutes to the baking time, and check the internal temperature before serving; it should register 165 degrees.

The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Lasagna variations:

You can definitely add your own touches to this recipe. Please note that fresh vegetables should be cooked beforehand so they release their liquid and don't affect the consistency of the lasagna as it bakes.

  • Pesto. Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Spoon a layer somewhere in there; you'll be happy you did.
  • Fresh mozzarella. Soft and pillowy fresh mozzarella is heavenly in lasagna. If you like, add it as an extra cheese, not to completely replace the drier version the recipe calls for.
  • Mushrooms. Sauté sliced mushrooms in some olive oil until they release their liquid. Then cool and tuck them in between the layers.
  • Spinach. Thaw a block of frozen spinach and squeeze it inside a clean kitchen towel to dry it out. Then add the spinach along with the cheese as you assemble the lasagna.
  • Eggplant. Thin slices of pre-roasted eggplant can be layered into the lasagna for melt-in-your mouth results. Roast 1/4" slices of lightly oiled, salted eggplant on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees, until golden. Cool before adding to the layers.
  • Marinara sauce. You certainly don't have to make a meat sauce for this recipe. Use Quick Tomato Sauce and let me know how it went in the comments!
4.94 from 31 votes

The Best Make Ahead Lasagna Recipe

The best Make Ahead Lasagna Recipe has a homemade meat sauce with beef AND sausage as well as THREE kinds of cheese. No need to boil the noodles ahead of time, either! Freezer-friendly.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword beef, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 736kcal

For the meat sauce:

  • 2 pounds ground beef and/or ground Italian sausage (I like to use one pound of each)
  • 1 medium onion chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or to taste (see notes)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the cheese filling:

  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For assembly:

  • 1 box lasagna noodles NOT no-boil
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese shredded
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • Minced fresh parsley for garnish

To make the meat sauce:

  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef, sausage, and onion and cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Drain if desired. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper). You should have about 2 quarts of sauce.

To make the cheese filling:

  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and salt. Chill until the sauce is finished.

To assemble the lasagna:

  • In the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish, spread 2 cups meat sauce. Arrange a single layer of uncooked noodles over the meat sauce (I do 3 full-size noodles lengthwise and then a partial noodle crosswise). Spread with a heaping 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture. Top with about 1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) of mozzarella. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
  • Spoon 2 cups meat sauce over the cheese. Make another layer of noodles, ricotta mixture (heaping 2/3 cup), mozzarella (1 1/2 cups) and Parmesan (1/3 cup). Repeat layers 1 more time, for a total of 3 layers.
  • Spray a large piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish. Refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.

To bake the lasagna:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes longer. Cool 5 minutes, then garnish with parsley before serving if desired.

Recipe Notes

Add sugar to taste. For some, that means omitting it entirely. For others, you can increase the sugar up to 1/4 cup.

Nutrition

Calories: 736kcal

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  1. Karen

    Would this recipe work ok if you split it between 2 8 x 8 foil pans?

    1. meggan

      Hi Karen, yes. I haven’t tried it specifically, but I’ve made it in a 9×13 foil pan, and I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t work perfectly split in two. The baking time might be slightly less (the part after you’ve removed the foil) but also maybe not. It won’t be a huge difference, I wouldn’t think. And at that point you’re just getting it piping hot anyway. I think you’ll be fine! Thanks. -Meggan

  2. Tiffanie Lasseigne

    Hi!
    So, do you have to chill the sauce after making it before layering it with the rest of the ingredients? So that all of the ingredients are cold when assembling? Or can you add the sauce hot right after cooking it to assemble the lasagna?
    Also, is it safe to refrigerate leftovers after baking and reheat again? Seems like that would be too many times to chill and reheat, but not sure?!
    Thanks so much!! :)

    1. meggan

      Hi Tiffanie, no, you don’t have to chill the sauce. I always assemble the lasagna while the sauce is still warm. It cools down pretty fast once you start spreading it out anyway, so it won’t be piping hot by the time you’re done assembling the lasagna. It’s totally fine to refrigerate and reheat leftovers yes!!! You basically have 4 days to eat the leftovers. I would say, just reheat the portions as you are going to eat them (after the initial bake). But you’ll be good. If you need more clarification, just let me know! Thanks! -Meggan

  3. Jennifer

    Can you please send the original sauce recipe, with the extra ?

    Thank you

  4. Lynda

    Hi,
    Our local grocery stores have been out of regular lasagna noodles. All I could find was Barilla Whole Grain lasagna noodles. I’ve already prepared it and refrigerated it for tomorrow evening. Do you think the noodles will soften? Do I need to adjust the time or temperature?
    Thank you

    1. meggan

      Hi Lynda, I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you in time! I meant to say your noodles should be just fine and would soften appropriately. Hopefully you’ve discovered that by now as well. I’m sorry about my delay. I hope your lasagna was good. Thank you! -Meggan

  5. Dustin

    Hi. I made this before when it had the additional sauce and can’t remember the difference in the recipes. Could you send me the unedited version or just the extra ingredients/steps. I should’ve written it down but didn’t think you’d change it.

    Thanks!

    1. meggan

      Hi Dustin, I’m sorry about that. My sister is CONSTANTLY telling me to stop changing recipes on the site, but I can’t help it, I just end up doing it. Other people have scolded me for food waste (because the lasanga used to make extra sauce) and I couldn’t handle the criticism, so I fixed it. “Fixed it.” I’ll email you the original. So sorry about that! -Meggan

  6. Allison

    I made this for a big crowd (one tray using ground turkey, and another tray vegetarian) and it was terrific! A few notes/changes besides the turkey instead of beef: be sure you really squish the top layer of noodles down into the sauce and cheese, so they soften properly. I also did not add any sugar. I got a zillion compliments on this, and it turned out great. Thanks for a wonderful recipe.5 stars

    1. Meggan

      This is amazing to hear Allison! Thanks so much! -Meggan

  7. Shara

    Can you freeze instead of sitting overnight?

    1. meggan

      Hi Shara, at some point the lasagna needs to sit so the noodles can soften. It is possible that could happen AFTER you freeze it, like when it’s thawing, but I haven’t tested that particular nuance of the recipe. What I know works is – let it sit overnight so the noodles soften, THEN freeze it, then you can thaw it and bake it as normal. So that’s what i would recommend. The other way might work, but I’m not 100% sure. Thanks!- Meggan

  8. Megan

    I’ve tried a lot of different lasagna recipes over the years and this was delicious. So nice to make it the day before and store it in the fridge — typically I am stressed and tired from an hours long process of making lasagna, so I never make it on a weekday, but this method actually made it possible to eat lasagna on a Tuesday night after a long day of work! My husband declared it the best lasagna I had ever made. I’m already planning what to stock the freezer with for when our second baby arrives in July, and this just made the top of the list. Thanks for a great recipe!5 stars

    1. meggan

      This makes me so happy Megan! All of it – a happy husband, a fresh baby on the way, delicious lasagna… perfection. I’m so happy to help, and I know exactly what you mean about lasagna potentially ruining your day. It’s nice when you can just pop it in the oven and then ENJOY eating it! Thanks for the comment and if you need anything else, just let me know. Congrats on your pregnancy also. :) -Meggan

  9. Sarah

    What brand noodles do you use? They are SO different from what I can get in my local shops!

    1. meggan

      Hi Sarah, I typically use either Barilla brand or generic. I shop at Ralph’s in California so the generic brand is Kroger. I don’t know if that helps at all. If you have other questions, just let me know! Thanks! -Meggan

  10. Jessica

    Hi Megann,

    Can I put these right into the freezer without cooking and cook later?

    1. meggan

      Hi Jessica, I think so? I have always recommended that you let it sit in the refrigerator first, for a minimum of 5 hours, so the noodles have a chance to soften (since they go in uncooked). But, as long as you allow that time after freezing, before baking (time to thaw and time for the noodles to soften), you should be okay. Having said that, I don’t know for sure but I really hope it works! Thanks. -Meggan

  11. Gloria Fischer

    All I have on hand are the Oven Ready noodles. (And we have a winter storm advisory in effect, so I can’t get out!) Any idea of what adjustments I should make?

    1. meggan

      Hi Gloria! I haven’t made it with the oven ready noodles, but my suspicion is that you could just bake it immediately without waiting for the noodles to soften. It should be ready to go immediately. So tuck that lasagna in the oven and watch the bad weather from your cozy house! Take care and thanks. -Meggan

  12. Debra Connors

    I read in a comment that there was 2 cans of tomato paste and 1/2 cups of water in the sauce but it is not in the recipe. Can you help me out with that?

    1. meggan

      Hi Debra, I’m really sorry for the confusion. I was working on this lasagna recipe yesterday and made the changes last night, about 24 hours ago. In the previous version, you made enough sauce for the lasagna PLUS an extra quart of sauce you could use for something else. I didn’t like that, so I worked on the recipe so you’d only have as much sauce as you needed to make the lasagna. That meant removing the 2 6-oz cans of tomato paste and the water. They aren’t necessary. I also learned that the noodles will be soft enough to bake after just 5 hours, not the 8 hours I had previously written. I also updated some notes about the sugar – you can leave it out entirely, stick with the 2 tablespoons as written, or increase it to 1/4 cup if you love sugar in your spaghetti sauce. Sorry so much for the confusion, this changed literally 24 hours ago, but I think the recipe is better for it. I hope you agree. The lasagna was fabulous and I’ve eaten half a pan since it came out of the oven last night. Thank you! -Meggan

  13. Linda Madara

    Just made this for our family Christmas dinner. I was a little concerned with using uncooked lasagna noodles. But not to worry…it was fabulous. Everyone loved it. I will never cook a lasagna noodle again. So easy. THANK YOU. ⭐⭐🌟🌟🌟.5 stars

    1. Meggan

      You’re so welcome Linda! Thank you for the comment- it made my day! -Meggan

  14. Robin Macgillivray

    Can I substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta? And can I make on Sunday morning and bake on Monday night? Many thanks!

    1. meggan

      Hi Robin, yes and yes! You can sub in cottage cheese and you can make it Sunday morning and bake Monday night. Just keep it covered in the refrigerator until baking time. Thank you! -Meggan

  15. Naomi

    Do I allow it to get room temperature before baking?

    1. meggan

      Hi Naomi, no. I never have. Not necessary! Good question though. Thanks – Meggan

  16. Juli

    I’m curious what brand of lasagna noodles you use? In the video, they look like Barilla Oven Ready lasagna noodle (flat sheets).
    I’ve never seen NOT no-boil noodles that look like that.
    I’m making this for the family Christmas and want to do ahead of time…. so want to be sure I have the right noodles on hand.

  17. Robert

    I have been looking for the perfect recipe and this one doesn’t fail, who makes lasagna that often so if it’s not good it’s months before making again, your recipe will be shared with anyone who loves lasagna, also I feel your pain I’m from Wisconsin too and have to be extra cautious not to get sick, Thanks5 stars

  18. Dean Rodgers

    Give me a break. This is the best lasagna I ever ett.5 stars

  19. Kat dav

    Can i add some frozen spinach thawed to this recipe? To the ricotta mixture

    1. meggan

      Hi Kat! Yes, you sure can. I did that in my Vegetable Lasagna recipe, I added 1 thawed 10-ounce bag chopped spinach. Well, I actually added it to the mushroom mixture (the stuff that was standing in for the meat), but I think it would be fine mixed in with the ricotta. It should be great. You could also add it to the sauce if you wanted, that should work too (but I would probably add it to the ricotta like you’re suggesting, that sounds better). Thanks! -Meggan

  20. Erica Thompson

    Dumb question – Can I freeze this after making it or bake first then freeze?

    1. Meggan

      Hi Erica, not a dumb questions! You should refrigerate it overnight according to the directions to let the noodles soften. After it has had it’s refrigeration time, THEN go ahead and freeze it. No need to bake before freezing. -Meggan

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